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THE TRIBE (in ancient Ireland)





Edited from “The History of the Irish race.”

THE TRIBE (in ancient Ireland)


The Tuohy tribe (The Hy Many, pronounced High Main) is seen in the blue section, at the bottom. 



(1) There were nearly two hundred tuaths or territories, in Ireland, each occupied by a tribe, under its chief who was oftentimes designated king of a tuath.

(2) The subdivisions of a tuath were ballybetaighs of which there were usually thirty to each tuath. The ballybetaigh was again subdivided into twelve seasreachs, each of one ploughland or about one hundred and twenty acres. The ballybetaigh was supposed
to be of extent to supply grazing for four herds of seventy-five cows each, "without one cow touching another."

In general, the whole of the lands of the territory belonged to all the tribe. But there was a limited circle, including the king, the nobles, and a few of the leading professional men, each of whom had private rights in a certain portion of the land — the right to use those lands for the benefit of himself and family, but not to transfer them to any person outside the tribe. The foregoing refers only to special portions of the tribal land. The greater part of the tribal land was free for the use of all the people of the tribe.

(3) These privileged ones who had exclusive rights to the use of certain lands, usually rented large portion in parcels to the ceiles (tenants) — who formed the feine, or general body of the people.

The privileged person usually also rented to the ceile cattle for stocking the land. The ceile who owned his own stock, or who had to borrow but little, was of much higher standing than the ceile who had to borrow or rent all his stock. The former wasy
called a free ceile, and the latter an unfree because he was bound to those above him by so many obligations.

The stock borrowed from a noble (or from a certain class between the noble and the ceile called bo-aire, who had stock to rent) was returned, it or its equivalent, at the end of seven years.

(4) Below the ceilesthe feine, or general body of the people of the tribe — were two classes usually rated as non-free. One of them was the bothach and sencleithe, who were labourers, horseboys, herdsmen, and hangers-on, supported by particular families to which they were attached, and who were considered members of the tribe, but had neither property rights nor any voice in the tribal council.

(5) The other, the fu'idir, were strangers, fugitives, war captives, condemned criminals or people who had to give up their freedom in order to work out a debt or fine that they could not pay.

These latter, were not of the tribe, only belonged to it, and were serfs, pure and simple. Only, they had the right of renting a little land and gradually acquiring property — till, in the course of a certain number of years, having accumulated some substance, and having proved to the tribe that they were people of character, they could, by the general voice of the tribe, be received into the fold, and become of the feine.

Of course the bothach and sencleithe were privileged to raise themselves even
more easily than the fiiidir. The very humblest might, by inherent worth, work his way up to be eventually among the noblest. So, the class system in Ireland was not a caste system. It was only the fuidir, the mere flotsam and jetsam of the nation, who were in the state of semi-servitude.


 The feudal system, the system of the lord and the serf, which was the rule through-
out almost all the countries of Europe then, wzs never known in Ireland — at least not until the English, after they had established footing there, endeavoured to introduce from their own country a form of it.

(6)  The system in Ireland was something more like the patriarchal system of the east. The tribe resolved itself into family groups called derb-fine centring around one leading family from whom the chief was always chosen.

The law of inheritance in ancient Ireland was not that of primogeniture, but of gavel-kind — that is, instead of the eldest son inheriting all the father's property, it was divided, cattle and land, among all the sons. But the eldest son got, with his share, the
house and offices and household effects. Special responsibilities fell to him as guardian of his sisters, and of his brothers under age, and as the representative of the family in all cases of stress  or need.

The laws protected every one, including the base fuidir. They were especially framed to protect the weak against the strong. "No person," says the law, "shall be oppressed in his difficulty." And the law forbade the rent-payer to give service or rent to one

Four generations sprung from one man usually went to each derb-fine — so that in each succeeding generation the groups had to be re-arranged. who would exact unjustly. The greedy oppressor had to repent and pay a fine before his ceile should resume giving him either rent or service.

The ceile contributed to the head of the tribe a certain amount of labour, a portion of the household needs, and a certain number of days military service, which was demanded when the need arose.

But the chief, or king of the territory — as well as the provincial king and the Ard-Righ — kept about him a number of paid permanent troops — his household troops composed of his own people, and a small standing army usually composed of mercenaries. And the strongest, most powerful man was chosen as the king's airechta, champion or avenger.

The king of the tuath paid tribute to the provincial king, who in turn paid tribute to the Ard-Righ. And on the other hand, each of the higher kings paid back to his tributary a small courtesy tribute called tuarastal.

The Book of Rights specifies in full, and curious detail, the cis, or amounts of the tribute in cattle, in cloaks, in swords, etc., due from each inferior king to his superior — and
likewise the tuarastal from the superior to his inferior.

The headship (v/hether chief or king) was hereditary only to the extent that the ruler was always chosen by the people, from within one family.

 From the r'lgh-davuia (king material) that is, the royal uncles, brothers, sons, nephews, grand-sons and grandnephews, the people chose whatever male member of the fam-
ily would make the wisest, bravest, and best ruler.

 In later centuries, in order to avoid the evils of disputed succession, the king's
successor was always chosen during the king's lifetime — and this king-elect was called tanaiste. He had to be without physical blemish or deformity. When elected he had to swear to observe the law, and to govern In accordance with the law and the ancient

customs. At the inauguration the ollam, In presence of the people, read to him the laws that he must swear to observe, and the ancient customs that he must swear to maintain. And for non-observance of these, he was liable to be, at any time, deposed.