A kinsman of Saint Aidan, Dallán Forgaill (dah-LAHN FAWR-gil) was renowned for his scholarship. He is said to have become blind from intensive study while rising to power as chief bard of Ireland, a position he attained in 575 c.e.
Shortly after Dallán gained power, the high king of Ireland sought to pressure the assembly of Dunceat into disbanding the bardic guild. However, Saint Columba successfully argued to the assembly that bards were necessary to the preservation of Irish history. In gratitude, Dallán wrote the panegyric Ambra Choluim Kille (sixth century c.e.; English translation, 1871). Dallán thereafter reformed the order of bards, instituting practices that turned the focus of bardship toward preservation of the culture. In later life, Dallán retired to a monastery at Inniskeel and was killed there during a break-in by pirates.
Along with other scholars associated with Saint Columba, Dallán was instrumental in the preservation of knowledge in Ireland and Scotland through the Dark Ages. His reformation of the bardic order enabled that pagan institution to survive the Christian conversion of Ireland. The bardic guild actively contributed to the preservation of Irish culture until the last bard died in 1738.
Adamnan. Life of St. Columba. Translated by Richard Sharpe. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
Clancy, Thomas, and Gilbert Markus. Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1995.
Sellner, Edward. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints. Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1993.