A student in our Mórrígan Intensive Programme asked me for resources on the Brehon Law system the other day, and I had to be honest – I didn’t have them to hand.
It’s not an area I’ve really dug into yet, though I know there’s a lot to study.
But look, as a teacher, one of the most ethical things that I hold sacred is that if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to… I tell them that honestly, and then I go and do my best to find quality resources where they (and me, usually) can go learn about the thing.
I found a few of my own, but the internet is full of mischief, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for – or looking at – it’s hard to tell what’s reliable.
Luckily, I run a couple of Facebook Groups that are full of the smartest people I know, so I always know where to go for the best recommendations. And with this question, they did not let me down!
[Huge thanks to: Erynn Rowan Laurie, C. Lee Vermeers, Geraldine Byrne, Shane Broderick, Robert L. Barton, Pamela Holcombe… and to Elisabeth Marx for the original question.]
The Wiki Page is actually not bad, for starters, as Shane pointed out in the group post. I have mentioned elsewhere many times before; we don’t take Wikipedia info as definitive source material, but we can use the reference section as a good starting point for any research.
Fergus Kelly featured, as anyone who is even passing familiar with Early Irish Law will be entirely un-shocked by. Erynn kicked us off by recommending ‘A Guide to Early Irish Law’ (book, 2005) as the classic – excellent for reference but it can be a little dense for a read through. This was backed up by Geraldine and others.
‘Whodunnit? Indirect evidence in early Irish Law’ (article, 2015) by Fergus Kelly also got an honourable mention from Pamela, and I’d like to add this link to his article about the legal status of trees: ‘Brehon Laws’ on Forestry Focus.
There’s a book online, written by Laurence Ginnell in 1894, which may be of interest. It’s on my list to work through… if you’ve read it, let me know what you think in the comments? It’s called ‘The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook’.
The Irish History Podcast is excellent (I’ve recommended it elsewhere too), and they did an episode called ‘Brehon Law: From Divorce to Irish Sex Magic’, which interviews Dr. Gillian Kenny – who also helped me out with an article on Gaelic Marriage Customs. The podcast description reads:
“Divorce and sex magic are not things we associate with medieval Ireland. However for over one thousand years Irish society was governed by a unique and radically different legal system called Brehon Law. In this podcast I interview Dr Gillian Kenny who explains what Brehon Law was and how it worked. She challenges widely held misconceptions and explains how divorce existed in medieval Ireland given it was banned in modern Ireland until 1995!. And then of course there is the sex magic.”Listen to the Irish History Podcast on Spotify
I must say though, I actually do associate Medieval Ireland with divorce and sex magic. Quite regularly.
‘Cattle Lords and Clansmen’ by Nerys Patterson is a great book, which I’ve also recommended elsewhere, but Robert reminded me that it has a chapter on the Brehon Law system that… “takes a long view of the development and cultural context that can help to understand the specific laws as they exist within a system.”
For the more established scholar, we can move to Daniel Binchy’s edits of the ‘Corpus iuris Hibernici’, in seven volumes. You can see the CODECS listing for Volume 1 here. Liam Breatnach’s book – ‘A Companion to the Corpus Iuris Hibernici (Early Irish Law)’ – will help get you through.
Neil McLeod wrote a number of articles on the topic, which you can find indexed on CODECS here. C. Lee has found the 2 part “Interpreting Early Irish Law: Status and Currency” particularly useful.
And finally, Robin Chapman Stacey has two books that are a somewhat easier read, and very useful. They are:
What’s your favourite (or most useful) Brehon Law Resource?
If you have any other recommendations, or would like to add your opinion on the ones above, please feel free to leave a comment below!
Irish Source Lore Manuscripts:
The following is an excerpt from an excellent book, detailed below, which you should absolutely have a copy of in your library!Jeffrey Gantz. Early Irish Sagas.
Oengus was asleep one night when he saw something like a young girl coming towards the head of his bed, and she was the most beautiful woman in Eriu. He made to take her hand and draw her to his bed, but, as he welcomed her, she vanished suddenly, and he did not know who had taken her from him. He remained in bed until the morning , but he was troubled in his mind: the form he had seen but not spoken to was making him ill. No food entered his mouth that day. He waited until evening, and then he saw a timpán in her hand, the sweetest ever, and she played for him until he fell asleep. Thus he was all night, and the next morning he ate nothing.
A full year passed, and the girl continued to visit Oengus, so that he fell in love with her, but he told no one. Then he fell sick, but no one knew what ailed him. The physicians of Eriu gathered but could not discover what was wrong. So they sent for Fergne, Cond’s physician, and Fergne came. He could tell from a man’s face what the illness was, just as he could tell from the smoke that came from a house how many were sick inside. Fergne took Oengus aside and said to him ‘No meeting this, but love in absence’. ‘You have divined my illness,’ said Oengus. ‘You have grown sick at heart,’ said Fergne.; and you have not dared to tell anyone.’ ‘It is true,’ said Oengus. ‘A young girl came to me; her form was the most beautiful I have ever seen, and her appearance was excellent. A timpán was in her hand, and she played for me each night.’ ‘No matter,’ said Fergne, ‘love for her has seized you. We will send you to Bóand, your mother, that she may come and speak with you.’
They sent to Bóand, then, and she came. ‘I was called to see to this man, for a mysterious illnes had overcome him,’ said Fergne, and he told Bóand what had happened. ‘Let his mother tend to him,’ said Fergne, ‘and let her search throughout Eriu until she finds the form that her son saw.’ The search was carried on for a year, but the like of the girl was not found. So Fergne was summoned again. ‘No help has been found for him,’ said Bóand. ‘Then send for the Dagdae, and let him come and speak with his son,’ said Fergne. The Dagdae was sent for and came, asking ‘Why have I been summoned?’ ‘To advise your son,’ said Bóand. ‘It is right that you help him, for his death would be a pity. Love in absence has overcome him, and no help for it has been found.’ ‘Why tell me?’ asked the Dagdae. ‘My knowledge is no greater than yours.’ ‘Indeed it is,’ said Fergne, ‘for you are king of the Síde of Eriu. Send messengers to Bodb, for he is king of the Síde of Mumu, and his knowledge spreads throughout Eriu.’
Messengers were sent to Bodb, then, and they were welcomed: Bodb said ‘Welcome, people of the Dagdae.’ ‘It is that we have come for,’ they replied. ‘Have you news?’ Bodb asked. ‘We have: Oengus son of the Dagdae has been in love for two years,’ they replied. ‘How is that?’ Bodb asked. ‘He saw a young girl in his sleep,’ they said, ‘but we do not know where in Eriu she is to be found. The Dagdae asks that you search all Eriu for a girl of her form and appearance.’ ‘That search will be made,’ said Bodb, ‘and it will be carried on for a year, so that I may be sure of finding her.’ At the end of the year, Bodb’s peple went to him at his house in Síd ar Femuin and said ‘We made a circuit of Eriu, and we found the girl at Loch Bél Dracon in Cruitt Cliach.’ Messengers were sent to the Dagdae, then; he welcomed them and said ‘Have you news?’ ‘Good news: the girl of the form you described has been found,’ they said. ‘Bodb has asked that oengus return with us to see if he recognises her as the girl he saw.’
Oengus was taken in a chariot to Síd ar Femuin, then, and he was welcomed there: a great feast was prepared for him, and ti lasted three days and three nights. After that, Bodb said to Onegus ‘Let us go, now, to see if you recognise the girl. You may see her, but it is not in my power to give her to you.’ They went on until they reached a lake; there, they saw three fifties of young girls, and Oengus’s girl was among them. The other girls were no taller than her shoulder; each pair of them was linked by a silver chain, but Oengus’s girl wore a silver necklace, and her chain was of burnished gold. ‘Do you recognise that girl?’ asked Bodb. ‘Indeed, I do,’ Oengus replied. ‘I can do no more for you, then’ said Bodb. ‘No matter, for she is the girl I saw. I cannot take her now. Who is she?’ Oengus said. ‘I know her, of course: Cáer Ibormeith daughter of Ethal Anbúail from Síd Uamuin in the province of Connachta.’
After that, Oengus and his people returned to their own lan, and Bodb went with them to visit the Dagdae and Bóand at Bruig ind Maicc Oic. They told their news: how the girl’s form and appearance were just as Oengus had seen: and they told her name and those of her father and grandfather. ‘A pity that we cannot get her,’ said the Dagdae. ‘What you should do is go to Ailill and Medb, for the girl is in their territory,’ said Bodb.
The Dagdae went to Connachta, then, and three score charios with him; they were welcomed by the king and queen there and spent a week feasting and drinking. ‘Why your journey?’ asked the king. ‘There is a girl in your territory,’ said the Dagdae, ‘with whom my son has fallen in love, and he has now fallen ill. I have come to see if you will give her to him.’ ‘Who is she ?’ Ailill asked. ‘The daughter of Ethal Anbúail,’ the Dagdae replied. ‘We do not have the power to give her to you,’ said Ailill and Medb. ‘Then the best thing would be to have the king of the síd called here,’ said the Dagdae. Ailill’s steward went to Ethal Anbúail and said ‘Ailill and Medb require that you come and speak with them.’ ‘I will not come,’ Ethal said, ‘and I will not give my daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ The steward repeated this to Ailill, saying ‘He knows why he has bee summoned, and he will not come.’ ‘No matter,’ said Ailill, ‘for he will come, and the heads of his warriors with him.’
After that, Ailill’s household and the Dagdae’s people rose up against the sid and destroyed it; they brought out three score heads and confined the king to Crúachu. Ailill said to Ethal Anbúail ‘Give your daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ ‘I cannot,’ he said, ‘for her power is greater than mine.’ ‘What great power does she have?’ Ailill asked. ‘Being in the form of a bird each day of one year and in human form each day of the following year,’ Ethal said. ‘Which year will she be in the shape of a bird?’ Ailill asked. ‘It is not for me to reveal that,’ Ethal replied. ‘Your head is off,’ said Ailill, ‘unless you tell us.’ ‘I will conceal it no longer, then, but will tell you, since you are so obstinate,’ said Ethal. ‘Next Samuin she will be in the form of a bird; she will be at Loch Bél Dracon, and beautiful birds will be seen with her, three fifties of swans about her, and I will make ready for them.’ ‘No matter that,’ said the Dagdae, ‘since I know the nature you have brought upon her.’
Peace and friendship were made among Ailill and Ethal and the Dagdae, then, and the Dagdae bade them farewell and went to his house and told the news to his son. ‘Go next Samuin to Loch Bél Dracon,’ he said, ‘and call her to you there.’ The Macc Oc went to Loch Bél Dracon, and there he saw the three fifties of white birds, with silver chains, and golden hair about their heads. Oengus was in human form at the edge of the lake, and he called to the girl, saying ‘Come and speak with me, Cáer!’ ‘Who is calling to me?’ sked Cáer. ‘Oengus is calling,’ he replied. ‘I will come,’ she said, ‘if you promise me that I may return to the water.’ ‘I promise that,’ he said. She went to him, then: he put his arms round her, and they slept in the form of swans until they had circles the lake three times. Thus, he kept his promise. They left in the form of two white birds and flew to Bruig ind Maicc Oic, and there they sang until the people inside fell asleep for three days and three nights. The girl remained with Oengus after that. This is how the friendship between Ailill and Medb and the Macc Oc arose, and this is why Oengus took three hundred to the cattle raid of Cúailnge.
Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology. On this site, you will find a regular podcast and articles about Irish Pagan Mythology by the Story Archaeologists, Chris Thompson and Isolde Carmody. This is the essential primer with regard to Irish pagan Podcasts. To find out what Story Archaeology is, and how we apply this method to the exploration of Irish stories, listen to this introductory mini-episode.
This is the podcast from The National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin, and is a platform to explore Irish and wider European folk tradition across an array of subject areas and topics. Hosts Jonny Dillon and Claire Doohan hope this informal and friendly tour through the folklore furrow will appeal to those who wish to learn about the richness and depth of our traditional cultural heritage; that a knowledge and understanding of our past might inform our present and guide our future. Check it on Sound Cloud here.
A series of interviews with Neil Jackman and a number of Ireland’s archaeologists and specialists, to discuss the key periods in Ireland’s past, the different types of sites and artefacts and how people lived in the past. An insight into the profession and practice of archaeology, and the various techniques and scientific methods that help to build the picture of Ireland’s history. View the website here.
With Irish Pagan Author and Guide Lora O’Brien. Authentic connection to Ireland with a native voice on mythology, indigenous spirituality, archaeology, history, culture, society, storytelling, and travel round the island. This one ticks the box for Irish Pagan Podcasts specifically – the first series is a reading of a dissertation on the Mórrígan – Listen Here.
Behind the wall of grammar homework lies the amazing world of the Irish language, and Darach (that @theirishfor guy) wants to take you there. With a crack team of the internet’s soundest Irish speakers, Darach will explore topics like differences between the Irish and English versions of the Constitution, silent letters, Gaeilge and technology, how new words get added to the dictionary and which old words have fallen out. It’s an all slammer, no grammar half hour. Get it in your ears here.
It’s about the culture, history and politics of Ireland, with journalist Naomi O’Leary and lecturer Tim Mc Inerney. They tie current events to the history and culture that explain them. Get your passport to Ireland here.
Fin Dwyer is a historian, author and podcaster. There are hundreds of free podcasts on Irish History, including things like the story of the Norman Invasion to the Great Famine. Irish Pagans will be particularly interested in the Witches and Witchcraft series here.
If you like listening to Irish folk talk about topics relevant to Irish Paganism, or Paganism in general, you’ll enjoy my YouTube Channel here.
And if you want to know about Irish Paganism – Start Here!
Today, I’m grieving.
Yesterday morning, I learned of the loss of a very good friend. I was in a café having breakfast while I waited on our car to be fixed… the most ordinary of situations, right?
My friend Cat texted me, to check had anyone been in touch, and then asked for a phone call. She told me of the loss of Jon Hanna.
A man I have known since we were both only young and coming into the Irish Pagan community, a comrade I have fought beside for the freedom and equality and understanding of all, a fellow Irish Pagan author, a Craft brother I have stood in circle with many times, a dear friend whose life rites and passages I have shared at every step.
The first time I met Jon, I was 18 years old. At some Pagan event in a pub, maybe a moot? Or an organisation gathering for something in the wider community? Anyway, he was in a group with a person I had no time for, who had quite vocally offended the majority of the Irish Pagan Community and continued to do so. This tall, skinny, ginger man with the Northern accent shouldn’t have been in any way interesting to me, given all that.
But he was.
Even back then I could see his wicked sharp intellect and dry sense of humour. I could feel a kinship, a kindred spirit. I wanted to be friends with him, regardless of anything else.
Luckily for me, my wish came true in good enough time. Jon was a member of pretty much every community I’ve ever considered myself a part of, and we became excellent friends through the long years between then and now.
My brother’s journey echoed my own, and mine his, in a great many ways.
We often spoke of past trauma and shared experiences, our personal mental health struggles as survivors, and the toxic culture that created the situations we both found ourselves in.
I don’t know why I still survive today, and he doesn’t, and that terrifies me.
But I will go on without him, as we all have to try to do, and hope that he has now found the peace he so needed. And deserved.
On Friday night we will Wake him at his house, and on Saturday his Wiccan Brothers and Sisters will give him his full due and send off, in a ceremony that will be incredibly difficult for us all.
Though Traditional Wicca is not a path I follow in my personal practice any more, those rites of initiation are ties that bind through lifetimes, and it is still my right and my duty to stand within that circle in times like this. For him.
Please, if you can, light a candle for our fallen brother, and for strength (and what peace may be had) to surround his family and his children, that they may draw on it if they choose or need to.
“Until we meet, know, remember and love again.”
If you’re struggling with PTSD, C-PTSD, or any other mental health issues – I’m not going to tell you to just “please talk to someone”, because I know exactly how difficult that can be. If you can – please do – but if you feel you can’t right now… Know at least that I’ve been there. I might be there again some day. But we can survive this, and keep surviving it. I believe in us.https://www.mentalhealthireland.ie/need-help-now/
On this blog, and in the weekly Irish Pagan Resources emails through our community mailing list, we cover a variety of topics, including: Irish Mythology, Irish History, Irish Culture, Irish Spirituality, Irish Storytelling & Irish Travel.
Or, really, whatever catches my interest that week?!
I thought it might be useful to provide a monthly collection of Irish Pagan resources here, under each heading. If you have any further recommendations yourself, comment below!
First, a warning… When we’re looking for authentic resources in Irish mythology, we often come across obviously poor materials. If there’s sparkly gifs flashing, that’s your first clue. But some of em are sneaky.
This for example – Fairies of the Irish Mythology – from The Irish Fireside, Volume 1, Number 24, December 10, 1883
It may LOOK like ye olde academic quality source material. But the reality is that it’s a pompous piece of colonial crap, with butchered Irish language references and arrogant assumptions about the uncivilised native savage.
So, Britain’s in a right oul mess too, aren’t they? Seems like a good time to dust off this article – Northern Ireland, a Beginner’s Guide.
We’re still a bit of a mixed bag here when it comes to equality in our society. While we have the Gender Recognition Act, which is amazing for Trans people in our community, we also have the likes of the Iona Institute and Glinner polluting our air. I’m not going to link to them – look them up, or just trust me they’re vile.
Gotta recommend the Irish Pagan School here, as I am a co-founder!
Many online courses and programmes (free and paid), with new content from excellent native Irish teachers coming each month.
I learned a while back that my good friend Joe Perri of Wolf Mercury Photography had NEVER HEARD OF EDDIE LENIHAN. Honestly, it’s kinda put me in a panic – I mean, who else out there isn’t aware of out storytelling national treasure? In case that’s you… Eddie storytelling live in a Pub. His beard scares me, but you know, each to his own. (Check this one especially for the Biddy Early reference).
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recommend any other Travel company than Land Sea Sky Travel. Vyviane is just too wonderful. Check out what’s on offer.
When you’re looking for authentic Irish Pagan Resources, it’s best to stick – in general – with native Irish sources. Check out my YouTube Video on Cultural Appropriation for more info!
Ogham (Pronounced: OH-mm, spelled ‘Ogam’ in Old Irish) is an ancient Irish language, written in a series of simple line markings along a straight edge. The original alphabet is a set of 20 characters or feda, arranged in 4 groups of 5, called aicmí. In later manuscripts, 5 additional letters appear, called the forfeda.
The characters themselves are known collectively as Beth-luis-nin, after the first letters of the groups, similar to the way Greek Alpha and Beta gave us the ‘alphabet’. Each Ogham letter is associated with a plant or tree, and a particular sound, and represents a collection of ‘kennings’; keys to knowledge, called the Briatharogaim.
While the texts and tales frequently mention Ogham being carved on wood and bark – used for spells and to record genealogies – it is the 358 inscribed stones known to remain in Ireland which provide a more permanent record. These seem to have served as burial or commemoration stones, boundary markers, and even a legal record for who might hold title to the land on which they stand.
It is impossible to definitively date the language, as we have no certain fixed points in history, archaeology, or linguistics. Most will agree that the Ogham carved stone tradition dates at least back to the 300’s CE, coinciding with the coming of the Latin language to Ireland, through trade with Roman Britain and the scholarship of Christian monks. Whether this was the start of the script, or it has deeper Pagan roots, is a question that waits to be answered.
Ogham’s importance in a hero’s burial is immortalised in the Táin:
“Then Etarcomol’s grave was dug
And his headstone planted in the ground
His name was written in Ogam
And he was mourned.”
Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom is a breakthrough in ogam divination and magical studies. Rather than working from the commonly known tree alphabet paradigm, Erynn Rowan Laurie takes us back to the roots of each letter’s name, exploring its meanings in the context of Gaelic language and culture. Like the Norse runes, each letter is associated with an object or a concept — “sulfur”, “a bar of metal”, “terror”. These letters are deeply enmeshed in a web of meaning both cultural and spiritual, lending power and weight to their symbolism. With two decades of experience with the ogam and over thirty years of working with divination, Erynn offers insights into the many profound meanings hidden in the ogam letters and their lore. She explains each letter in context and shows how to expand the system in new and innovative ways while acknowledging and maintaining respect for ogam’s traditional language and culture. In this book, you will find ways to use the ogam for divination, ideas on incorporating ogam into ritual, discussions of how ogam relates to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, and instructions for creating your own set of ogam feda or letters for your personal use.
This book is a creative exploration of the Ogam, based on a 17-year study by Irish author John-Paul Patton. The text explores the historical context of Ogam and the relationship between Ogam, poetry and the Gaelic harp. It contains a range of comparative studies between Ogam and the Kabbalah, Runes, I Ching and other systems. The text also presents original creations of an Ogam calendar, a divination system, and a reconstruction of Fidchell (the ancient Irish chess game) based on Ogam. The text further includes a system of Gaelic martial arts based on an elemental Ogam framework, magical Ogam squares, Ogam pentacles and much more, that fill this Tour de Force of contemporary Ogam study and use. The Poet’s Ogam carries on the Art and Science of the Filid-the Philosopher Poets who created and developed the Ogam and is a must for anyone with an interest in Celtic spirituality and magick. John-Paul Patton is generally recognised as a leading authority in Ireland of esoteric Ogam studies.
The subject of fairies in Celtic cultures is a complex one that seems to endlessly intrigue people. What exactly are fairies? What can they do? How can we interact with them? Answering these questions becomes even harder in a world that is disconnected from the traditional folklore and flooded with modern sources that are often vastly at odds with the older beliefs. This book aims to present readers with a straightforward guide to the older fairy beliefs, covering everything from Fairyland itself to details about the beings within it. The Otherworld is full of dangers and blessings, and this guidebook will help you navigate a safe course among the Good People.
Those who know me, know I’m no stranger to Daimler’s work.
Is it too early to start raving about this book? It might be too early to start raving about this book.
Inside you’ll see chapters on…
Each chapter is excellent, academic and in-depth but eminently readable; treated with Daimler’s usual deep passion for the topics, and a touch of soft humour here and there.
Ok, now I’m gonna rave about it. I LOVE THIS BOOK!
As a native ‘Celtic’ (Irish) priest of the Old Ways here in Ireland, I view all of Daimler’s work as an invaluable resource, and highly recommend anything that flows from that brain.
The world needs more people teaching everyone how not to get screwed by the Fair Folk 😉
(these are affiliate links, I’ll get a few cents if you shop through them, but it doesn’t cost you anything!)
There’s lots of stories with Táin in the title, but this article relates specifically to the best known of them – the Táin Bó Cuailnge, or ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’.
Early Irish manuscripts are the oldest remaining extant literary source material in Europe, opening a fascinating window to the Medieval society in which they were written down, and the older tales and oral traditions which they record for us to enjoy today.
The Táin Bó Cuailnge, the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’, (often just called “the Táin” – pronounced TAWn – though there are actually a number of different Táin stories as we said) lies at the heart of Ireland’s epic storytelling legacy.
This is a great battle saga tale set around the 1st Century CE, in the middle of the Iron Age – told and re-told through the ages. The story survives in a couple of different versions, called ‘recensions’; there are 3 of these remaining to us today.
The Book of Leinster scribe may have thought the tale worth re-telling, or perhaps he was reluctant and had been ordered to just get on with it, as there are elements of the Táin that didn’t sit well with him at all. His note in the margins, written in formal Latin script, tells its own tale:
But I who have written this story, or rather this fable, give no credence to the various incidents related in it. For some things in it are the deceptions of demons, other poetic figments; some are probable, others improbable; while still others are intended for the delectation of foolish men.
For those of us who want to have a look through the text today, we don’t have to go digging through the library archives of ancient manuscripts (thankfully, those things are dusty as all hell). There’s many options available to us both (free) online, and in tree book format if you like the paper stuff.
This is the most accurate translation of the epic Irish tale, the Táin Bó Cuailnge, and includes the major remscéla or pre-tales which go a long way towards putting some of the madder stuff into a bit of context.
There’s still a lot of mad stuff in there, but sure it’s all good.
Starting at Rathcroghan, in County Roscommon, the story wends its way across the country to Cooley in County Louth. Featuring CúChulainn, Lugh, the Morrigan, Ferdia, Conor MacNessa, Fergus Mac Roich, and the notorious warrior Queen of Connacht, Medb (Maeve) – you won’t be short of an interesting character to keep track of.
I really like the artwork included in this version, by Louis le Brocquy; it captures well the tenuous nature of the meanings and symbolism that are woven into the fabric of this teaching tale.