Conclusion to The Brehon Laws (8)

Laurence Ginnell

Having read some of those ancient laws, and made some notes as I proceeded, the thought occurred to me that, although the subject is dry and harsh as all laws are, and although it is stale and obsolete which other laws are not, still there might be some who would take sufficient interest in the subject to read my notes if reduced to order. On comparing the notes and setting them together, as so many fragments of a broken vessel, I found that considerably more than half of them were utterly useless for my purpose, belonging apparently to vessels of which I had no conception, and quite irreconcilable as parts of one structure. All the fragments were doubtless genuine, if one only knew their respective times and districts.

In the vast expanse of time over which those laws extend many varieties of law and practice must necessarily have arisen from local, temporary, and accidental causes. To follow all these and treat them adequately would demand several volumes. Hence many fragments, in themselves interesting, had to be sacrificed, and some whole branches of substantive law, as the law of taking possession of land, and the very important law of suretiship, had to be either wholly admitted or compressed into a few obscure sentences of a sub-section. The rest I do not pretend to have treated as they deserve to be treated by an Irishman and a lawyer; and though availing of the assistance of those who have gone before me, even of some with whose views I herein expressly disagree, I may possibly have gone astray myself on some points. Other writers retaining fragments which I reject, may, with perfect fidelity to truth, have educed, or may yet educe, legal structures and conceptions of Brehon Law inconsistent with mine. I claim no more than to present the laws as I understand them, well aware that even in my own conception of them there are points difficult to reconcile and explain.

I am also quite aware of my silence on several legal matters on which information is very desirable. The laws themselves are silent on these matters, and the importance we attach to them may be due to our own surroundings. If any one should open this little book with great expectations he will close it with disappointment correspondingly great. I have neither treated the whole subject descriptively, nor entered into an exhaustive criticism of any part of it. To do either satisfactorily within this compass were quite impossible. It is not every man can put a gallon of liquid into a pint bottle. My aim is to interest the general reader, to put within the reach of all who desire some knowledge of those laws a convenient synopsis of their leading features, with some corrections of current errors, and above all to induce some student better equipped than I to undertake a thorough examination of those laws and treat the world to a work really worthy of the subject and calculated to take the wind completely out of my small sail. To succeed in any one of these respects would be not to have worked in vain; success in the last mentioned is the summit of my ambition.