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Brehon Laws – The Ancient Wisdom of Ireland by Jo Kerrigan
Thousands of years ago, Celtic Ireland was a land of tribes and warriors; but a widely accepted, sophisticated and surprisingly enlightened legal system kept society running smoothly.
The brehons were the keepers of these laws, which dealt with every aspect of life: land disputes; recompense for theft or violence; marriage and divorce processes; the care of trees and animals.
Transmitted orally from ancient times, the laws were transcribed by monks around the fifth century, and what survived was translated by nineteenth-century scholars.
Jo Kerrigan has immersed herself in these texts, revealing fascinating details that are inspiring for our world today.
Did you know?
- The fine for allowing your dog to do its business on someone else’s land: take away the ‘business’, and pay three times its weight as a fine
- If you were stung by a bee, the owner of that bee’s hive legally had to give you some honey as repayment.
- Providing hospitality to passing strangers was very important. Those who refused to do so could be stripped of their honour and have to pay compensation to the traveller.
- Giving someone a cruel nickname could result in a hefty fine. Depending on how long the nickname stuck, the culprit’s family could be liable to pay the victim’s family for up to seven generations
- ‘Trial marriages’ lasting a day and a year were the norm. If it worked out well, the pair married the following year. If not, they separated amicably.
In her new book, Jo Kerrigan looks at Brehon Law and how it was a part of, and impacted on all facets of daily life:
- The importance of the tribe and of the family, and the system of fosterage.
- Crime & Punishment – murder and theft, injury and insult, restitution and rehabilitation. The offence of the looker-on, the punishment of ‘the ninth wave’.
- Animals – protection, injury, worth. The personal importance of pet dogs, cats.
- Laws of the Land – the control of boundaries, every man’s right to water, the guarding of the trees
- The Rights of Women – land ownership and property, marriage and divorce, insult, rape. The proper vengeance of a first wife upon a second, the power of a true queen.
- A Day in the Life of Ancient Ireland – daily life three thousand years ago, as the old laws depict it.