No Brehon had any fixed territorial jurisdiction.
For the peculiar social conditions with which the Christian missionary would be confronted in Ireland see Brehon Laws and Ireland: Early History.
BREHON LAWS, the English but incorrect appellation of the ancient laws of Ireland, the proper name for which is Feineachas, meaning the laws of the Feine or Feini (fainyeh), who were the free Gaelic farmers.
The AngloIrish word "Brehon" is derived from the Gaelic word Brethem (= judge).
What remains of it occupies the first, second, and a portion of the third of the volumes produced by the Brehon Law Commission, which was appointed in 1852.
In the 1st century of the Christian era, when Conchobhar or Conor Mac Nessa was king of Ulster, a crisis was reached, the result of which was that no man was allowed to act as Brehon until he had studied the full law course, which occupied twenty years, and had passed a rigorous public examination.
The course of study for Brehon and 011amh, advocate and law-agent respectively, is carefully laid down in the law itself.
The Brehon was an arbitrator, umpire, and expounder of the law, rather than a judge in the modern acceptation.
It appears, without being expressly stated, that the facts of a case were investigated and ascertained by laymen, probably by the Aireachtas - a local assembly or jury - before submission to a Brehon for legal decision.
A Brehon whose decision was reversed upon appeal was liable to damages, loss of position and of free lands, if any, disgrace, and a consequent loss of his profession.
A party initiating proceedings could select any Brehon he pleased, if there were more than one in his district.
Every king or chief of sufficient territory retained an official Brehon, who was provided with free land for his maintenance.
- Since Sir Samuel Ferguson wrote his article on "Brehon Laws" in the 9th editionof this Encyclopaedia, much research has been done on the subject, and Ferguson's account is no longer accepted by scholars, either as regards the language or the substance of the laws.
Pending the work of a second Brehon Law Commission, the Laws are best studied in the six imperfect volumes (Ancient Laws of Ireland, 1865-1901) produced by the first Commission (ignoring their long and worthless introductions), together with Dr. Whitley Stokes's Criticism (London, Nutt, 1903) of Atkinson's Glossary (Dublin, 1901).
Ginnell's Brehon Laws (1894) may also be consulted.
But though Loigaire refused to desert the faith of his ancestors we are told that a number of his nearest kinsmen accepted Christianity; and if there be any truth in the story of the codification of the Brehon Laws we gather that he realized that the future belonged to the new religion.
He was an important personage, his status being fixed in the Brehon laws, from which we learn that his honour price was seven cumals, and that he had the right to be accompanied by the same number of followers as a petty king.
The Brehon Laws assume the existence of married as well as unmarried clergy, and when St Patrick was seeking a bishop for the men of Leinster he asked for " a man of one wife."
So important a place did bee-culture hold in the rural economy of the ancient Irish that a lengthy section is devoted to the subject in the Brehon Laws.
In the Brehon Laws the land belongs in theory to the tribe, but this did not by any means correspond to the state of affairs.
Retaliation for murder and other injuries was a common method of redress, although the church had endeavoured to introduce various reforms. Hence we find in the Brehon Laws a highly complicated system of compensatory payment; but there was no authority except public opinion to enforce the payment of the fines determined by the brehon in cases submitted to him.
Anglo-Norman nobles became chiefs of pseudo-tribes, which acknowledged only the Brehon law, and paid dues and services in kind.