The Brehons or Judges

Bardism and Brehonism, as well as as Druidism (the religious system of the Celtic nations), prevailed in Ireland from the earliest ages. After the introduction of Christianity, the Druids became extinct, but the Bards and Brehons continued in the Christian as well as in the Pagan times. That Brehonism was the law system of the other Celtic nations, and that it prevailed amongst the Gauls and Britons as well as amongst the Irish, is probable; for, in “Caesar’s Commentaries,” it is stated that, amongst the Edui, one of the nations of Gaul, the title of the chief magistrate or Judge was “Vergobretus;” that he was annually chosen; and had the power of life and death. The term Brehon, in Irish “Breitheamh” [Breha], signifies a judge; and O’Brien considers that the term, which Caesar Latinized “Vergobretus,” was, in the Gaulish or Celtic, “Fear-go-Breith,” signifying the Man of Judgment or a Judge. The term “Fear-go-Breith,” has the same signification in the Irish (from “Fear [farr], a man, “go,” of or with, and “Breith,” judgment): therefore, it appears the “Vergobretus” was the chief Brehon of Gaul. The Brehons were the judges and professors of the law, and in ancient times delivered their judgments and proclaimed the laws to the chiefs and people assembled on the hills and raths on public occasions, as at the Conventions of Tara, and other great assemblies. The Brehons, like the bards, presided at the inauguration of kings, princes and chiefs; and, as the judges and expounders of the laws, had great power and privileges in the State; extensive lands were allotted to them for their own use. Each of the Irish kings, princes, and chiefs, had his own Brehons; and the office, like that of the bards already mentioned, was hereditary in certain families.