Brehon Laws

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER IV....continued

3. Suitability of the Brehon Laws.

The Brehon Code forms a great body of civil, military, and criminal law. It regulates the various ranks of society, from tbe king down to tbe slave, and enumerates their several rights and privileges. There are minute rules for the management of property, for the several industries—building, brewing, mills, water-courses, fishing-weirs, bees and honey—for distress or seizure of goods, for tithes, trespass, and evidence. The relations of landlord and tenant, the fees of professional men—doctors, judges, teachers, builders, artificers,—the mutual duties of father and son, of foster-parents and foster-children, of master and servant, are all carefully regulated. In that portion corresponding to what is now known as criminal law, the various offences are minutely distinguished:—murder, manslaughter, assaults, wounding, thefts, and all sorts of wilful damage; and accidental injuries from flails, sledgehammers, machines, and weapons of all kinds; and the amount of compensation is laid down in detail for almost every possible variety of injury.

The Brehon Law was vehemently condemned by English writers; and in several acts of parliament it was made treason for the English settlers to use it. But these testimonies are to be received with much reserve as coming from prejudiced and interested parties. We have good reason to believe that the Brehon Law was very well suited to the society in which, and from which, it grew up. This view is confirmed by the well-known fact that when the English settlers living outside the Pale adopted the Irish manners and customs, they all, both high and low, abandoned their own law and adopted the Brehon Code, to which they became quite as much attached as the Irish themselves.

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