Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/833

This page needs to be proofread.


BREHON


753


BREHON


by the Jesuit Father Ayroles in "La vraie Jeanne d'Arc" (1790). Brchal resigned his office in 1474 and retired to iiis convent of Kvreux, where lie spent the rest of iiis days in study, a model of conventual abservance and discipline. He wrote: " De libera luctoritate audiendi confessiones religiosis mendi-

antibus concessi", first edition, date and place of

publication not given; later, 1479; and Paris, 1507.

QuETlF-EcH.lRD, Scriptores Ord. Prnd. (Paris, 1719), I, S15; Mandonnet in Diet, de thiol, caih. (Paris, 1903), 1127; HuR- PER, Namenclatar, II, 1059; Civilta Cattol. (1894), IX, 463-467; Michael in Zeitschrift f. kath. Theol. (1895), XIX, 136-140. John R. Volz.

Brehon Laws, The. — Brehon law is the usual term for Irish native law, as administered in Ireland down to almost the middle of the seventeenth century, and in fact amongst the native Irish until the final con- summation of the English conquest. It derives its Qame from the Irish word Breithcamh (genitive Breitheamhan, pronounced Brehoon or Brehon) which means a judge. That we have ample means for be- aming acquainted with some of the principal provi- sions of the Brehon code is entirely owing to the labours of two men, O'Curry and O'Donovan, who ivere the first Irish scholars since the death of the great hereditary Irish antiquarian, Duald Mac Firbis (mur- dered bj' an English settler in 1670), to penetrate md understand tlie difficult and highly technical lan- ^age of the ancient law tracts. After much labori- 5us work in the libraries of Trinity College Dublin, n the Royal Irish Academy, in the British Mu- seum, and in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, O'Curry ranscribed eight volumes full of the .so-called Brehon Laws containing 2,906 pages, and O'Donovan nine uore volumes containing 2,491 pages. Nor was their abour by any means exhaustive. There are many nore valuable Brehon documents still untranscribed n the library of Trinity College, in the British Mu- seum, and in the Bodleian, and possibly some frag- nents in the Royal Irish Academy and other reposi- ories. From the labours of O'Donovan and O'Curry he Government published in the Master of the Rolls

eries five great tomes and a sixth containing a
lossary. But these five large volumes do not by any

neans contain the whole of Irish law literature, which, n its widest sense, that is, including such pieces as -he "Book of Rights", would probably fill at least -en such volumes.

Contents of The Brehon Law Books. — ^The first .wo volumes of the Brehon Law, as published, contain -he Seanchus M6r (Shanahus More) or "Great Im- nemorial Custom" which includes a preface to the e.xt, in which we are told the occasion of its being irst put together and "purified", and the Law of Distress, a process which always had much influence n Irish legislation. The second volume contains the Law of Hostage Sureties, also a very important item r. ancient Irish life, the law of fosterage, of tenure )f stock, and of .social connexions. The third volume jontains the important document known as the 'Book of Acaill", which is chiefly taken up with the aw of torts and injuries. This book professes to be I compilation of the various dicta and judgments of Iving Cormac Mac Airt who lived in the third century, md of Cennfaeladh, a famous warrior who fought in he Battle of Moyrath (c. 634), and afterwards became I renowned jurist, who lived in the seventh. The ourth and fifth volumes consist of isolated law tracts, )n taking possession, on tenancy, right of water, iivisions of land, social ranks, the laws relating to wets and their verse, the laws relating to the Church, hiefs, husbandmen, pledges, renewals of covenants, tc.

Although all these tracts go commonly under the reneric name of the Brehon Laws, they are not really odes of law at all, or at least not essentially so. They ire rather the digests or compilations of generations


of learned lawyers. The text of the Seanchus M6t, for instance, which is contained in the first two vol- umes, is comparatively brief. That part of it relating to the law of immediate seizure must, according to M. d'Arbois de Jubainville, have been written before the year 600, but not before the introduction of Christianity into Ireland, which probably took place in the third century. The rest of the Seanchus is not so old. The year 438 is that given by the Irish an- nalists themselves for the redaction of the Seanchus Mdr which according to its own commentary was the joint effort of three kings, of two clerics, of Ross a doctor of the Berla Fcine or legal dialect, of Dubh- thach a doctor of literature, of Fergus a doctor of poetry, and of St. Patrick himself, who struck out of it all that "clashed with the law of God". It is im- possible to say how far certain parts of the law may have reached back into antiquity and become stereo- typed by usage before they became stereotyped in WTiting. The text of the Seanchus Mdr itself is not extensive. It is the great amount of commentaries wTitten by generations of lawj'ers upon the te.xt, and then the additional annotations written upon these commentaries by other lawyers, which swells the whole to such a size.

Iri.sh Social Organization. — ^We are able to gather fairly well from these books the remains only of what must once have been an immense law litera- ture, the social organization of a pure Aryan people, closely cognate with the ancestors of the modern Gauls, Spaniards, and Britons; and from what we learn of the ancestors of the present Irish people we may deduce a good deal that is probably no less ap- plicable to the other Aryan Celts. Broadly speaking, the country was go\'erned by a ruling class called "Kings", of different grades, the highest being the King of Ireland, and next to these were the nobles or princes called in Irish Flaith (pronounced like flah or floih). In aU there were, including kings and flaiths, nominally at least, seven different kinds of aires (arras), or nobles, and provision was carefully made that a wealthy farmer, or peasant grown rich through cattle, could, if he possessed twice the wealth of the lowest of the seven, and had held it for cer- tain generations, become an aire, or noble, of the seventh, or lowest degree. Thus wealth and descent were carefully balanced over against each other. "He is an inferior chief whose father is not a chief", says the law. But it took care at the same time not to close to anyone the avenues to chieftainship. Ten- der ancient Irish law the land did not belong to the king or the chief or the landlord, but to the tribe, and the lowest of the free-tribesmen had as much an in- alienable right to his share as had the chief himself. In process of time parts of the tribal territory appear to have become alienated to sub-tribes or families, and the chief, who always exercised certain adminis- trative duties with respect to the land, appears to have had certain specific portions of the tribal land allotted to himself for his own use, and for the main- tenance of his household and relatives. He was in no sense, however, what is now known as a landlord, although the whole tendency of later times was to increase his power at the expense of his tribe and vassals.

Free-tribesmen. — The great bulk of the ancient Irish cultivators were the Feine (Faina) or free- tribesmen from whom the Brehon law is called in Irish Feineachas, or the " Law of the Free-tribesmen ". In process of time many of these in hours of distress naturally found themselves involved in something like pecuniary transactions with their head-chiefs, and, owing to poverty, or for some other reason, were driven to borrow or accept cattle from them, either for milk or tillage. These tribesmen then became the chieftain's ceites (kailas) or vassals. They were known as Saer-stock and Daer-stock Ceiles. The soer-