Thursday, April 21, 2011

Early Irish Law. Brehon Law.

Just a short note: Trees and Native Irish Law.

Brehon Law, the native legal system of Ireland, functioned until the 17th century when it was finally supplanted by the English common law. It recognised divorce and equal rights between the genders and also showed concern for the environment. In criminal law, offences and penalties were defined in great detail. Restitution rather than punishment was prescribed for wrongdoing. Cases of homicide or bodily injury were punishable by means of the eric fine, the exact amount determined by a scale.

Capital punishment was not among the range of penalties available to the Brehons. The absence of either a court system or a police force suggests that people had strong respect for the law. It was incredibly progressive and rather than use corporal punishment it used fines and other forms of restitution.

Brehon law provided extensive protection for trees and these laws are found in the eight century law tract Bretha Comaithchesa or the Laws of Neighbourhood but they may have their derived from an earlier and now lost law tract Fidbretha or Tree Judgements, which is mentioned in a work dating from the seventh century. The laws recognise a hierarchy of four classes of trees or bushes: Airig fédo or Nobles of the Woods. Aithig fédo or Commoners of the Wood. Fodla fédo or Lower Divisions of the Wood. Losa fédo or Bushes of the Wood.

In each case the particular species owes its economic worth to its position or class. Exceptions are when a plant is valued for its food, like the apple or hazel. In some cases the penalty for unlawfully felling a chieftain tree could be the same as the penalty for killing a human chief.

Classification of Native Irish Trees.

This list of 28 trees and shrubs, drawn from the 8th-century legal tract Bretha Comaithchesa, classifies them in four groups of seven. Due to its date, some of the old Irish names for trees differ from modern versions; translations have been guessed when there was no definite correlation. Different variations exist; in some cases, Blackthorn is listed as a Chieftain.

Airig Fedo - ‘Nobles of the Wood’ (Chieftain Trees):
Dair - Oak
Coll - Hazel
Cuileann - Holly
Iúr - Yew
Fuinseóg - Ash
Giúis - Scots Pine
Uill - Wild Apple
Aithig Fedo - ‘Commoners of the Wood’ (Peasant Trees):
Fearnóg - Alder
Saileach - Willow
Scéach gheal - Hawthorn (Whitethorn)
Cáorthann - Rowan (Mountain Ash)
Beith - Birch
Leamhán - Elm
Silín - Wild Cherry
Fodla Fedo - ‘Lower Divisions of the Wood’ (Shrub Trees):
Draighean - Blackthorn
Trom - Elder (Bore Tree)
Feoras - Spindle-Tree
Crann creathach - Aspen
Aiteal - Juniper
Fionncholl - Whitebeam
Caithne - Arbutus (Strawberry Tree)
Iosa Fedo - ‘Bushes of the Wood’ (Bramble Trees):
Raith - Bracken
Rait - Bog-Myrtle
Aiten - Gorse (Furze, Whin)
Dris - Bramble (Blackberry)
Fróech - Heather
Gilcach - Broom
Spín - Wild Rose (Dog Rose)

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