Foundation of the Irish State, 200-1000 A.D.

3. The National Polity was based, from the third century onwards, upon a number of petty states.

Each of these was a political unit of the State, and an economic and deliberative unit in itself. Its affairs were led by a king, or ruler, elected by the vote of its people and removable by that vote. The land it occupied was vested in itself for the use of its freemen, and could not be alienated. The people were themselves, in fact, supreme; in a fellowship based on the land; and met in the assembly of each petty state, to legislate for so much of the law as had local application, and to hear and approve the law coordinated in the National Assembly. They dispensed hospitality for all comers. They maintained schools, at which scholars were welcomed, without payment, from all parts of Europe. They endowed their hereditary poets, scholars, historians, lawyers, and, after the introduction of Christianity in the fourth century, ecclesiastics, setting lands aside for their maintenance. And by the middle of the first millenium an elaborate polity appeared in Ireland, complete in its parts and well-devised as a whole, having grown, not by hazard, but by thought and labour of experiment--embodying a civilisation of great beauty, sprung from its own roots and distinguished throughout Europe.