Celtic Design


Urradhus Law

Laurence Ginnell

Celtic I
N general, no one could levy a distress but a person on whom a distress could be levied. He should have a lis and a macha (= a fold and a farmyard) in the territory. Hence none of the non-free classes could distrain, except possibly such few of them as had acquired wealth and advanced a good way up the social scale. A stranger: coming to levy a distress could not do so, under Urradhus Law, without bringing a native of the territory with him as surety, provided he could get one without fee. If he could get no native to become responsible for him without payment, and was unable or unwilling to pay, the law gave him other means of attaining his object, but not of so speedy a character. Those other means varied somewhat, the lodging of a substantial security being a common requirement. If a stranger failed to bring a surety in a case in which he was bound to bring one, or failed to lodge a security where he was allowed to do so, and attempted to distrain like a member of the clan, as by the cheap mode of fasting, not alone might he be evaded, but he was nonsuited and fined as an interloper.

Under Cain Law, however, a stranger could distrain directly without either a native surety or a security, provided he had a lis and a macha in his own native territory. And if in such a case in making his distress the stranger was evaded, the person evading him was fined; because the latter was in his own country where he had every facility for maintaining his rights, if he had rights. If instead of paying or giving a pledge, as the circumstances required, he attempted to baffle the stranger, the law stepped in for the protection of the stranger; and if in the result the stranger was able substantially to sustain his claim, it followed that the evasion of him was unjust and fraudulent, and it was punished as such.

Some modern exponents of the Brehon Laws tell us that only flaith-fines or heads of families could be sureties. Now this is another mistaken view. Not only were all the seventeen men of the fine eligible to become sureties, but they were bound in certain cases to become sureties for one another, and were liable as sureties even in cases where they had not expressly undertaken the responsibility. They were competent also to become sureties for other members of their own clan, but in this respect the flaith-fine's powers were more extensive than theirs; and he could become a surety for a person outside the clan, which they could not. Kings, chiefs, brehons, officers of court, and others filling public positions were ineligible as sureties. The non-free were, of course, wholly ineligible.

Celtic Knotwork