The Laws of Tanistry

The system of Brehon Laws relating to the tenure of lands, election of chiefs, and other regulations, was termed “Tanistry;” the word in Irish is Tanaisteacht, and, according to some authorities, is derived from the Celtic word “Tan,” a territory, or, according to others, from “Tanaiste,” the second in command or seniority. “Tanist,” in Irish “Tanaiste,” was the term applied to the successor elect or heir apparent of a prince, lord, or chief: this successor or Tanist was elected during the lifetime of the lord or chief, and succeeded immediately after his death; and it is considered that the Anglo-Saxon term “Thane,” which meant a lord, was derived from the same source.

Rioghdamhna (pronounced “roydamna,” a word derived from “Righ,” a king, and “damhna,” a material) signified a person fit or eligible to be a king; hence, with respect to the provincial kings and monarchs, the heir apparent or (presumptive) was styled Rioghdamhna. Righ or King was the term applied to each of the five provincial kings of Meath, Ulster, Connaught, Leinster, and Munster; and Ard-Righ or High King was the designation of the monarch or supreme sovereign. The epithet “Righ” [ree] was also applied to a prince; and of these princes there were in Ireland about thirty; and each of their principalities comprised a territory varying in extent from two or three baronies to a county, and sometimes two or more counties. These princes composed the first class of the Irish nobility, and held a rank equal to that of Princes, Dukes, Marquises, and Earls, of England and other countries. The second class of the Milesian nobility was that of “Tiarna” or “Tighearna,” a lord, derived from “Tir,” a country or territory: hence, signifying the possessor of a territory. Each of these lords possessed a territory equal in extent to a barony, or sometimes two baronies, and held a rank equal to that of barons; and there were about two hundred of them in Ireland. The third class of the old Irish aristocracy were called “Taoiseach” or chiefs, derived from “Tus,” first or foremost: hence signifying the chief leader or head man of the clan; these chiefs held, each of them a territory, varying in extent from a parish to two parishes or more, or sometimes half a barony, and comprising from about ten to thirty thousand acres. Of these chiefs there were about six hundred or more: all heads of clans, possessing considerable power in the state; and held a rank equal to that of the principal gentry and great landed proprietors of modern times; and might be considered of the same rank as knights and representatives for counties, in Parliament. The terms “Tiarna,” “Flaith,” and “Triath,” were also often applied by the Irish writers to designate princes, lords, and chiefs of note. Cean (pronounced “Kan”) signified a head chief or leader: and the term “Khan,” in the eastern languages applied to head chiefs, is probably derived from the same Celtic root as “Cean.” Brughaidhe, derived from “Bruighe,” which signifies a farm or land, was the name applied to the head farmers, who held large farms under the chiefs; and these farmers were very numerous and wealthy, possessing great flocks, much cattle and corn, etc.