Celtic Snake Design

THE BREHON LAWS

From The Brehon Laws by Laurence Ginnell, 1894

CHAPTER I.

ANCIENT LAW

Celtic A
S in law and all other branches of learning some knowledge of one system is useful in the study of any other system, so also one cannot well appreciate the relative proportions and importance of what belongs to one nation without taking some account of the condition in the same respect at the same period of neighbouring nations with which a comparison may be instituted. For this reason I think our present subject should be introduced by a preliminary notice of the condition of law in early times in neighbouring nations with which we are liable to be compared. We can, however, scarcely do more than glance at one such nation; and remembering where we are, and the circumstances' of our country, the English nation seems the most appropriate for our purpose.

The first collection of Saxon laws into writing was made under Æthelbirht, king of Kent, after Saint Augustine had converted him to Christianity and baptised him. This occurred about the beginning of the seventh century, Saint Augustine having arrived in Kent in A.D. 597. Æthelbirht's was a collection of the most meagre scraps, such as only extreme poverty in this respect could make any people consider worth collecting or preserving. After that time collections of laws continued to be made occasionally in Kent and the various little kingdoms into which England was then divided; but none of them reached respectable dimensions until that of Alfred the Great, towards the end of the ninth century. Alfred is said to have been educated in Ireland. His is the earliest collection the English nation can show of any real value. Besides those given under Alfred's own name, it is probable that he may also be credited with the so-called Dooms of Ine.

It is believed that none of the originals of the early English laws, or works relating to law, were written in the language of the English people, that the originals in Saxon times were always in Latin, and those of Norman times in Latin or Norman-French, and that the copies of the Saxon Dooms now extant are transcripts from the translations made for vulgar use. The originals of Acts of Parliament continued to be written in Norman-French down to the beginning of the sixteenth century, and the records in legal proceedings down to the middle of the eighteenth century. The brand of native inferiority, first impressed upon the people, continued thus long impressed upon the laws the people were bound to obey. Even in this year of grace, 1894, the royal assent is given to Acts of Parliament in words which neither the Queen nor her subjects understand, and which never were used by any generation of Englishmen.

Bearing in mind these few facts regarding the early condition and historical development of English law, we come in a proper mood to consider the most archaic system of law and jurisprudence of Western Europe, of which many records now exist, namely, what are now generally known as the Brehon Laws. This is not their real name. Irish Laws, or Gaelic Laws, would be a better name for English speakers to use; but the thing meant has always been known to Gaelic speakers as Feineachus. A general term for all law, without special reference to that of Ireland, was Recht. But the law of the Gaels was Feineachus. It included Cain Law, being that which was enacted or solemnly sanctioned by national assemblies, was of universal obligation, and could be administered only by professional judges; and it also included Urradhus Law, which was law relating to local matters, modified by local assemblies and by local customs, and which might be administered by the Flaiths who were not professional lawyers.

« Contents page | Ancient Laws (2) »

FEATURED BOOK

Annals of the Irish HarpersAnnals of the Irish Harpers

Charlotte Milligan Fox, sister of the poet Alice Milligan, was a founding member of the Irish Folk Song Society and an indefatigable field collector of Irish traditional music. Her singularly important work on Irish haprers is here presented for the twenty-first century reader. This edition of Annals offers a much greater number of illustrations than were included in the original 1911 publication, a full biographical introduction, an extensive bibliography of the writings of Milligan Fox and an appendix discussing the variant texts of Arthur O’Neills Memoirs.

FEATURED eBOOKS

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

Annals of the Famine in Ireland, by Asenath Nicholson, still has the power to shock and sadden even though the events described are ever-receding further into the past. When you read, for example, of the poor widowed mother who was caught trying to salvage a few potatoes from her landlord's field, and what the magistrate discovered in the pot in her cabin, you cannot help but be appalled and distressed.

The ebook is available for download in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (iBooks, etc.) and .pdf formats. For further information on the book and author see details ».

Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger

Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger

This book, the prequel to Annals of the Famine in Ireland cannot be recommended highly enough to those interested in Irish social history. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, travelled from her native America to assess the condition of the poor in Ireland during the mid 1840s. Refusing the luxury of hotels and first class travel, she stayed at a variety of lodging-houses, and even in the crude cabins of the very poorest. Not to be missed!

The ebook is available for download in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (iBooks, etc.) and .pdf formats. For further information on the book and author see details ».

The Scotch-Irish in America

The Scotch-Irish in America

Henry Ford Jones' book, first published in 1915 by Princeton University, is a classic in its field. It covers the history of the Scotch-Irish from the first settlement in Ulster to the American Revolutionary period and the foundation of the country.

The ebook is available for download in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (iBooks, etc.) and .pdf formats. For further information on the book and author see details ».

MAILING LIST

letterJoin our mailing list to receive updates on new content on Library, our latest ebooks, and more.

You won't be inundated with emails! — we'll just keep you posted periodically — about once a monthish — on what's happening with the library.