The Ceiles and the Land Laws (3)

Laurence Ginnell

The land held by the céiles as private property, and on which they resided, was subject to an annual ciss (=tribute), rather in the nature of revenue for clan purposes than of rent, and to smaller payments resembling rates. All tributes were paid in kind, and wealthy people had to pay in reflections also—which, of course, was a species of payment in kind. Money was little known or used. There is no mention of it in the Senchus Mor. It is mentioned a couple of times in the commentaries on other law tracts. Articles of gold, silver, and copper are spoken of; but not money in the text. An article called a sicail is spoken of in the commentary. Although it was of a fixed value, I think from its having been used only by ladies that it was considered rather an ornament than a coin. Ordinary céiles paid in horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and other animals, alive or dead; wheat, barley, malt, flax, onions, dye-plants, firkins of butter, meal, wool, honey, and other products of the land, with, in most cases, "a handful of candles eight fists in length." These candles were partially peeled rushes dipped in fat. Bees and honey are so frequently mentioned in the laws that the editors remark that from the Brehon Laws alone a code on the subject of bees might easily be gathered. A curious code it would be too. An owner of bees was obliged to distribute every third year a portion of his honey among his neighbours, because the bees had gathered the honey off the neighbours' lands. There is even a special tract on "Bee Judgments." The importance of bees was largely due to the fact that sugar was unknown. Honey was probably the only sweetening material in use. It was used also in the manufacture of mead; and beeswax was used in the manufacture of candles, chiefly those employed at royal entertainments and as altar lights. In such times bees with their honey and wax constituted a valuable property.

The ancient laws of Wales also contain many rules relating to bees and honey, far more than the present importance of these things would justify.

Craftsmen and others who could make useful or ornamental articles, and who at the same time held some land, paid for it by whatever they could make, as machinery, agricultural and household implements, tools of various kinds, furniture, articles of clothing, bedding, linen, swords, shields, musical instruments, ornaments of various kinds for the person and for the home; in short, whatever the skill of one could produce and the fancy of another desire. Manufactured articles being then of greater value than now, and land being cheaper, those articles would pay for more land. Some persons also held land, as in England and on the Continent, by services—services against wolves, pirates, and other enemies; but this species of tenure does not appear to have been either extensive or continual. There was no such thing as tenure by ordinary military service. It was at once the right and the duty of every free clansman to render this, whether he held land or not; and a person who, in the absence of sickness or other valid excuse, failed to render military service when required suffered a reduction of status—a diminution of rights and powers. Cottiers holding small plots of land immediately from the flaith often paid for it in manual labour.