General Regulations for Meetings in Ancient Ireland

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XXV....continued

3. General Regulations for Meetings.

The accounts that have come down to us show that the ancient Irish were very careful that there should be no quarrelling or fighting, or unseemly disturbance of any kind that might "spoil sport," at the formal dáls or aenachs, or meetings, for whatever purpose convened. Whatever causes of quarrel may have existed between clans or individuals, whatever grudges may have been nurtured, all had to be repressed during these meetings. There were to be no distraints or other processes for the recovery of debts, so that a debtor, however deeply involved, might enjoy himself here with perfect safety and freedom from arrest. The reader will perceive that all this runs parallel with the "Sacred armistice" proclaimed by the Greeks at their Olympic and Isthmian games, forbidding all quarrelling.

Besides the large fairs or other assemblies, there were smaller meetings for special purposes, such as councils of representative men to deliberate on local matters. These were generally held in the open air on little hills, and were called airecht, from aire a chief or leading man; for the local king or chief always presided at them. The custom of holding airechts was continued down to the end of the sixteenth century. A hill of this kind, set apart for meetings—a convention hill—was designated by the special name aibinn or aiminn [eevin]. Hills devoted to this important purpose were held in much veneration, and were not to be put to any other use. Great care was taken that they should be kept in proper order: and anyone who stripped sods from the surface or dug into them for any purpose, or put cows to graze on them, was fined.

If the meeting had to be held while the hill happened to be bare of grass, or rough, or dirty, the person having the management of the dál should have cloths of some kind spread under the feet of kings, and rushes for the other chief people.

At small meetings held in a building or any other confined space, the president, when he wanted silence, shook what was called "the chain of attention," which was hung with little bells or loose links that gave forth a musical sound. Often the bells were hung on a branch: this was called craebh sida [crave shee-a], 'branch of peace.' The musical branch with silver bells figures in many of the romantic tales. Sometimes the president hushed all talk and noise by merely standing up, like the Speaker in the House of Commons.

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