Download PDF The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook

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Known as the Book of Achill - four texts were brought together and bound in the 18th century in full sprinkled calf leather with the quires sewn twice on five flexible cords. This manuscript is from the late s and is being rebound in a limp vellum, adhesive-free binding, and stored in a pressure box by Trinity College - see pic below. Murder and Physicial Injury Gael Law is seen as an expression of a cultured humane society that protects itself. It did not use capital punishment ie death, violent punishment was seen as of no value to society.

Only deliberate murder could get a death penalty but the heavy fines system was the first option. The emphasis on fines instead means that fines extend to the entire family of the wrongdoer - such as loss of land, animal stock, posessions, future earnings. This was not just for the wrong doer but for his or her family for eternity The chief factors in determining the amount of penalty for any given crime were, 1 the damage done; 2 the status of the injured person; 3 the status of the criminal; 4 the accompanying circumstances.

The result was that like punishments did not always follow like crimes. A murderer could after all these fines also be sentenced to serve the family of the injured as a slave for life! Intentional and unintentional injury were seen as separate things - both require compensation because both were seen as unlawful. This made everyone stay awake and take care of others.

A legal text we have called Bretha Dein Checht tells of the various fines regarding the type, severity and place of wounds. A physician would define the wound after 9 days had passed. It may seem strange to us but a system of measuring the severity of a wound was to see how many grains or seeds of a certain plant would fit in the wound.

High status persons that had been unlawfully wounded had their wounds measured with smaller seeds than the wound of a low status person. This system used a range of seeds from wheat to beans When wounds did not heal and the cut of scar was to be a problem then the fine was increased in relation to this aspect. Murder was probably the most serious crime and the two fines imposed used terms that are still known of today in many circles. This is an important piece of the laws of Celtic Ireland because it extended byond the perpetrator and the victim. When the murderer could not pay his or her family had the fine or the balance of the fine that the murderer could not pay imposed on them.

The family of the murdered had 3 options of what to do with the murderer - they could await payment of the fixed fine and the honour price, sell the murderer into slavery or kill the murderer. There had to be closure and some form of restitution - obscure or pointless words as often given by judges today were no good, it had to be real and things had to get balanced.

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They were eiric or eric, reparation; einachlan, honour-price not strictly a fine ; dire, fine; coirpdire, body-fine; smacht, usually a fine of five seds; and airer, a fine amounting to one-seventh of the honour-price. Eric is defined as the fine for separating body from soul, that is for killing, whether murder or manslaughter. But of course the amount of it was not the same in these cases; for one of the most important distinctions made by the law in crimes was the presence or absence of intention. A man who happened by pure accident to kill another who was about his lawful business did not go wholly unpunished, as such a one does here at the present time.

Having destroyed human life and inflicted an irreparable injury on a family, he had to pay eric to the family of the deceased, and so alleviate suffering by sharing it.

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But one who committed wilful murder with malice aforethought had to pay at least a double fine. The Gaelic society which produced this body of law maintained an oral tradition for at least one thousand years. With the influence of the early Coptic Christian monastic sects which came to Ireland in the fifth and sixth centuries came the first writing. As new cases occurred new poems were added to the body of law ensuring the law was in synch with ever-changing life.

Brehon law is a natural law system based on the sustainable principle of common sense, this system was assimilated easily into the early Christian Gaelic order and continued to be used long after the introduction of English common law after the Norman and English invasions. The law survived into the seventeenth century in remote parts of Ireland.

The Brehon Laws of Early Ireland: An Introduction (Extract "Ancient Ireland Culture and Society)

Common law is based on precedent, and international law is based on common law, and Brehon law has precedence over both by virtue of the fact fifty ancient law texts survive, as manuscripts copied from seventh and eight century originals. These copies were made between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries at which point the Old Gaelic order finally collapsed after the battle of Kinsale.

The Gaelic leadership consisting of kings, chieftains, herbalists, poets, scholars and soldiers agreed after defeat at Kinsale to leave Ireland. In exchange for relocation and no more resistance they were promised that their now leaderless, vulnerable, people would be spared by the crown forces. Brehon Law Manuscript. It is recorded as soon as the Gaelic ships were out of sight, the whole-scale slaughter of the remaining Gaels commenced and with it the final annihilation of the primeval woodlands of Ireland which had been the bedrock of the Gaelic order for so long.

The context for the sophisticated Brehon laws was removed. Common law places material objects property, goods, manmade objects, profits, etc over and above living entities. Brehon law places people, life and nature before property. From common law we have the example of property being nine tenths of the law, which explains how stolen property is hard to retrieve. Now we see how common law was used to legalise stolen property for the English crown. Under the Gaelic order there was no personal property; the most people could say was WE own this land. Like many earth based peoples the concept of land ownership was alien; the tribe were caretakers of the land.

The Brehon laws ensured that the uses of the land were sustainable, which is why we can learn so much from this wise system of natural law today as we struggle to come to grips with the massive environmental and social degradation witnessed today. There is a need to urgently re-examine how the Brehon laws, although dormant due to historic circumstances, can help us today to safeguard the future for the generations of unborn.

Make no mistake about it Brehon law is a living, breathing, vibrant law system of huge significance for this island and the world. They related to the Brehon laws as the nearest law system they could identify with, and the courts were forced to allow Brehon law into the arguments as it was written down four or five centuries before common law, and therefore had precedent. International copyright law is derived solely from Brehon law from a famous recorded case from the sixth century involving a dispute between two monks.

One monk said Colmcille had copied an illustrated manuscript created by another monk, called Finian. The case was resolved using the Brehon law and the judgement maintained as the original manuscript was created on vellum a natural material the Brehon poets decided in favour of compensation to Finian, as they stated to every cow its calf, to each manuscript a copy with compensation to the creator.

250: Brehon Code of Ireland

This judgement has not been bettered to this day. It would appear the reason for Brehon laws amazing longevity and continued use was the simple fact that it worked and it was built on respect for life allied to common sense ensuring the conditions upon which all life depends were respected and therefore maintained. Stewardship is close to the ideal but caretaker is more hands-on when it comes to explaining what it really means to be caring for the land.

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  8. There are three options when you have land — extract wealth, ignore it and tend it. Extracting wealth without facilitating re-growth damages the natural harmony that the land has created itself through time. The natives could no longer enjoy the abundance of the forest i. The wild herbs, plants and animals had their support system seriously reduced with the large scale deforestation in the s. After Henry 8 the natural forest existed only in areas that were too difficult to harvest the wood cheaply. Even today our native forests have only minimal presence and our government has not made any serious efforts to re-grow or restore our native woodlands.

    Did Henry 8 and Liz 1 know what they were doing? They certainly did. They saw huge abundant natural wealth that they could steal by force of arms and they knew that there would be a huge catastrophic negative effect on the indigenous peoples and Celtic traditions of this land at the same time.

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    These acts of theft or destruction led directly to the dissolution of the old Celtic traditions and within years we also see the end of the independence of the Gaelic Order. It was the last great heroic stand by the Irish in the medieval era, but the Earls chose to leave Ireland because they got an agreement that their people would be spared punishment. After the Earls had gone — the invading army slaughtered all the Gaels they could find. This foreign army then began to starve and asked for food supplies from home and the little that did arrive did not stop the hunger for their army.

    Imagine it — the army usually lived off the land where ever it was but in their extreme violence they had killed almost all the farmed and wild beasts and burned the crops and homesteads so there was nothing left to rob. Then, with the next wave of activity, they began to cut down the great Oak forests. This clear fell of wild forest was a great crime against the people, the land and all the wild creatures and their homes. It was a blitzkrieg designed for re-population by English lords and their tenant farmers and a total change in land use that would now generate taxable profits for the empire.

    For the first time in Ireland trees were seen merely as profit and the natural respect by the people for their forests became secondary to actual human survival. This meant that in a very short period of time the natural habitat for the flora and fauna was gone, never to be restored. Hunting and harvesting from the wild was not a viable option for the invader or the native population any more. Of course there were hunters but the herds had diminished and hunting became illegal for the native.

    A total shift in land use from the traditional respect for the forests and all that they provide in a sustainable relationship because of Brehon Law now became a series of big monoculture fields of grain for export back to their empire. The native people were seriously impoverished without their forests.

    A slow and continual genocide followed. It was very simple. They stole land by force of arms and killed everyone who would not serve them. All this was revised and modified and updated by successive English kings who sought merely to increase the tax take. Their upper class preferred Oak to coal for their palace fires. Then there was a forced land grab under the title of Plantation that pushed the remaining Gael into the worst land.