Ancient Irish Law

‘Irish law is the oldest, most original, and most extensive of mediaeval European legal systems. It is a unique legal inheritance, an independent indigenous system of advanced jurisprudence that was fully evolved by the eighth century. It is also far less well-known than it deserves.’

‘Early medieval Ireland evolved a system of law (often called ’Brehon’ law, from the Old Irish word brithemain ’judges’) which is remarkable in several respects. No other early medieval society has left such a substantial amount of written law, and none has preserved its laws entirely in the vernacular. Early Irish law is unique also amongst medieval legal codes in the range and nature of the subjects that are covered by it. It has also, until relatively recently, suffered unique neglect. Thanks, however, to the researches of scholars in the last half-century or so, the full richness of the Irish legal material from the period c. 600 to c. 800 can now be fully explored, using the tools of philology, history, archaeology and anthropology.’ –Introductory text to a course on early Irish law from the National University of Ireland, Galway. –Professor Donnchadh Ó Corráin

Professor Donnchadh Ó Corráin devoted the seminal works of D. A. Binchy, a member of the Irish Bar and Senior Professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. In 1978, D. A. Binchy published his monumental corpus of ancient Irish law, Corpus Iuris Hibernici (6 vols, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies 1978). This is a work of 2343 pages (about 1,483,000 words) containing an edition of all the Irish law texts written on vellum manuscripts (seventh to twelfth centuries) with their accompanying glosses and commentaries in Old, Middle and Early Modern Irish. It is a fundamental resource for the study of Irish history and culture of the early mediaeval period when Ireland made a unique contribution to European civilisation, scholarship and law. Its publication has led to a renaissance in early Irish legal studies (in which Irish, British, continental European and American scholars are involved). –Professor Donnchadh Ó Corráin (RIIP), former Director of CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts. Editor of Peritia. Journal of the Medieval Academy of Ireland. University College Cork,

D. A. Binchy was the uncle of the Author Maeve Binchy and her brother William Binchy, a former Regius Professor of Laws at Trinity College, Dublin.

Image | Annals of Connacht, RIA MS C iii 1 (Cat. no. 1219), f.1v, c. 1468-1562

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One thought on “Ancient Irish Law

  1. fascinating – pity there are no grants to translate the corpus into English and conduct compare and contrast studies with modern legislation.

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