the agricultural buildings and the groups of houses of the owners. The enclosed houses belonged to the free men (aire, pl. airig). The size of the houses and of the enclosing mound and ditch marked the wealth and rank of the aire. If his wealth consisted of chattels only, he was a bó-aire (cow-aire). When he possessed ancestral land he was a flaith or lord, and was entitled to let his lands for grazing, to have a hamlet in which lived labourers and to keep slaves. The larger fort with several ramparts was a dún, where the rí (chieftain) lived and kept his hostages if he had subreguli. The houses of all classes were of wood, chiefly wattles and wicker-work plastered with clay. In shape they were most frequently cylindrical, having conical roofs thatched with rushes or straw. The oratories were of the same form and material, but the larger churches and kingly banqueting halls were rectangular and made of sawn boards. Bede, speaking of a church built by Finan at Lindisfarne, says, “nevertheless, after the manner of the Scots, he made it not of stone but of hewn oak and covered it with reeds.” When St Maelmaedóc in the first half of the 12th century thought of building a stone oratory at Bangor it was deemed a novelty by the people, who exclaimed, “we are Scotti not Galli.” Long before this, however, stone churches had been built in other parts of Ireland, and many round towers. In some of the stone-forts of the south-west (Ir. cathir) the houses within the rampart were made of stone in the form of a beehive, and similar cloghans, as they are called, are found in the western isles of Scotland.
Here and there in the neighbourhood of the hamlets were patches of corn grown upon allotments which were gavelled, or redistributed, every two or three years. Around the dúns and raths, where the corn land was the fixed property of the lord, the cultivation was better. Oats was the chief corn crop, but wheat, barley and rye were also grown. Much attention was paid to bee-keeping and market-gardening, which had probably been introduced by the church. The only industrial plants were flax and the dye-plants, chief among which were woad and rud, roid (a kind of bed-straw?). Portions of the pasture lands were reserved as meadows; the tilled land was manured. There are native names for the plough, so it may be assumed that some form of that implement, worked by oxen, yoked together with a simple straight yoke, was in use in early times. Wheeled carts were also known; the wheels were often probably only solid disks, though spoked wheels were used for chariots. Droves of swine under the charge of swineherds wandered through the forests; some belonged to the rí, others to lords (flaith) and others again to village communities. The house-fed pig was then as now an important object of domestic economy, and its flesh was much prized. Indeed, fresh pork was one of the inducements held out to visitors to the Irish Elysium. Horned cattle constituted the chief wealth of the country, and were the standard for estimating the worth of anything, for the Irish had no coined money and carried on all commerce by barter. The unit of value was called a sét, a word denoting a jewel or precious object of any kind. The normal sét was an average milch-cow. Gold, silver, bronze, tin, clothes and all other kinds of property were estimated in séts. Three séts were equal to a cumal (female slave). Sheep were kept everywhere for their flesh and their wool, and goats were numerous. Horses were extensively employed for riding, working in the fields and carrying loads. Irish horsemen rode without saddle or stirrups. So important a place did bee-culture hold in the rural economy of the ancient Irish that a lengthy section is devoted to the subject in the Brehon Laws. The honey was used both in cooking and for making mead, as well as for eating.
The ancient Irish were in the main a pastoral people. When they had sown their corn, they drove their herds and flocks to the mountains, where such existed, and spent the summer there, returning in autumn to reap their corn and take up their abode in their more sheltered winter residences. This custom of “booleying” (Ir. buaile, “shieling”) is not originally Irish, according to some writers, but was borrowed from the Scandinavians. Where the tribe had land on the sea-coast they also appear to have migrated thither in summer. The chase in the summer occupied the freemen, not only as a source of enjoyment but also as a matter of necessity, for wolves were very numerous. For this purpose they bred dogs of great swiftness, strength and sagacity, which were much admired by the Romans.
The residences within enclosing ramparts did not consist of one house with several apartments, but every room was a separate house. Thus the buildings forming the residence of a well-to-do farmer of the bó-aire class as described in the Laws, consisted of a living-house in which he slept and took his meals, a cooking-house, a kiln for drying corn, a barn, a byre for calves, a sheep-fold and a pigsty. In the better classes the women had a separate house known as grianán (sun-chamber). The round houses were constructed in the following manner. The wall was formed of long stout poles placed in a circle close to one another, with their ends fixed firmly in the ground. The spaces between were closed in with rods (usually hazel) firmly interwoven. The poles were peeled and polished smooth. The whole surface of the wicker-work was plastered on the outside and made brilliantly white with lime, or occasionally striped in various colours, leaving the white poles exposed to view. There was no chimney; the fire was made in the centre of the house and the smoke escaped through a hole in the roof, or through the door as in Hebridean houses of the present day. Near the fire, fixed in a kind of holder, was a candle of tallow or raw beeswax. Around the wall in the houses of the wealthy were arranged the bedsteads, or rather compartments, with testers and fronts, sometimes made of carved yew. At the foot of each compartment, and projecting into the main room, there was a low fixed seat, often stuffed with some soft material, for use during the day. Besides these there were on the floor of the main apartment a number of detached movable couches or seats, all low, with one or more low tables of some sort. In the halls of the kings the position of each person’s bed and seat, and the portion of meat which he was entitled to receive from the distributor, were regulated according to a rigid rule of precedence. Each person who had a seat in the king’s house had his shield suspended over him. Every king had hostages for the fealty of his vassals; they sat unarmed in the hall, and those who had become forfeited by a breach of treaty or allegiance were placed along the wall in fetters. There were places in the king’s hall for the judge, the poet, the harper, the various craftsmen, the juggler and the fool. The king had his bodyguard of four men always around him; these were commonly men whom he had saved from execution or redeemed from slavery. Among the miscellaneous body of attendants about the house of a king or noble were many Saxon slaves, in whom there was a regular trade until it was abolished by the action of the church in 1171. The slaves slept on the ground in the kitchen or in cabins outside the fort.
The children of the upper classes in Ireland, both boys and girls, were not reared at home but were sent elsewhere to be fostered. It was usual for a chief to send his child to one of his own sub-chiefs, but the parents often chose a chief of their own rank. For instance, the ollam fili, or chief poet, who ranked in some respects with a tribe-king, sent his sons to be fostered by the king of his own territory. Fosterage might be undertaken out of affection or for payment. In the latter case the fee varied according to rank, and there are numerous laws extant fixing the cost and regulating the food and dress of the child according to his position. Sometimes a chief acted as foster-father to a large number of children. The cost of the fosterage of boys seems to have been borne by the mother’s property, that of the daughters by the father’s. The ties created by fosterage were nearly as close and as binding on children as those of blood.
There is ample evidence that great laxity prevailed with regard to the marriage tie even after the introduction of Christianity, as marrying within the forbidden degrees and repudiation continued to be very frequent in spite of the efforts of the church. Marriage by purchase was universal, and the wealth of the contracting parties constituted the primary element of a legitimate union. The bride and bridegroom should be provided with a joint fortune proportionate to their rank. When they were of equal rank, and the family of each contributed an equal