Traditional Irish Laws

Congratulations to Brooklyn Law School alumna Catherine F. Duggan, Class of 1987, who has written The Lost Laws of Ireland: How the Brehon Laws Shaped Early Irish Society. The book, published by Dublin-based Glasnevin Publishing on June 11, 2013, tells how the ancient laws of Celtic Ireland were used from the time before Patrick until the 17th century when they were outlawed and disappeared. Crafted by judges, known as Brehons, the laws were surprisingly modern in their approach to timeless issues and reflect a complex and sophisticated society. This book gives an outline of the main features of the laws and their history, and ultimately focuses on certain themes that are significant to the modern reader, such as equity and fairness, transparent legal process and women’s rights. Many of the legal manuscripts have been lost or destroyed and the laws were not translated into English until modern times. As a result, they have mostly remained obscure and unstudied. Only recently have they given up their secrets. The ancient laws provide a window into society in early Ireland where learning was revered, social mobility was expected and fairness and harmony were social goals. Their resilience demonstrates their value and effectiveness. The Brehon legal system came to an end officially in 1605 after enduring for over a thousand years.

Researchers at the BLS Library can learn more about the subject of Celtic Law using SARA to locate Traditional Irish Laws by Mary Dowling Daley and illustrated by Ian McCullough (Call #KDK172 .D25 1998). It is a short book only 79 pages in length with a humorous look into the laws and culture of the ancient Irish. The BLS Library also has the print edition of The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook by Laurence Ginnell (Call #KDK145 .G56 1993). Both of these items are located in the BLS Library International Collection. The BLS Library also has the HeinOnline digital version of Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook (1894).