Under Native Irish Rule
Chapter I

ENCHUS MOR was chosen for early publication by the Commissioners for the publication of the Ancient Laws of Ireland, as being without doubt the most important of the Irish Law Tracts that have been preserved. A special, interest, moreover, attaches to it, as embodying the modifications which these laws of Pagan origin underwent in the fifth century, on the conversion of the Irish to Christianity. In after times, the Senchus Mor was called Cain Patrick, or Patrick's Law, so great was the importance attached to the saint's influence in respect of the provisions made in it. It was, moreover, so much revered that the Irish judges, the Brehons, were not authorized to abrogate anything contained in the Senchus Mor. It appears, indeed, to have maintained its authority amongst the Irish people until the beginning of the seventeenth Century a period of over 1,100 years.

The English Law introduced by Henry II in the century scarcely prevailed, for many years, beyond the narrow limits of the English pale, while amongst the native Irish the Brehons administered their ancient laws as hitherto. The Anglo-Irish also sought to adopt the Irish Laws to such an extent that enactments to prevent this irregularity on their part were passed at the Parliament of Kilkenny (1367) and again in 1495. And yet as late as 1554, in the reign of Queen Mary, the Earl of Kildare obtained, by a decision made under Brehon Law, an eric fine of 300 cows, for the killing of his foster-brother, Robert Nugent.

The authority of the Brehon Laws continued till the power of the Irish princes was broken, in the time of Queen Elizabeth. And "all the Irish were received into the King's immediate protection," so-called, by the proclamation of James I in the year 1603.

The wars of Cromwell, the policy of Charles II on his restoration, and the results of the Revolution of 1688 prevented any general revival of the Brehon Laws. And before the end of the seventeenth century, the whole race of Brehons and Ollamhs--i.e. the professors of the Irish Law---appears to have become extinct.

The text of the Senchus Mor itself briefly describes the origin of the ancient law, in the form of judgments given from time to time on the authority of particular judges or Brehons. Thus it is said that a certain " Sean, son of Aighe, passed the first judgment concerning the process of distraint," and that "Sencha, guided by the law of nature, fixed the delay on the operation of the distraint at two days which is between one and three days---for every female possession." Other decisions are ascribed to "Brigh, Brughaidh" and "Sencha, son of Aillel, to whom the Ulstermen submitted."

These were all judgments in favor of due notice and delay when a creditor went, in accordance with the custom, to take possession of some property belonging to the debtor, in order to keep it as pledge till judgment was submitted to, or the debt paid. Other judgments on the same subject are, however, mentioned with censure, such as the "sudden judgments of Aillel, son of Matech," in which action without notice or stay (i.e. delay of the pledge in a safe place) was permitted.

The commentaries, which are, of course, later in date of composition than the text, allude to an earlier period---" before the time of Conchobar "---probably Conchobar Mac Nessa, who was King of Ulster at the beginning of the Christian era---" when the judicature belonged to the poets alone." And of these poet judges, Amergin Glungel is represented as having passed the first sentence in Erin.

One of the commentaries has an ingenious legend, connecting this Amergin with the ancient Egyptians, and founding thereupon the surmise that he had learned the Law of Moses and had founded his judgments upon it. This, of course, is pure fiction. The association of "the first sentence in Erin" with Conchobar Mac Nessa's time has real inherent probability.

The introduction to the Senchus Mor, which is more ancient than the commentaries, takes ground that is at once higher and more solid, by attributing all that was good in the judgments of the Pagan Brehons to the influence of the Divine Spirit upon the just men, who were in the island of Erin before the conversion of the Irish to Christianity, the poet adding as the reason of his faith: " For the law of nature had prevailed where the written law did not reach." The great apostle, Paul, had, in other words, expressed the same thought when he said: "For when the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves."

The Senchus Mor, according to the account given in the introduction to the book itself, was "composed in the time of Laeghaire, son of Niall, King of Erin, when Theodosius was Monarch of the World."1 We are told also that it was in the ninth year of the reign of the Emperor Theodosius that Patrick came to Erin, and in the fourth year of the reign of Laeghaire in Ireland.

Now Theodosius became Emperor of the East in AD 407 and Emperor of the West also in 423. He might at this later date be well described as Monarch of the World. This gives the date for Patrick's mission to Ireland as 432, which corresponds to that given by the Annals of the Four Masters and other Irish authorities. From the Four Masters also, we learn that "in the age of Christ 438-the tenth year of Laeghaire the Senchus and Feinechus of Ireland were purified and written." From this, and from the statement in the commentary it appears certain that the Senchus Mor was composed during the three years 438-41.

On the continent of Europe, a similar transformation had been taking place, in respect of the great body of the Roman Civil Law. In the century which had elapsed between Constantine and Theodosius the younger, the Christian emperors had, to some extent, changed the laws of their Pagan predecessors, and given all the force of their authority to establish the Christian religion throughout the Empire. But the great body of the Civil Law of Rome, resting on the perpetual edict of the Emperor Hadrian, still regulated the forms of procedure of the courts and all the ordinary transactions of life.

In 435, however, the Emperor Theodosius ordered that the constitutions from the time of Constantine to his own time should be collected, and this collection-ever since known as the Theodosian Code-received the imperial sanction in 438. It was published without delay, and adopted in both the Eastern and Western Empires, the earlier codes from the time of Hadrian being, however, still recognized as of authority in the tribunals, so far as they were not modified by subsequent enactments. Dr. Neilson Hancock, in the editorial preface to the Senchus Mor, comments on the fact that news of the success of the Christian bishops in securing the requisite modifications of Pagan Law, by means of the imperial authority of Theodosius at Constantinople and Valentinian at Rome, would spread rapidly to Christian missionaries throughout the world. St. Patrick would have been certain to hear of this great reform in Roman Law---this great triumph of the Christian Church. "He would naturally be influenced, respecting the work in which he was engaged, by so remarkable a precedent. Obviously, he could facilitate the con-version of the Irish, and strengthen the church he was founding, by recognition of all that was good in the Pagan Laws of Ireland, and by insisting only on such modifications and adaptations as Christian morality and Christian doctrine rendered indispensable " ; and such is precisely the course which St. Patrick, in the introduction to the Senchus Mor, is described as having pursued.

Roman Law was revised in the Christian interest during the years 435-8. Irish Law went quite independently through a similar process three years later, 438-41, six years after Patrick commenced his mission in Ireland. This process of revision, in one form or another, took place also in other ex-Pagan lands. The Salic Law had been drawn up by four eminent chieftains of the Franks, before the conversion of their tribes to Christianity. This was about the beginning of the fifth century, as it is supposed, and before A.D. 421. Towards the end of the fifth century, this Salic Law was, after the baptism of Clovis, reformed by him in the several articles that appeared to be incompatible with Christianity. This drawing up of the Salic Law by Pagans and its subsequent revision under the influence of Christian teachers all took place in the century in which the Senchus Mor was composed.2

There was nothing abnormal, therefore, in the mixture of ecclesiastics with laymen, in the business of advising the rulers as to the necessary revision of the law. Theodosius consulted with his bishops, when the Theodosian Code was drawn up. Clovis was certainly too ignorant, too astute, and too well advised by his queen not to consult St. Remi when the Salic Law was revised. And when Alaric II issued his abridgment of the Theodosian Code to the Visigoths in France, in A.D. 506, it is said that he did so on the advice of his bishops, as well as on that of his nobles. When the Anglo-Saxons, more-over, were converted to Christianity in Wessex, the laws of King Ethelbright were revised, under the advice and influence of St. Augustine. This was between A.D. 592 and 6i6, and the book of these laws begins with the words, "These are the dooms which King Ethelbright established in the days of Augustine."3

Another and later example is furnished by the Ancient Laws of Wales. They commence with the laws of Howel Dda, enacted about the year 943, the occasion being described in the introduction as follows: Howel the Good, the son of Cadell, Prince of all the Cymra, seeing the Cymry perverting the laws, summoned to him six men from each Cymrwd in the Principality, to meet White House of Tor, four of them laics and two clerics. "The clerics were summoned," so we are told in the text, "lest the laics should ordain any thing contrary to Scripture."

All these examples go to show that in the earlier centuries, and even as late as the tenth, it seemed both right and natural that clerics should be associated with laics in revision or preparation of codes of law.

The story of the Revision of the Ancient Irish Law by the enactment of the Senchus Mor has, nevertheless, a characteristic quality which renders it unique. Christianity, as an Irish growth, was only six years old. The conference consisted of three poets, three saints, three kings, including Laeghaire, son of Niall, High King of Erin at the time. The poets stand for sound learning, good judgment, literary skill, and profound wisdom in all that concerns the manners and customs of the Gael-" the Law of Nature," as they called it, which had been revealed to the wise men of Erin in the past. The saints stand for all that new and wonderful fund of spiritual wisdom which is expressed in the Christian revelation, and which had, in part, been made known to the Irish at this time by the teaching of Patrick and the books he had brought with him.

The kings are there as kings, to carry out the operation of enactment when all the particulars have been settled. It seems to be quite clear that the High King Laeghaire had resisted Patrick strongly on his first appearance in the land, but did become a nominal Christian afterwards. There is reason, however, to think that there never was any thoroughness in his conversion. In the process of reconstruction he probably took no effective part at all. And, on the other hand, we do not hear that he made any difficulty. It was Dubhthach, the chief poet, who, by order of the King, exhibited to Patrick "the judgments and all the poetry of Erin, and every law which prevailed among the men of Erin," and Patrick suggested such amendments and additions as he thought fit.

The case of King Alfred's Code of Law presents a very interesting contrast to this. It appears obvious that, in the supply of ideas on this occasion, it was Alfred's mind that took the lead. He commenced his code of law with a translation of the Ten Commandments, as the original source, in his view, of all criminal law. As a corollary to this declaration, and in the spirit of the Levitical Law, he announced that certain acts are crimes and to be punished as such, i.e. presumably on the principle that wrongdoing can best be prevented by such mere punitive means-a truth which is only a half truth at most. Legalists all the world over have been too apt to assume that the idea of law as founded on moral right and wrong derives its principal natural sanction in the human mind from the fear of wrath to come.

Some brief account of St. Patrick's origin and that of his two companions is due to the reader here. The opinion of scholars up to date identifies his birthplace with the neighborhood of Bristol, which was then called Caer Britton. There was another Caer Britton in Strathclyde, now called Dumbarton, to which the honor of being the saint's birthplace had previously been assigned. The evidence of his own statements, however, in the Confessio,4 about the locality of his home confirms the assertion made in Fiech's Hymn that Nempthor, presumably in the neighborhood of this southern Caer Britton, was indeed the birthplace of the saint. Bath, which was a flourishing Roman colony at this time, Bristol, Glastonbury, and the Tor of St. Michael, or Nempthor, would be all situated in a district of encampments, which is what some have thought to be the meaning of the name Taberniae, which occurs in the description of Bonavem Taberniae," the place where Patrick's father resided at the time of his capture. This place is also said to be near the Western Sea, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the home of Patrick's family, after his temporary return home, was not far removed from the place of his birth. But of this and of his "people" let him speak for himself, as follows:

I, Patrick, sinner, most unlearned of all

The faithful, and of many most despised

Had for my father Deacon Calphurn, son

Of Presbyter Potitus, of a place

Called Bannow of Tabernia near whereto

He owned his country dwelling, and 'twas there

I suffered capture, then not full sixteen."5

The raiders who captured him were, as no doubt the reader knows, a band of" Scots " from Ireland, and they sold him as a bondman to a landowner in the district now called Antrim. And here it was that, while tending his flocks on the mountain of Slemish, he found religion as he had never found it before. In course of time (i.e. six years) he makes his escape, and under Divine guidance, as he distinctly describes it, he finds a ship, is kindly treated by the master mariner and, after many delays and hardships, reaches his home at last. And there he is received with open arms, and entreated to remain, and depart from his "people" no more.

Six years elapsed, it seems, between Patrick's home-coming and his return to Ireland as a teacher of the Gospel. Thus there was ample time for his education in the ecclesiastical sense. Suffice it to say that Gaul, as well as Britain, appears to have had a share in that honorable work of spiritual fosterage for the founder of the Irish Christian Church. Among those with whom he had to do at this time was St. Cairnech of Cornwall, who was older than Patrick, and who accompanied, or followed, him to Ireland afterwards. In the Memoirs of St. Cairnech's Life, preserved in the Cottonian Library, British Museum, it is also stated that there were churches and cities of his name in the region of Leinster, and that he died in his own celebrated city which is called Civitas Cairnech. This close connection of Patrick with Cairnech is more consistent, it may be observed, with the supposition that Patrick's home was in South Britain than with the rival theory of a North British origin. St. Cairnech is still remembered as the patron saint of Dulane (formerly Tuilen), near the town of Kells, Co. Meath. We are told, too, that the works of the Blessed Cairnech were read in Ireland throughout the whole country, as the miracles of the blessed apostle, St. Peter, were read at Rome.

Saint Benen (Benignus), Patrick's other assistant, was an Irishman of royal blood, described by Dr. O'Donovan as of the family of Olioll Olum, King of Munster. When Patrick came to Ireland, Benen was living with his father on the family property, which included the district of Duleck. His name is preserved in Kilbannan, originally Cill Benein (the Church of Benen), in the barony of Dunmore, Co. Galway, where he erected his principal church. In popular esteem he ranks as the patron saint of Connaught. He became one of Patrick's favorite disciples, and was his successor in the bishopric of Armagh. It is said that, as a youth about seventeen years of age, he left his father's house to follow St. Patrick, at the very beginning of a mission that might have been dangerous to either or both. During the revision of the Laws, he acted as amanuensis to St. Patrick, and wrote out for his chief the Irish part or version of the Laws. The tradition is that Patrick and Cairnech, on the other hand, were they who wrote the law in a "chalk book to preserve it for the men of Erin."6 This probably refers to the new kind of writing in Latin characters, as to which the elder saints with their Romano-British education would be more expert than Benen. If an Irish copy was made at the time, Benen may well have co-operated with Dubhthach and his two colleagues in making it. His literary labors, however, were not confined to the Senchus Mor. He also composed the famous chronicle called the Psalter of Caiseal (i.e. Cashel), in which are described the acts, laws, prerogatives, and succession of the kings of Ireland and the kings of Munster. He seems also to have been the author of the original Book of Rights.

As for King Laeghaire, he is correctly described as "Monarch of Ireland at the time of the conversion of the Irish to Christianity." It is doubtful, however, as already hinted, whether he himself was really converted, and still more doubtful that he continued to be a Christian till his death. The legends of Patrick's conflicts with his druids tend rather to point to a different conclusion. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the saint, as a matter of fact, "received permission from him to preach the Gospel, on condition that the peace of the kingdom should not be disturbed." And the references to King Laeghaire in the introduction to the Senchus Mor, and the commentaries, indicate rather a passive assent to the saint's proceedings than either a thorough change of mind or active disapproval.

In general, the part ascribed to the three kings in the narrative leaves the reader under the impression that they were just tolerant Pagan kings, who saw no harm in Patrick's proposal, and so allowed him to pursue his mission, provided that the power of the kings and Brehons and the authority of the laws, when revised and settled, were not disturbed. It was their business, as kings, to represent "the parts of the law of nature from which the Pagans passed their judgment." Just as Patrick and his men represented the Christian element, the three kings represented the Pagan element. The three poets sat, as it were, between these two groups, in order to bring all that was good in either element into harmony with all that was good in the other. They were not only poets, men of literature and learning: they were also men of the inward vision, and men of law, trained to think accurately in matters of right and wrong, trained also to remember correctly in respect of deeds as well as words. Theirs was the duty of formulating and popularizing the results of the conference, so that the new law should speedily be embodied in the old law, as the Senchus Mor, the great Ancient Law of the People of Erin, accepted and acclaimed as such by them.

The two leaders of the conference stand out conspicuously: Dubhthach, the chief poet, assisted by his colleagues Fergus and Rossa, who knew the law by heart and could speak the judgments as easily, no doubt, as the modern secretary reads from his minute book; and Patrick, the chief saint, who was responsible for proposing the amendments, with Benignus and Cairnech, his assistants, the former of whom wrote the judgments for Patrick in the Irish language, whereas the latter is credited with having assisted Patrick with those entries in the "chalk book" to which reference has been already made. Fergus and Dubhthach, on the other hand, are said to have "explained to Patrick what their predecessors had sung." We are told also, in another place, that Fergus and Dubhthach "put a thread of poetry round it [the Senchus Mor] for Patrick." These two statements have, as a matter of fact, received strong corroboration from the discovery, made originally by the Very Reverend Dr. Graves, that portions of the Senchus Mor are in regular Irish verse.

It is, however, to the authoritative position as Chief Councilor which Patrick holds on this occasion, in contrast with that which King Laeghaire, son of the great Niall, was content to take, that the reader's attention is more particularly drawn. This contrast is, however, quite in harmony with the Irish tradition concerning the natural and rightful origin of Law, as a body of customary regulations which the people, with full use of the wisest heads among them, have approved and adopted as the rules that are to be observed by all members of the tribe. The three poets and the three clerics take their places at the council as advisers, and, in effect, leaders of the people. The kings are there as representing authority, which can be declared, whenever necessary, on the side of the law. As the writer of the Ancient Law Tract says, "There are four rights which the King pledges his people to observe. The rights of Feinechus7 law firstly: it is the people

that acclaim it. It is the King that proclaims the other three rights, and it is the King that enforces them." Nor is there any slight to the King in this assertion of the people's rights in respect of Feinechus Law. The King, like the Law, is ordained by the people.

"What makes the King higher than the people?" says the text in Crith Gablach. " Because it is the people that ordain the King," comes the answer, "not the King that ordains the people." Law and King, the authoritative head, are alike at the people's choice, and thus have the will of the people behind them.


1 A.L.I. Vol I, p.3

2 A.L.I. Vol I, pp. xiv-xvi The whole of this preface is well worth reading.

3 Ancient Laws of England, published by the Record Commissioners

4 See The Remains of St. Patrick, Ferguson, pp. 15-41

5 Idem p. 1

6 A.L.I. Vol I p. 35

7. "Feinechus law" means the whole body of customs and regulations observed by the Feine, i.e. all inhabitants of an Irish territory. The word" Feinechus" alone can be used in the same sense.




Chapter II

HE story of the composition of the Senchus Mor will gain value by being told, as much as possible, in the words of those who wrote it out originally in the introduction to the work itself. "The place of this poem," says the text, " and the place of the Senchus was Teamhair in the summer and in the autumn, on account of its cleanness and pleasantness during these seasons; and Rath-Guthaird,1 where the stone of Patrick is at this day [in Glenn-na-mbodhur, near Nith nemonach], was the place during the winter and the spring, on account of the nearness of its firewood and its water, and on account of its warmth in the time of winter's cold. And they [i.e. the poem and the Senchus] were composed at the same time-in the time of Laeghaire, son of Niall, King of Erin; and Theodosius was monarch of the world at that time, and it was in commemoration of this that the poet said :

Patrick baptized with glory
In the time of Theodosius.
He preached the Gospel without failure
To the glorious people of Miledh's sons.

And the authors of the Senchus were the number of the persons of the Senchus.

Laeghaire, Corc, Daire, the hardy,
Patrick, Benen, Cairnech, the just,
Rossa, Dubhthach, Ferghus, with science,
These were the nine pillars of the Senchus Mor.

"But the author of the poem was Dubhthach Mac ua Lugair, royal poet of the men of Erin.
The cause of the Senchus Mor having been composed was this :-Patrick came to Erin to baptize and to disseminate religion among the Gaedhil, i.e. in the ninth year of Theodosius and in the fourth year of Laeghaire, King of Erin, son of Niall.

But the cause of the poem having been composed was as follows -Laeghaire ordered his people to kill a man of Patrick's people; and Laeghaire agreed to give his own award2 to the person who should kill the man, that he might discover whether he (Patrick) would grant forgiveness for it. And Nuada Derg, the son of Niall, the brother of Laeghaire, who was in captivity in the hands of Laeghaire, heard this, and he said that if he were released and got other rewards, he would kill one of Patrick's people. And the command of Laeghaire's cavalry was given him, and he was released from captivity, and he gave guarantee that he would fulfil his promise; and he took his lance and went towards the clerics, and hurled the lance at them and slew Odhran, Patrick's charioteer."

Patrick then, as it appears, was given his choice of all the Brehons in Ireland to judge the case.

"And the choice he made was to go according to the judgment of the royal poet of Erin, i.e. Dubhthach Mac ua Lugair, who was a vessel full of the grace of the Holy Ghost. From this is derived the custom that whenever a person comes over the sea to prosecute his cause, he shall have his choice of the Brehons in Erin; and when ~e shall have come across the boundary of a province, he shall have his choice of the Brehons in the province.

And this thing was grievous to Dubhthach and he said :-' It is severe in thee, 0 cleric, to say this to me; it is irksome to me to be in this cause between God and man; for if I say that this deed is not to be atoned for by "eric" fine, it shall be evil for thy honor, and thou wilt not deem it good. And if I say that "eric" fine is to be paid, and that it is to be avenged, it will not be good in the sight of God; for what thou hast brought with thee into Erin is the judgment of the Gospel, and what it contains is perfect forgiveness of every evil by each neighbor to the other. What was in Erin before thee was the judgment of the law, i.e. retaliation :-a foot for a foot and an eye for an eye, and life for life.'

'Well then,' said Patrick, 'what God will give for utterance, say it. It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.'"

Patrick then blessed his mouth, and the grace of the Spirit alighted on his utterance, and he pronounced the poem beginning-' It is the strengthening of Paganism,' and declared the judgment."

This judgment was in effect twofold: (1) Vengeance as such ought not to be taken on the man who has sinned : this it is which strengthens Paganism by developing blood feuds between the kindreds of the "men of Erin." (2) Power to check each vice is needed, in order to preserve religion. (3) The sinful man, when he has atoned by acceptance of his penalty, should be absolved from his crimes in which he has transgressed the will of the Supreme King. Nuada, therefore, is to be forgiven by Patrick, whose absolution of the penitent sinner, and intercession for him, wins heaven for his soul. " If he has atoned he is entitled to absolution," says the poet,

Absolution for his crimes, for his transgressing
The will of the Supreme King.
For repentance has been the custom of all,
And they deserve pardon since Christ's crucifixion,
As long as they do not lapse into evil again.

This is not all, however. The poem is too long to quote here in full. The most important passages are as follows3

Hear me, 0 God! direct my path;
The oldest fathers, the fathers of potent knowledge,
Perverted not the judgments of the Lord;
That I may not heap aggravation
Upon the bloody crimes of men.
The truth of the Lord,

The testimony of the New Law,
Warrant that Nuada shall die; I decree it.
Divine knowledge, it is known, decides
That each man for his crime
Shall depart unto death.



Yea, every living person who inflicts death
Whose misdeeds are judged shall suffer death.

In the judgment of the law which I, as a poet, have received
It is evil to kill by a foul deed;
I pronounce the judgment of death,
Of death for his crime to every one who kills.
Nuada is adjudged to Heaven,
And it is not to death he is adjudged.

The remark by the commentator on this judgment is as follows :-It was thus the two laws were fulfilled; the culprit was put to death for his crime, and his soul was pardoned and sent to heaven. What was agreed upon by the men of Erin was that everyone should be given up for his crime, that sin might not otherwise increase in the island."4*

Pages 22-23 missing from original text


compensation] for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest."5

The eric fine may well have appeared as an anomalous institution to a Romano-Briton of the fifth century, as it did later to an Englishman of the sixteenth. Patrick, however, appears to have made no attempt on this occasion, or later, to introduce into Ireland fixed ideas, derived from Roman or Hebrew Law, conjointly with the teaching of the Gospel. The early Christian missionaries in Ireland were wise. They proceeded to strengthen their position by Celticising their church organization, instead of endeavoring to recast people's ideas, and revolutionize society unnecessarily by the introduction of Roman Law as a substitute for the Ancient Laws and Customs of the Gael.

"After this sentence," says the text," Patrick requested of the men of Erin to come together in one place, to hold a conference with him. When they came to the conference, the Gospel of Christ was preached to them all; and when the men of Erin heard of the death of the living) and the resuscitation of the dead, and all the powers of Patrick since his arrival in Ireland; and when they saw Laeghaire, with his druids, overcome by the great signs and miracles wrought in the presence of the men of Erin, they bowed down in obedience to the will of God and Patrick.

Then Laeghaire said :-' It is necessary for you, 0 men of Erin, that every other law should be settled and arranged by us as well as this.' ' It is better to do so,'

said Patrick. It was then that all the professors of the sciences in Erin were assembled, and each of them exhibited his art before Patrick in the presence of every chief in Erin.

It was then Dubhthach was ordered to exhibit the judgments, and all the poetry of Erin, and every law which prevailed among the men of Erin, through the law of nature, and the law of the seers, and in the judgments of the island of Erin, and in the poets.

They had foretold that the bright word of blessing would come, i.e. the law of the letter; for it was the Holy Spirit that spoke and prophesied through the mouths of the just men that were formerly in the island of Erin, as He had prophesied through the mouths of the chief prophets and noble fathers in the patriarchal law; for the law of nature had prevailed where the written law did not reach.

Now the judgments of true nature which the Holy Spirit had spoken through the mouths of the Brehons and just poets of the men of Erin, from the first occupation of this island to the reception of the faith, were all exhibited by Dubhthach to Patrick. What did not clash with the word of God in the written law, and in the New Testament, and with the consciences of the believers, was confirmed in the laws of the Brehons by Patrick, and by the ecclesiastics and the chieftains of Erin; for the law of nature had been quite right except6 the faith and its obligations, and the harmony of the church and the people. And this is the Senchus Mor.

Nine persons were appointed to arrange this book, viz. Patrick and Benen and Cairnech, three bishops; Laeghaire and Corc and Daire, three kings; Rossa Mac Nechim, and Dubhthach (a doctor of the Berla Feini)7 and Fergus (a poet). Nofis therefore is the name of this book which they arranged, i.e. the knowledge of nine persons, and we have the proof of this above.

This is the Cain Patrick, and no human Brehon of the Gaedhil is able to abrogate anything that is found in the Senchus Mor."8

The commentary that follows here Covers nearly five pages dealing with various subjects more or less akin. Two notes may be quoted as bearing directly on the text above.

"The following now were the chief authors of the Senchus: Fergus the poet and Dubhthach Mac ua Lugair, who put a thread of poetry around it for Patrick; besides the judgments of previous authors which had been pronounced by them and which they explained to Patrick.

It was only necessary for them to exhibit from memory what their predecessors had sung and it was corrected in the presence of Patrick, according to the written law which Patrick had brought with him and they arranged and added to it."

The following statements also, which are not necessarily altogether mythical, are, to the student of human nature, very interesting.

"However, before the coming of Patrick, there had been remarkable revelations. When the Brehons deviated from the truth of nature, there appeared blotches on their cheeks; as, first of all, on the right cheek of Sen Mac Aige whenever he pronounced a false judgment, but they disappeared again when he had passed a true judgment.

Connla never passed a false judgment through the grace of the Holy Spirit which was upon him.

Sencha Mac Col Cluin was not wont to pass judgment, until he had pondered on it in his breast the night before. When Fachtna, his son, had passed a false judgment in the time of fruit, all the fruit of the territory in which it happened fell off in one night, and if in the time of milk, the cows refused their calves. But if he passed a true judgment, the fruit was perfect on the trees.

Sencha Mac Aililla never pronounced a false judgment without getting three permanent blotches on his face for each judgment. Fithel had the truth of nature so that he pronounced no false judgment.

Morann never pronounced a judgment without having a chain around his neck. When he pronounced a false judgment, the chain tightened round his neck. If he passed a true one, it expanded down upon him."

And in the following note we are told of the poets of Ireland in general, several of the most distinguished being mentioned by name, that not a man of them had honor price who passed false judgment; and he was deprived of his profession, besides becoming, as it was believed, unable to perform certain incantations by which the poet's mind was believed to be rendered more prophetic.9 The main text is resumed in a reflective vein on p.31, apparently in answer to the query: How has the ancient wisdom-the Senchus-been handed down?

"The Senchus of the men of Erin," says the text: "What has preserved it? The joint memory of two seniors, the tradition from one ear to another, the composition of the poets, the addition of the law of the letter, strength from the law of nature; for these are the three rocks on which the judgments of the world are supported.

In the Senchus were established laws for king and vassal, queen10 and non-queen, chief and dependent, wealthy and poor, prosperous and unprosperous.

In it was established the dire fine [i.e. the honor price] of each one, according to his dignity; for the world was at an equality until the Senchus Mor was established.

In the Senchus Mor was established equal dire fine for a king, and a bishop, and the head of the written law, and the chief poet who composes extemporaneously, and for the brewy who is paid dire for his hundreds and who has the everfull caldron and his lawful wealth.11

In the Senchus Mor it was provided that good should not be assigned to bad, nor bad to good.12

In the Senchus Mor were promulgated the four laws -The law of fosterage, the law relating to free tenants, and the law relating to base tenants, the law of social relationship: also the binding of all by verbal contracts, for the world would be in a state of confusion if verbal contracts were not binding.13

There are three periods at which the world dies: the periods of a plague, of a general war, of the dissolution of verbal contracts.

The three things which depart from the world in these times are the people of the world, their cattle, and their worthiness.

There are three things which are paid, viz. tithes and first-fruits and alms, which prevent the period of a plague, and the suspension of amity between a king and the country, and which also prevent the occurrence of a general war.

And the binding of all to their good and bad contracts prevents the lawlessness of the world.

Except the five contracts which are dissolved by the Feini, even though they be perfected -the contract of a laborer without his chief; the contract of a monk without his abbot ; the contract of the son of a living father without the father; the contract of a fool, or a mad woman; the contract of a woman without her man.14

There are four dignitaries of a territory who may be degraded: a false-judging king, a stumbling bishop, a fraudulent poet, an unworthy chieftain who does not fulfil his duties. Dire fine [i.e. honor price] is not due to these."

The cause and consequences of this degradation is discussed in the commentary. These four men are mighty men or dignitaries, until they forfeit their position: the false judging king by pronouncing false judgments on his tenants, "whether it be concerning a small thing or a large" ; the stumbling bishop by being guilty of serious moral offence; the fraudulent poet by demanding a fraudulent (i.e. exorbitant) reward for his composition ; the unworthy chieftain by neglect of duty, or by committing theft, or some act of plunder. The person in any of these grades who is degraded is not entitled to full honor price.

If they have worthiness, and property with which they do good, they have full honor price because of them. If they have worthiness, without property, and do good, it is one-half the honor price of the grade to which they have a claim. If they have property only, without worthiness, and good be done with it, it ensures half honor price only. If they have worthiness alone, without property, there shall be only one screpall for it, and should such a person have property, it shall not increase his honor price, unless he do good with it.15

False judgment, and false witness, and false testimony, and fraudulent security, and fraudulent pledging, and false proof, and false information, and false character giving, and bad word and bad story, and lying in general, whether in the case of the church or the laity-every one of these acts deprives the man who is guilty of such of half his honor price up to the third time, but it does not deprive him with regard to every one of them until the third time, and it takes away even this half honor price from the third time out. And he may lose this half honor price by a different person: and he thus loses full honor price with respect to the latter person or with respect to the person against whom he committed the first injury.

Theft, or eating stolen food in the house of one of any grade, or having stolen food in it constantly, and treachery and fratricide and secret murder-each of these deprives a person of his full honor price at once.

Refusing to give food, and burning, and betraying, and violence, and wounding with a weapon, and committing theft in another territory, or having knowledge of its division among the thieves, or of the way it was obtained, or of its having been obtained from another territory-every one of these acts deprives a person in every instance of half his honor price until it is committed the third time. But the full honor price is taken away from the third time out, except among the grades of the Church. If they commit it, it takes away their full honor price at once, until they pay eric fine, and do penance and move from their grade.

Inflicting wounds, or committing acts of treachery upon bodies or persons, or fratricide, or secret murder, or refusing to entertain a company, or adultery, if it be committed by anyone of an ecclesiastical grade, deprives such ecclesiastical orders of full honor price at once, until they pay eric fine and do penance; and then they all return to their former dignities except the bishop, who does not return, but becomes a hermit; or, according to others, it is the virgin bishop only who does not recover his grade or his perfection again; the bishop of one wife does return, i.e. when he performs penance within three days.

The king, after committing these crimes, is deprived of half his honor price, if he does good with his property: but the bishop and the poet are deprived of all their honor price, even though they should do good with their property.

Satirizing, general plundering, minor acts of violence, and quarrels of neighbors do not deprive anyone of his full honor price, until he evades the law with respect to them, except the grades of the Church alone, in whom wounding or plundering are punished like adultery.

The poet who demands an excessive reward, or claims an amount to which he is not entitled, or who composes unlawful satire, is deprived of half his honor price for each of them until committed the third time, and of his full honor price from the third time out."

And the crime is also to be paid for, if it be persons of the grades of wisdom, or professors of learning, or grades of the Church, or kings, or ollamhs, or brewys that have

omitted these deeds. When they [the brewys] have not increase of property to entitle them to recover their rank, they must do penance at their own church to recover as much of their honor price as they have lost, and penance for the person whom they have quarreled with, if penance is due to him; and adultery is not more unlawful for them than any other illegality.

If it be any of the seven grades of chieftains that have done these deeds, i.e. violation of security, etc., it is increase of property they must have to recover their grade, or they must do penance and pay eric fine; or it is eric fine, i.e. a 'cumhal,' to the person whom they have injured, if he be of a grade to which penance is not due.

As to the poet grades every crime they commit is full crime, and they shall remain without honor price until they do penance and pay eric fine; but when they have done so, they shall have the same honor price again, though they have not moved from their grade. This is derived from the maxim-' Protection is derived from the dignity of the poet.' Or they shall be like the churchman and let their laws [i.e. the churchmen's] be examined."16

There are a number of other paragraphs on the same subject, setting out all the different offences which incur degradation of rank, expressed in full or partial loss of honor price, and the various conditions respecting penance, payment of eric fine, and property qualification with good use of the same, under which the offender's original status with full honor price should be restored.

Enough, however, has been quoted from the text to illustrate amply the central principles underlying the organization of ancient Irish society, in accordance with a scrupulously fair and perfectly intelligible discipline, the effect of which must have gone far in keeping every grade of that society up to the standard of morale and efficiency appropriate to its station and responsibilities, as one element in the whole.

Each grade had its duty to the tribe of the territory; and the chief men-kings, bishops, poets, and brewys-each had his special duty to the community as a whole. The privileges enjoyed by the members of the higher grades were the appropriate reward and recognition of these duties, the relative value of each dignitary's service being expressed in terms of honor price. Neglect of duty, deterioration of character, have for their natural consequences, in the ideal of the State, loss of prestige and loss of confidence, followed, in due course, by curtailment of privilege. The Brehon Law expresses this idea aptly as loss of honor price, either in part or in whole. In order to appreciate this procedure more definitely, let us review the particulars in their bearing on this subject.

Under the old Irish Criminal Law, all offences were dealt with as injuries to the person, or persons, hurt by the crime, and as condonable by (i) restitution, or its equivalent in case of loss, (2) a suitable eric fine in compensation for personal injury, and (3) a further fine corresponding to the injured person's honor price, which may be conceived as compensation in atonement for the insult to his dignity. This appears to have been the original ideal of criminal law among all the Aryan peoples. In this respect the Aryan tradition and the Semitic tradition are strongly contrasted but we need not discuss that contrast here. Our immediate concern is with one of the special developments of detail in application of the principle, which is characteristic of the Irish Law. A crime was conceived, primarily, as an injury to a particular person in a possibly threefold sense -as a loss in respect of property, as a bodily injury, and as an insult to the personal dignity of the person injured. It is dealt with, for the most part, under these three heads throughout the Brehon Law Tracts. It is evident, however, that the conception of crime as illegal (i.e. disorderly) conduct-injurious to society as a whole-was by no means lacking. This conception was voiced indeed by the chief poet Dubhthach himself in his famous judgment on the murder of Patrick's charioteer. "What was agreed on by the men of Erin," says the commentator, "was that everyone should be given up for his crime, that sin might not otherwise increase in the island." This injury to society which every crime that goes unheeded by society inflicts might have to do with the fourth kind of eric fine referred to in the glossary.17 There are, however, no clear indications to that effect.

The fine which the criminal, or his family, had to pay might be eric fine, also called body fine, for death, or injury to the plaintiff's body. Or it might be eneclann, or honor price, for the insult offered to a dignitary. Or it might be simply a fine in compensation for loss of property due to the person robbed or defrauded, from the person guilty of the offence. The variety of names each denoting some kind of fine is certainly bewildering. Dire is simply the Irish for fine. Dire fine might mean any kind of fine, and is often used for honor price of which the proper name is eneclann. Eric means always the fine for bodily injury. Aithgin denotes compensation for loss of property.

On the general effect of the Brehon's scheme of criminal law as a national system of moral education something remains to be said in a later chapter. What concerns us at this point more particularly, as arising out of the text under consideration, is the educational effect on the aristocracy of the country of that special system of punishments described above, for those members of the seven chieftain grades who were guilty of serious crime. The ordinary fines were, of course, due from them to their victims in the ordinary way. But the matter could not be left at that. These pillars of the State, in recognition of their exalted position, were doubly protected from criminal assaults, inasmuch as injury to one of them involved the payment of substantial honor price as well as of eric fine. The natural consequence due to one of these honorable persons when he identified himself in character with delinquents who would have to pay him heavy honor price for insult in the normal course of things was that he should lose, for a triple offence, the whole of his right to honor price, and for a first offence forfeit part. The punishment fits the offence as a natural consequence in reason and appeals therefore to the culprit's sense of justice. It appeals also to his sense of honor in respect of himself and his family: the chieftain is made severely, but not too severely to feel that he has disgraced his order, the bishop that he has disgraced his cloth. The wise provision of means by which, under heavy fines, he may, in some cases, recover his position adds to the effectiveness of the discipline, as a whole, in its educational effects. The motto of the true aristocrat-bishop, lord, or learned ollamh---in all lands-is "Noblesse oblige." Under Irish Law the man of the noble grades who disgraced his order by unlawful deeds was sharply reminded of his dereliction from his standard of honor by partial degradation on the first offence. It seems to be probable that the Irish characteristic of sensitiveness above the normal on the point of honor, to which all Irish story and history bear witness, is not unconnected with this and other similar developments of the Aryan Law of Torts, in the administration of which the natural psychological insight of the Gael co-operated with his practical instinct of equity by producing a system for the administration of justice in the ideal of which freedom supports order, and is, by means of order, itself enlarged.



  1. Several circumstances indicate that Rath-Gutliaird is most probably the fort now called Lisanawer, near the village of Nobber in the parish of Nobber, Co. Meath, and about sixteen miles from Tara. In the commentary it is mentioned that Nith nemonach was on the banks of the river Nith. Now Nith was the ancient name of the river of Ardee in the county of Louth. with the clue afforded by this information, search was made by Dr. Hancock on the Ordnance Maps from the outlet to the source of the Ardee river for any means of identifying Rath-Guthaird. At the source of the river where it issues from Whitewood Lake, there is a stone marked as "Patrick's Stone," and the place where it is situate is called Nobber-beg. (See A. L. I., vol. i, p. xxix.)
  2. This appears to mean that the man who undertakes to do the deed may name his own reward to be received from the King.
  3. It is worthy of note that the most ancient account of the authorship of the Senchus Mor is that contained in the verses quoted in the introduction, which were probably contemporaneous with its composition.
  4. A. I. L, vol. i, pp. 5-15
  5. * The alternative as it presented itself to Dubhthach in the first instance might be understood to mean that eric fine would not be accepted in atonement for the crime, with implication of the inference that the death penalty was due. This would have been punishment according to the Old Testament "Law of the Letter," but contrary to the "Law of Forgiveness" taught in the Gospel. The second alternative is that of punishment according to Irish Law up to date, and here the Brehon was faced by the alternative of either exempting Nuada from payment of eric fine, which in the sight of man would have been a blot on Patrick's honor, and perhaps a dangerous thing, or decreeing that eric fine should be paid, which would be evil in the sight of God, as contrary to the Christian Gospel of forgiveness. Acting on the inspiration given him, as following on Patrick's benediction, he set Irish Law on one side altogether, and issued a decree in which, as he-and doubtless the men of Erin also-understood it, the Law of Moses and the Law of the Gospel were both fulfilled.

    From the remarks of the commentator on p.15 of the text, we may infer that the men of Erin understood the judgment in the sense intended. Odhran was the only man, so far as we know, who suffered death because of association with the Christian mission in Pagan Ireland. How far Dubhthach's judgment contributed to that result we cannot tell, but that he was anxious as to the effect of any other kind of judgment is shown in his reference to the Mosaic Law, which he makes in the poem, and the practical resolve that he takes accordingly. "The oldest fathers, the fathers of potent knowledge "-it could not be that they perverted the judgments of the Lord. It was for him, Dubhthach, not to heap aggravation upon the bloody crimes of men.

  6. Numbers 30:31-32
  7. "Except" here must mean except in respect of."
  8. "Berla Feini" was the dialect in which the Brehon laws were written.
  9. A. I. L. vol I, pp. 15-9
  10. A. L. I. vol. i, pp.23-5
  11. "Queen " is the name of a first wife of equal family.
  12. "The brewy of the everfull caldron is he by whom one hundred beds are kept, i.e. the brewy-lithech, i.e. he has two hundred of each kind of cattle, except dogs and Cats, and two hundred men in the condition of workmen, and it is in right of these that he is paid dire. Out of the ever-full caldron which boils on its hooks, their proper share is cut for all the persons who come by the house on their travels."
  13. "A large honor price should not be given to a bad man, to whom a small honor price is due; or a great dire fine to an unimportant person. Nor should a small honor price be given to the person to whom a large honor price is due. In a sense, every honor is evil to the good, seeing that, if a good man be killed, no eric fine can compensate for his death"
  14. A. I. L., vol. i, pp.31-41.
  15. A. I. L., vol. i, pp. 51-3.
  16. To do good with property appears to mean that it is used to increase or maintain the tribal inheritance.
  17. A. I. L., vol. i, pp.55-63.
  18. See A. I. L., vol. vi, pp 251-3, for an account of the various fines.