Law and Commerce in Ancient Ireland

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER I....concluded

The men of the several professions, such as medical doctors, lawyers, judges, builders, poets, historians; and the tradesmen of various crafts—carpenters, smiths, workers in gold, silver, and brass, ship and boat-builders, masons, shoemakers, dyers, tailors, brewers, and so forth—all worked and earned their bread under the old Irish laws, which were everywhere acknowledged. Then there was a good deal of commerce with Britain and with Continental countries, especially France; and the home commodities, such as hides, salt, wool, etc., were exchanged for wine, silk, satin, and other goods not produced in Ireland.

As the population of the country increased, the cultivated land increased in proportion. But until a late time there were few inhabited districts that were not within view, or within easy reach, of unreclaimed lands—forest, or bog, or moorland: so that the people had much ado to protect their crops and flocks from the inroads of wild animals.

All round near the coast ran, then as now, the principal mountain ranges, with a great plain in the middle. The air was soft and moist, perhaps even more moist than at present, on account of the great extent of forest. The cleared land was exceedingly fertile, and was well watered with springs, streamlets, and rivers, not only among the mountainous districts, but all over the central plain. Pasture lands were luxuriant and evergreen, inviting flocks and herds without limit. There was more pasture than tillage, and the grass land was, for the most part, not fenced in, but was grazed in common.

Some of the pleasing features of the country have been well pictured by Denis Florence M'Carthy in his poem of "The Bell Founder":—

"O Erin! thou broad-spreading valley, thou well-watered land of fresh streams,
When I gaze on thy hills greenly sloping, where the light of such loveliness beams,
When I rest on the rim of thy fountains, or stray where thy streams disembogue,
Then I think that the fairies have brought me to dwell in the bright Tirnanogue."

Ireland, so far as it was brought under cultivation and pasture in those early days, was—as the Venerable Bede calls it—"a land flowing with milk and honey"; a pleasant, healthful, and fruitful land, well fitted to maintain a prosperous and contented people.

Though the period from the sixth to the twelfth century has been specified at the opening of this chapter, the state of things depicted here continued, with no very decided changes, for several hundred years afterwards; and many of the customs and institutions, so far from being limited backwards by the sixth century, existed from prehistoric times.

All these features, and many others not noticed here, will now be examined in the following chapters of this book.


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