Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
EARLY HISTORY]
769
IRELAND

share to the marriage portion, the marriage was legal in the full sense and the wife was a wife of equal rank. The church endeavoured to make the wife of a first marriage the only true wife; but concubinage was known as an Irish institution until long after the Anglo-Norman invasion, and it is recognized in the Laws. If a concubine had sons her position did not differ materially in some respects from that of a chief wife. As the tie of the sept was blood, all the acknowledged children of a man, whether legitimate or illegitimate, belonged equally to his sept. Even adulterine bastardy was no bar to a man becoming chief of his tribe, as in the case of Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone. (See O’Neill.)

The food of the Irish was very simple, consisting in the main of oaten cakes, cheese, curds, milk, butter, and the flesh of domestic animals both fresh and salted. The better classes were acquainted with wheaten bread also. The food of the inhabitants of the Land of Promise consisted of fresh pork, new milk and ale. Fish, especially salmon, and game should of course be added to the list. The chief drinks were ale and mead.

The dress of the upper classes was similar to that of a Scottish Highlander before it degenerated into the present conventional garb of a highland regiment. Next the skin came a shirt (léine) of fine texture often richly embroidered. Over this was a tightly fitting tunic (inar, lend) reaching below the hips with a girdle at the waist. In the case of women the inar fell to the feet. Over the left shoulder and fastened with a brooch hung the loose cloak (brat), to which the Scottish plaid corresponds. The kilt seems to have been commonly worn, especially by soldiers, whose legs were usually bare, but we also hear of tight-fitting trousers extending below the ankles. The feet were either entirely naked or encased in shoes of raw hide fastened with thongs. Sandals and shoes of bronze are mentioned in Irish literature, and quite a number are to be seen in museums. A loose flowing garment, intermediate between the brat and lend, usually of linen dyed saffron, was commonly worn in outdoor life, and was still used in the Hebrides about 1700. A modified form of this over-tunic with loose sleeves and made of frieze formed probably the general covering of the peasantry. Among the upper classes the garments were very costly and variously coloured. It would seem that the number of colours in the dress indicated the rank of the wearer. The hair was generally worn long by men as well as women, and ringlets were greatly admired. Women braided their hair into tresses, which they confined with a pin. The beard was also worn long. Like all ancient and semi-barbarous people, the Irish were fond of ornaments. Indeed the profusion of articles of gold which have been found is remarkable; in the Dublin Museum may be seen bracelets, armlets, finger-rings, torques, crescents, gorgets, necklets, fibulae and diadems, all of solid gold and most exquisite workmanship.

The principal weapons of the Irish soldiers were a lance, a sword and a shield; though prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion they had adopted the battle-axe from the Scandinavians. The shields were of two kinds. One was the sciath, oval or oblong in shape, made of wicker-work covered with hide, and often large enough to cover the whole body. This was doubtless the form introduced by the Brythonic invaders. But round shields, smaller in size, were also commonly employed. These were made of bronze backed with wood, or of yew covered with hide. This latter type scarcely goes back to the round shield of the Bronze age. Armour and helmets were not generally employed at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion.

In the Brehon Laws the land belongs in theory to the tribe, but this did not by any means correspond to the state of affairs. We find that the power of the petty king has made a very considerable advance, and that all the elements of feudalism are present, save that there was no central authority strong enough to organize the whole of Irish society on a feudal basis. The tuath or territory of a (represented roughly by a modern barony) was divided among the septs. The lands of a sept consisted of the estates in severally of the lords (flathi), and of the ferand duthaig, or common lands of the sept. The dwellers on each of these kinds of land differed materially from each other. On the former lived a motley population of slaves, horse-boys, and mercenaries composed of broken men of other clans, many of whom were fugitives from justice, possessing no rights either in the sept or tribe and entirely dependent on the bounty of the lord, and consequently living about his fortified residence. The poorer servile classes or cottiers, wood-cutters, swine-herds, &c., who had a right of domicile (acquired after three generations), lived here and there in small hamlets on the mountains and poorer lands of the estate. The good lands were let to a class of tenants called fuidirs, of whom there were several kinds, some grazing the land with their own cattle, others receiving both land and cattle from the lord. Fuidirs had no rights in the sept; some were true serfs, others tenants-at-will; they lived in scattered homesteads like the farmers of the present time. The lord was responsible before the law for the acts of all the servile classes on his estates, both new-comers and senchleithe, i.e. descendants of fuidirs, slaves, &c., whose families had lived on the estate during the time of three lords. He paid their blood-fines and received compensation for their slaughter, maiming or plunder. The fuidirs were the chief source of a lord’s wealth, and he was consequently always anxious to increase them.

The freemen were divided into freemen pure and simple, freemen possessing a quantity of stock, and nobles (flathi) having vassals. Wealth consisted in cattle. Those possessed of large herds of kine lent out stock under various conditions. In the case of a chief such an offer could not be refused. In return, a certain customary tribute was paid. Such a transaction might be of two kinds. By the one the freemen took saer-stock and retained his status. But if he accepted daer-stock he at once descended to the rank of a vassal. In this way it was possible for the chief to extend his power enormously. Rent was commonly paid in kind. As a consequence of this, in place of receiving the farm produce at his own home the chief or noble reserved to himself the right of quartering himself and a certain number of followers in the house of his vassal, a practice which must have been ruinous to the small farmers. Freemen who possessed twenty-one cows and upwards were called airig (sing, aire), or, as we should say, had the franchise, and might fulfil the functions of bail, witness, &c. As the chief sought to extend his power in the tuath, he also endeavoured to aggrandize his position at the expense of other tuatha by compelling them to pay tribute to him. Such an aggregate of tuatha acknowledging one was termed a mórthuath. The ruler of a mórthuath paid tribute to the provincial king, who in his turn acknowledged at any rate in theory the overlordship of the ardrí.

The privileges and tributes of the provincial kings are preserved in a remarkable 10th century document, the Book of Rights. The rules of succession were extraordinarily complicated. Theoretically the members of a sept claimed common descent from the same ancestor, and the land belonged to the freemen. The chief and nobles, however, from various causes had come to occupy much of the territory as private property: the remainder consisted of tribe-land and commons-land. The portions of the tribe-land were not occupied for a fixed term, as the land of the sept was liable to gavelkind or redistribution from time to time. In some cases, however, land which belonged originally to a flaith was owned by a family; and after a number of generations such property presented a great similarity to the gavelled land. A remarkable development of family ownership was the geilfine system, under which four groups of persons, all nearly related to each other, held four adjacent tracts of land as a sort of common property, subject to regulations now very difficult to understand.[1] The king’s mensal land, as also that of the tanist or successor to the royal office appointed during the king’s lifetime, was not divided up but passed on in its entirety to the next individual elected to the position. When the family of an aire remained in possession of his estate in a corporate capacity, they formed a “joint and undivided family,” the head of which was an aire, and thus kept up the rank of the family. Three or four poor members of a sept might combine their property and agree to form a “joint family,” one of whom

  1. See D’Arbois de Jubainville, Revue celtique, xxv. 1 ff., 181 ff.