have there been attempts to revive the tradition? if not- your time has come
Not really, I have been considering it. But I may be too old.
Like you needed to be an expert in a ton of forms of rhyming meter and know at least 700 tales and songs by heart and recite your own genealogy back a few hundred years and make the whole thing rhyme.
Though, y’know, maybe we could work on just the contest part to start with.
There are definitely Eisteddfodau, which are basically the Welsh equivalent. They are practiced on a range of scales, and appear in many forms.
Most are more like festivals of both poetry and music (and often other forms of entertainment as well), which seems to be a result of 18th century revival romanticism. Sometimes the festival includes an official contest, and some smaller eisteddfodau are just a bardic competition in front of an appreciative select audience; repertoires might be song as well as verse, might be just their own work or include that of other artists…
And some are as you say, a bit more like “formalized rap battle”, with highly trained poets displaying their skills in competition for a title.
I don’t think precisely what you are talking about is likely to revive; our cultures don’t really support individuals who want to dedicate that amount of time and effort to the study of poetry, so you’d be hard pressed to find enough competitors to keep it going. The ones who would fill those roles are doing other things…
HOWEVER! As I say, there’s definitely an interest in the idea, both from potential competitors and audiences. The Welsh National Eisteddfod is extremely well attended, and the Gorsedh Kernow (Corniwsh Bardic Gathering) has been going for over 100 years. I have no doubt there are Irish equivalents in existence.
There are similar incarnations all over the place; I would almost go so far as to say that programmes like X Factor, Pop Idol, Star Search, etc. are paltry shadows of our cultural memory of consuming/witnessing such traditions (though I would never put those contestants on par with even a half assed fochloc career!) And hell, there /are/ rap battles, those are things that exist, and they can be incredibly intense, sometimes requiring competitors to declaim their origins in elaborate detail; from an Anthropological point of view, it’s not hard to draw the comparisons.
Bardic competitions in the SCA often take a similar format. I won one once where in one round I was given a topic, a form, a number of lines, and two hours to compose, and . And another one, where the final round was essential “bardic rap battle” between myself and one of the oldest and favourite bards in that region. Neither one of us could get the upper hand, so we negotiated (in verse) dividing the spoils – she took the title and I took the largess (it was an awesome handmade chair, I really wanted it!)
So… yes, I can easily imagine the exchange between an Irish bard and an American rapper!
And while I feel you hard on that wishing for revival of ye ways of olde, and there’s definitely a lack of overt efforts to preserve specific cultures, I would counter that with assertions that the tradition is not dead and gone, it has simply evolved and expanded to better fit the demands of both bards and their patrons.