In the seventh century, your local solicitor in Ireland would not have had a centrally located office and the scope of their business was not restricted to one geographic region. Instead what existed were wandering lawyers, who travelled from town to town plying their trade. They were known as Brehons and they played a very important part of seventh century Irish society as they were experts in explaining and unravelling the complexities of the legal system. In today’s terms some of the laws which existed would be considered peculiar. Below are some interesting facts in regards Brehon Law.
Fact 1: The importance of the Harpist
A harpist was the only member of the musical fraternity who had a noble standing associated with his/her choice of musical instrument. All other musicians got the same treatment as the general populus.
Fact 2: February was the month for marital separation
In regards marital separation the first day of February was deemed the day that a husband or wife could decide if they no longer wanted to remain married and were entitled to walk away once that decision was made on that specific date.
Fact 3: Husband Fines
There were many fines specific to husbands. One unusual one is that husbands were fined if they failed to get a morsel of food for their pregnant wives when requested.
Fact 4: Care of the Elderly
In regards looking after the elderly, families were obliged under law to provide their parents with one oatcake and a container of sour milk every day.
Fact 5: Medical Care Facilities
There were also some interesting laws in regards medical care. If a patient was recovering in a doctor’s house, fools and drunks were prohibited from entering the house until the patient had left.
Fact 6: Medical Negligence Cases
If after being treated by a doctor for a wound and if that wound did not heal properly and reopened as a result of a lack of skill or negligence of the doctor, the patient was not only entitled to a return of the doctors fee, but the doctor was obliged to pay the patient compensation directly.
Fact 7: Alcohol restrictions for monks
A monk was only allowed three pints of ale with his lunch whereas a layperson was allowed six. This law was in place to encourage sobriety when praying.
Brehon Law formed part of a comprehensive legal system which existed in Ireland up until the 17th century when the laws were banned by Elizabeth 1st and English Common Law took its place.
Brehon Law was more civil in nature than criminal. These laws were enforced by people called sureties, who were not part of the state apparatus but were empowered to enforce contracts or other legal obligations.
It is amazing to think that those who lived in seventh century Ireland were part of a strict hierarchical society who adhered to a complex series of laws which covered thousands of real life scenarios, namely Brehon Law.