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COMPARATIVELY little can be learned The King of Leinster kept matters
of the ordinary life of a people from quiet if he could among his own
their legendary and poetic remains chieftains, and if one of them acted
read even as a gloss upon their his- unjustly toward his bordering neigh-
tory. Taking Keating as our guide bour, and would not make condign
to the romantic annals of the Irish satisfaction, his dun (palatial fortress)
Gael, and the Ossianicand other legen- was beset by his insulted king, as-
dary remains as to their manners, and sisted by the wronged chief, and as
customs, and character, we should many others as could be induced to
be tempted to say that the ancient afford a few days campaigning. The
jurisprudence of Ireland must have provincial king had his own district
consisted of very few and simple rules, of arable and grazing land like the
and that these were executed by the Ard-Righ, and his chiefs yearly con-
armed retainere of the kings or chiefs. tributed certain offerings in the guise
With these guides we should arrive of rich cloaks, offensive arms, coats
at the following simple system of po- of mail, and helmets—the only de-
litical and legal economy. The Ard- fensive arms in use, cattle, and male
Righ (High King) had Meath, or a and female slaves.
portion taken from each of the four He settled all civil matters between
provinces, for his private property, his farmers and graziers through the
and eked out his income by tributes medium of a lawyer, who also acted
received from the four provincial as judge. Each chief superintended
kings. He had but a small standing the internal concerns of his estate or
army, and if any of his four crowned chieftaincy in the same way. Such
vassals proved contumacious, he called is the vague outline derivable from
on one or more of the others to help the sources we have described.
in bringing the stubborn chief to a There is some general correctness
sense of his duty. These campaigns in this sketch, but there must be
were generally short. If the mon- taken along with it a complex net-
arch was defeated, he generally lost work of laws by which social order
life and crown together-and all was was maintained as effectually as the
decided in one hand-to-hand fight. incursive character of chiefs and
The supreme king at Tara might, kings would suffer. The king had
through his brehons, settle disputes his chief brehon (judge), assisted
between his Meath farmers and gra- by poets (fileadhs) and lawyers
ziers, and receive the tribute col- (ollamhs), who settled all matters
lected at the great fairs held in his within the central province, and de-
own territory; but he never interfered cided on the mutual obligations of
in the private provincial concerns. the four provincial kings toward each


other, as also on their respective ob- precedents; and as the regulations ligations to the Ard-Righ. Every observed in the different provinces king had his chief brehon and assis- had a common origin, all were pertants, similar to those of the Court vaded by one general spirit, slightly at Tara, and these regulated the modified by local circumstances. general affairs of the province, de- Those of the body acting as judges ciding matters of dispute between received the eleventh part of the the chiefs, or between a chief and property in litigation, as fee. the farmers or graziers of a neigh- Superficial or prejudiced readers of bouring chief. Every chief's rath ancient Irish history judge from the had one lawyer at least to settle many battles that were fought, and matters between the dependants or the general rule of so many succeedthe duine uasals (gentlemen) of the ing to the kings whom their own family.

hands had slain, that there was no Any near relative of the chief was such thing as a settled state of peaceeligible for succession, on the death of ful society. However, by dividing the the living ruler. If there was a son number of years over which these in the case, of full age and approved violences are spread, by the number wisdom and valour, he was generally of battles recorded in them, they will selected. The chief's brother would find many years' quiet for every few have the next claim, and after him days' trouble. The greater number the most capable relative in war and of the conflicts were between one or council. The election being made other of the provincial kings and the during the life of the chieftain, the Ard-Righ for the sovereignty of the change at his death was generally island, and the warfare was ended by unattended with any disturbance. one decisive battle. All the forces There was, indeed, some trouble in that could be collected by the two adjusting the property, and making adverse kings stood then and there a new division of the lands when à in face of each other, and whichever mere relative assumed the toparchy, saw theday decided-by going against but the brehon and his brothers him, rather than live captive or vaswere at hand, with a full command sal to his opponent, rushed into the of precedents to make an equitable thick of his foemen, and sold his life division.

as dearly as he could. No more blood Now, these brehons, from the was shed; the victor resumed or ashighest at Tara to the simple adviser sumed the sceptre at Tara, and peace of a chief, devoted their whole lives prevailed till some other aspirant took to the study of the law. When the it into his head to strike a bold stroke sons of Milidh gained possession of for supreme mastery. the country, Amergin, the poet and Meanwhile there was no change in lawyer, issued the general body of the policy or jurisprudence of the these political and social regulations country. The brehons preserved the in verse; having, probably, himself body of the laws as they had received received the principles of the code in them, at first in a poetic shape, and the same shape. These verse sum- later, in a mixed vehicle of prose and maries of the laws were received poetry, even as the Ossianic legends with the greatest respect ; and suc- of latter times, which, passing through ceeding lawyers made it their busi- the minds of degenerate story-tellers, ness to commit them to memory, or lost their poetic form, with the exto such writing as they possessed. ceptions of some quatrains here and There was no such system extant as there, which, from some peculiar exthat of yearly meetings for the abro- cellence, fastened themselves strongly gation of obsolete laws or the enact- on the memory. ing of new ones. Nearly the same The body of ancient laws, slightly principles of government and the modified and abridged in the fifth censame frame-work of society lasted tury of our era, and remaining in full for probably twelve hundred years. force in parts of Ireland till the close The kings and brehons met, indeed, of the sixteenth century, was cononce in three years, but not to tam- structed with the utmost care, and per with the body of the common adapted to the needs of a people law, and the breħons continued to highly civilized, and apparently satrepeat the old formulas, and to cite isfied with their rulers and with the regulations of their social state. Un- publication, Irish and English, of the der the graziers and farmers we find first volume of the complete issue of the class of free labourers, and also of the Ancient Gaelic Code. * those of conquered lands, who in that case became serfs. The laws took cog- "The Senchus was composed in the time nizance of the relations of all these of Laeghaire (pr. Laeré) son of Niall, King ranks-chiefs, gentlemen of the chiefs’

of Erin; and Theodosius was monarch of families, renters of lands, peasants, of the Senchus having been composed was

The cause

the world at that time. and serfs-and made such distinc- this. Patrick came to Ireland to baptize, tions in the circumstances of every and to disseminate religion among the Gaeidinjury or offence, that an indifferent hil, i.e., in the ninth year of Theodosius, and examiner of the code would say it in the fourth year of the reign of Laeghaire, was better adapted to the require- son of Niall, King of Erin. ments of a highly civilized people, “Laeghaire ordered his people to kill a thickly scattered over the country, man of Patrick's people, and agreed to give rather captious, and vigilant against his own award to the person who should trespass or imposition, than of a war

kill the man, that he might discover like people, all of whom that did not whether he (Patrick) would grant forgiveprofess arms tilled the ground, fed Laeghaire

, then in captivity in the hands of

ness for it. † And Nuada Derg, brother of herds and flocks, worked in metals,

Laeghaire, said that if he were released, and and wove fabrics.

got other rewards he would kill one of Great care was taken to preserve Patrick's people. He was released the distinction of the different grades. from captivity, and he took his lance at The laws even condescended to set once and went towards the clerics, and out what should compose the furni- hurled the lance at them, and slew Odhran, ture of a chieftainess's work-box in

Patrick's charioteer.

“The Lord ordered Patrick to obtain the way of silk threads, bodkins, needles, &c., and to prescribe the judgment for his servant who had been fewer and less costly articles per- choice of the Brehons of Erin (for judge, to

killed, and told him that he should get his mitted to the farmer's or grazier's wit). And the choice he made was to go wife. Above all it was careful to

according to the judgment of the royal poet mark every individual's honour of the island of Erin, viz., Dubhthach Mac price,” that is, the value of his ran- Ua Lugair, who was a vessel full of the grace som if taken prisoner, or of the “eric,” of the Holy Ghost. And this thing was or compensation, which his slayer grievous to Dubhthach, and he said, It is should pay his family-unless his severe in thee, O cleric, to say this to me. death occurred in open warfare. The It is irksome to me to be in this cause be

tween God and man. If I say that laws were even so bold as to indicate

eric tine is to be paid, and that it is to be the crimes or defects which would avenged, it will not be good, for what thou incapacitate a king from reigning, or hast brought with thee into Erin is the (when Christianity was established) judgment of the Gospel, i.e., perfect for. what should degrade a bishop. giveness of every evil by each neighbour to

The modification in the statutes the other. What was in Erin before thee effected at the advent of Christianity was the judgment of the law, i.e., retaliawas thus brought about, and is here

tion : a foot for a foot, an eye for an eye, given from the introduction to the

and life for life.' Well then,' said great body of the laws which then

Patrick, “what God will give for utterance, christianized, as it were, continued in full force in all parts of the country not under the control of Danes or Patrick praying for Dubhthach, Normans for twelve hundred years. and blessing his mouth, he uttered a This we are enabled to do by the long poetical discourse in which


say it.'

• Ancient Laws of Ireland—Senchur Mor. Introduction to SENCHUS Mor and CCthgabail or Law of Distress, as contained in the Harleian manuscripts. Published under the direction of the Commissioners for publishing the Antient Laws and Institutes of Ireland. Dublin : Alexander Thom; Hodges and Smith. London: Longman and Co.

+ Laeré was not well affected to the new religion, and as he supposed that the saint would naturally seek justice on the murrlerer, he hoped thus to aflix a brand of severity to his character, and render his preaching of no effect.

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