Ó hUiginn, Pilib Bocht (d. 1487), ‘bardic’ poet, was the son of Conn Crosach. Nothing more is known of his line of descent, nor of where he lived. His obituary is found in the Annals of Ulster, where he is described as an observantine Franciscan brother and as the best and most prolific composer of religious verse ‘in recent times’. The presence of this notice in the annals suggests that he was highly thought of in his day, since poets are only infrequently mentioned in them.
Twenty-seven compositions attributed to him are to be found in Philip Bocht Ó hUiginn (1931), edited by Lambert McKenna (qv); in addition, poem 58 of Dioghluim dána is ascribed to him in one manuscript. Besides supporting the statement in the annals that Pilib was a Franciscan, these shed little light on his life or on the events of the times in which he lived (not even on the progress – in full swing in Ireland at the time – of the observantine reform movement within the Franciscan order). They are exclusively of a religious nature, and are characterised by the invocation of both St Francis and St Michael. Despite the fact that their author was a Franciscan brother (if not a priest), they do not show the influence of a formal education in theology or scripture, tending instead to rely on the stock motifs and standard apocryphal stories of ‘bardic’ religious poetry, and differing little from the compositions of lay poets in this respect. For this reason, and because of the very high quality of Pilib's verse, McKenna (1931, xii–xiii) suggests that he probably spent most of his life plying his trade as a lay member of the ‘bardic’ profession, and only joined the order in his later years. Whatever is the case, it is clear that he was very highly trained in the complex business of composing dán díreach, the strict verse of classical modern Irish (for a description of the language, see McManus (1994)). In his verse he employed a variety of the most difficult metres with apparent ease and to excellent effect.
His poems evidently enjoyed popularity and high esteem among his fellow poets, as is shown by the fact that several couplets from poems attributed to him are cited (see McManus (1997)) in the poets’ grammatical and syntactical tracts – tracts in which, as a general rule, only the works of acknowledged masters of the art were quoted. In all, nine couplets are cited there from compositions attributed to him, many of them repeatedly. Seven of these are employed to illustrate correct usage. The fact that the remaining two are condemned as lochtach (i.e. faulty) in some or all of the tracts (ibid.) need not be taken to mean that he was not proficient in his art. It is more likely to reflect the existence of different schools of thought on certain of the finer points of dán díreach grammar.
Pilib is further distinguished by being the first poet in Irish to have a work of his printed. His Tuar feirge foighide Dé was published in Irish characters in Dublin in 1571, possibly as a trial run for the printing of the religious primer by Seaán Ó Cearnaigh (qv), Aibidil Gaoidheilge & caiticiosma (ed. B. Ó Cuív, 1994). Except for John Carswell's Foirm na nUrrnuidheadh (1567), which was printed in Edinburgh, the poem and the primer are the oldest extant printed works in the Irish language, and the first in that language to be printed in Ireland (see Ó Cuív, 1). A facsimile of the beautifully produced broadsheet of Pilib's poem is to be found inside the back cover of Ó Cuív's edition of the Aibidil. Pilib's place of death is not known; he died in 1487.