Celtic Snakes


Artisans in Ancient Ireland

Laurence Ginnell

Celtic O
NE does not expect to find much in these ancient laws relating specially to artisans. The ordinary law applied to them as to other people, and they were not sufficiently numerous to call for special treatment. We are told that their social status was determined by the rank of those for whom they worked. If this was so, its effect in practice probably was to make the position of artisan to a chief an object of ambition in each particular craft and the reward of superior skill in that craft; and if the artisan continued to progress, his status would rise pari passu with his skill—a very just arrangement. Workers in gold and others who practised what might be called fine arts, the results of which were required only by the wealthy, must under the same arrangement have stood high in the social scale. Smiths, too, were always held in high esteem. Some of the more important artisans were supplied with free lands for their support; others were paid wages, which appear to have been fixed, in theory at least, by the law. We have already noticed the power of artisans to form guilds or partnerships in virtue of which they could acquire political and social rights; and we have also noticed some liabilities connected with their trades, in the chapter on crime.

It was customary with artificers, on completing a work and delivering it to the employer, to pronounce a blessing on it. So strong was the feeling on this subject, that a workman who refused to give the blessing was fined. It would seem that the first who saw a work newly finished by another was also expected to bless the work. This was extreme sensibility; but as the blessing was general the shock caused by its omission was great. When I first came to London I was shocked on meeting persons asking alms without adding the words, "for God's sake," and taking alms without uttering a prayer in return; for neither is ever omitted in Ireland.

Celtic Knotwork