Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law

Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law

Peden, Joseph R. (Department of History, Baruch Collegeof the City University of New York)

 Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol.1:2 (1977)


It is impossible at the present time to present a systematic, coherent description of the ancient Irish law of property. The reason is that a considerable portion of the sources have not been published in modern scientific textual editions and translations. The principal sources used repeatedly by historians in the 19th and early 20th centuries are the multi-volumed editions of the old Irish law tracts edited and translated by Eugene O’Curry and John O’Donovan and published posthumously by other editors between 1864 and 1901. While both these pioneer scholars were competent in their understanding of Middle and early Modern Irish, the language of the glosses and commentaries, neither was able to cope too successfully with the archaic and very technical terminology of the Early lrish texts of the law – the oldest and most valuable strata for understanding Irish legal concepts and principles.

The later editors of the O’Curry-O’Donovan transcriptions and translation were, with one exception, almost wholly ignorant of the Irish language, and the result was that their footnotes were misleading and inaccurate, their introductory essays teemed with misinterpretations, and the printed texts themselves were full of glaring errors. Scientific study of the Irish law tracts had to await the development of Celtic philology. This was begun in the early 20th century through the interest of the German Celticist Rudolph Thurneysen, the English linguist Charles Plummer and the Irish historian Eoin Mac Neill. These three undertook the first really competent study of the difficult Old Irish texts, and more importantly, they trained and encouraged younger scholars to pursue the very difficult linguistic, historical and juristic studies which would prepare them for further study of the law tracts.

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