Celtic Design

SECTION V.

THE TRIBAL ASSEMBLIES

From The Brehon Laws by Laurence Ginnell, 1894

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Celtic E
ACH clan had two local assemblies of its own for the transaction of its ordinary business, legislative and administrative. These were the authoritative fountains of urradhus law. One was called the Cuirmtig (pronounced Coorthy), and was probably open to all clansmen who paid tribute. In it, for the most part, new proposals originated. The other was called the Dal, and appears to have been open only to heads of septs; possibly to heads of fines also. Dal means a tribe or division of a race, but it had also the special meaning of an assembly representing and acting for the tribe. It was a sort of local second chamber, in which bills passed in the first had to be ratified before they became legally binding. Each clan had also a further assembly called a Tocomra. This was the assembly in which the king or chief or tanist was elected. So far as I can discover it consisted of the same persons as the Dal; but it was summoned by the Bruigh-fer, or Biadhtach (pronounced Beetagh), and met in his house. This house was not the private property of this officer, but was considered somewhat as a public hall belonging to the clan, and used as occasion required for clan purposes. The Bruigh-fer, or Biadhtach, was its occupant and keeper and a clan official appointed and empowered to discharge various duties of high importance.

Besides summoning the assembly just mentioned, he was bound to entertain the king, bishop, bard, judge, and some other public functionaries of the clan who were privileged to claim entertainment for themselves and a number of attendants fixed in each case by the law. He was also bound to entertain when required, on behalf of the clan, friendly visitors, if for any reason the king or chief could not conveniently do so; and he was under certain legal obligations to all belated travellers who passed by the way. In fact he may be called a public hospitaler, and this is almost the literal signification of the word Biadhtach. To enable him to comply with these extensive requirements, he was allowed about five hundred acres of free land, besides various personal privileges; and he was, by virtue of his office, a magistrate empowered to administer justice in certain cases. There were many special provisions in the law for the protection of himself and his official property, for he and his house were rightly regarded as an important public institution. He was fancifully supposed to have five doors to his house, facing in different directions, always a pot of meat boiling, and cattle and pigs on the premises fat enough for killing.

In later centuries ballybetagh, so named from this officer, came to mean among the English in Ireland a sort of rough measure of land equal to about five hundred acres.

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