Celtic anarchism?

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Tian's picture
Joined: 3-08-12
Feb 10 2013 17:23
Celtic anarchism?

Was taking a gander at the Wiki portal on Anarchism and came across this:


The most basic aspect of the Celtic anarchism tendency is the belief that pre-conquest Celtic societies had strong aspects in common with anarchist ideals of how society should be structured, and that modern anarchists would do well to investigate these early models. Like Xeer in Africa, the Brehon Laws of pre-invasion Celtic Ireland, provide a real-world example of a highly advanced Stateless legal system.

The tendency is thus similar to indigenism in that it seeks inspiration for anarchism in the history and practices of ancestors, rather than relying solely on political theory and speculation. There is also a strong movement to seek out the good in the ongoing anti-imperialist movements in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and Galicia.

Already did some searching around and some reading up on the Brehon Laws mentioned, but wondered if anyone could direct me to any good sources for this claim? I'd be interested to read up on this, as it sounds like a crock of shit to me -- but I confess my complete ignorance on the topic, and would genuinely like to know more.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Joined: 14-03-06
Feb 10 2013 17:50

I think David Graeber talks about those laws in 'Debt'. Don't remember it sounding particularly anarchist though (iirc, it was highly bound up with feudal status hierarchies, listing the 'price' to compensate injuries to various body parts of people of various ranks, including by giving wives and children). "In ancient Ireland, female slaves were so plentiful and important that they came to function as currency."

Tian's picture
Joined: 3-08-12
Feb 10 2013 19:09

Thanks. Funny, I just read Debt, and have completely forgotten (or skipped over) those Irish examples from it. I'll go back and have a proper read.

Any other literature anyone can dig up would still be appreciated, though -- even if it is just to refute these claims.

Joined: 11-02-13
Feb 11 2013 01:17

I've been reading libcom for years but just had to register to reply to this (Hi folks!). I'm actually studying early Irish society and language and, forced to research the claim after numerous god-awful arguments with AnCaps, can confirm that any likenesses between early Irish society and a stateless one are pretty much nil.

The structure of the society was highly hierarchical and fractured, with the island divided into about 150 contantly-waring mini-monarchies. There was a king, a warrior class, a class of poets, and numerous classes of lord, freeman, and (importantly) un-freeman. So that's anarchism ruled out straight away, but I'll expand a little bit:

The main claims of likeness involve the voluntary nature of the "tuatha" (kingdoms) and the whole legal system not particularly bound to any state (brehon laws). However, the tuatha were only voluntary to the upper noble and learned classes, such as judges, poets, professional warriors and kings, normal people pretty much stayed where they were for most of their lives. If you were a normal person and left the confines of your tuath, you were pretty much screwed. You had no rights in an adjacent kingdoms and could be either killed or taken into slavery immediately upon capture. As mentioned above by Joseph Kay, slavery was common.

Admittedly, there were frequent assemblies of the tuath, where kings could be voted upon, but a king could only be voted from noble bloodlines, and most of the assemblies were set aside for dispute arbitration by the king/judge. The Brehon Laws were fairly convoluted and the profession of judge followed bloodlines, so the actual laws were very inaccesible to the average person, and the brehon became quite powerful due to bureaucracy alone, and their patronage by the kings hardly made them impartial. A good book for more info would be Fergus Kelly's "A Guide to Early Irish Law". I actually really liked the sections in "Debt" about early Ireland, like the suggestion that there wasn't infact a commodity market, with the tuath being self-sufficient in food and any payment for anything else (like metal tools and stuff) were payments of honour to the professional making them as opposed to paying for the item itself.

That settles that so!

Joined: 28-03-08
Feb 11 2013 01:06

Streachailt should expand that and put it into the library wink

"AnCaps and Ireland: Myths and Reality"

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 11 2013 12:49

Yeah. Round these parts "brehon laws" is one of those warning flags like "fluoride" or "SOVEREIGN CITIZEN" that means the speaker is a complete head-the-ball.

You may want to have a gander at scoilnet: Discovering Women in Irish History - Law

Society was graded according to social class and a woman's honour price was half that of an equivalent man. Slaves, male and female, were at the bottom of the social pyramid and one of the units of currency was cumal, meaning 'slave girl.' Probably slaves were once traded but cumal came to mean an amount equivalent to three milch cows - there was no coinage as yet. Slave girls did such work as grinding corn, cooking and feeding animals for their owners.

Graeber also mentions the cumal as a unit of account - again like most barbarian/patriarchal honour codes, the principal use of units of account was for deciding compensation for acts of violence that could otherwise lead to clan feuds (between the warrior class/caste) or for settling ongoing feuds. With the additional function of managing dowries and bride prices (often in themselves causes for feuds).

edit: also you might want to check out Irish history podcasts archive by one of our local anarchist historians

Entdinglichung's picture
Joined: 2-07-08
Feb 11 2013 13:37

reminds me of James Connolly's romantic view of the Irish past, e.g. in http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1910/lih/chap01.htm

Politically, Ireland has been under the control of England for the past 700 years, during the greater part of which time the country has been the scene of constant wars against her rule upon the part of the native Irish. Until the year 1649, these wars were complicated by the fact the fact that they were directed against both the political and social order recognised by the English invader. It may surprise many readers to learn that up to the date above-mentioned the basis of society in Ireland except within the Pale (a small strip of territory around the Capital city, Dublin), rested upon communal or tribal ownership of land. The Irish chief, although recognised in the courts of France, Spain, and Rome, as the peer of the reigning princes of Europe, in reality held his position upon the sufferance of his people, and as an administrator of the tribal affairs of his people, while the land or territory of the clan was entirely removed from his private jurisdiction. In the parts of Ireland where for 400 years after the first conquest (so-called) the English governors could not penetrate except at the head of a powerful army, the social order which prevailed in England – feudalism – was unknown, and as this comprised the greater portion of the country, it gradually came to be understood that the war against the foreign oppressor was also a war against private property in land. But with the forcible break up of the clan system in 1649, the social aspect of the Irish struggle sank out of sight, its place being usurped by the mere political expressions of the fight for freedom. Such an event was, of course, inevitable in any case. Communal ownership of land would undoubtedly have given way to the privately owned system of capitalist-landlordism, even if Ireland had remained an independent country, but coming as it did in obedience to the pressure of armed force from without, instead of by the operation of economic forces within, the change has been bitterly and justly resented by the vast mass of the Irish people, many of whom still mix with their dreams of liberty longings for a return to the ancient system of land tenure – now organically impossible. The dispersion of the clans, of course, put an end to the leadership of the chiefs, and in consequence, the Irish aristocracy being all of foreign or traitor origin, Irish patriotic movements fell entirely into the hands of the middle class, and became, for the most part, simply idealised expressions of middle-class interest.

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 11 2013 14:33

To be fair to wee Jimmy, I think most 1910 historiography of colonies of the British Empire - both from the pro- and anti-colonial perspectives - were more in the way of ideological fairy stories than what passes for evidence-based history these days.

Joined: 20-04-08
Feb 12 2013 06:47

[url= http://socialist-courier.blogspot.com/2012/05/celtic-communism-gaelic-co...]This blog post [/url]at Socialist Courier may well be worth a gander. From St Kilda to John Maclean, who the CP called "claymore communists"

In 1838 Lachlan MacLean wrote "If St Kilda is not the Eutopia so long sought, where will it be found? Where is the land which has neither arms, money, care, physic, politics, nor taxes? That land is St Kilda. No taxgatherer's bill threatens on a church door-the game-laws reach not the gannets. Safe in its own whirlwinds, and cradled in its own tempests, it heeds not the storms which shake the foundations of Europe - and acknowledging the dominion of M'Leod, cares not who sways the British sceptre. Well may the pampered native of happy Hirt refuse to change his situation - his slumbers are late - his labours are light - his occupation his amusement. Government he has not - law he feels not - physic he wants not - politics he heeds not - money he sees not - of war he hears not. His state is his city, his city is his social circle-he has the liberty of his thoughts, his actions, and his kingdom and all the world are his equals. His climate is mild, and his island green, and the stranger who might corrupt him shuns its shores. If happiness is not a dweller in St Kilda, where shall it be sought?"

On the whole the people were left free to develop their own type of society. The outcome was a form of communism in which decisions affecting the whole community were taken in a collective manner (though only by the men), work was assigned on the basis of individual skills, and there was no private property apart from accommodation, furniture, and other personal items. The community made sure that those who were sick, disabled, or elderly could live at the same standard as anyone else.

Tim Finnegan's picture
Tim Finnegan
Joined: 16-05-12
Feb 12 2013 11:25

I think that article sells Maclean a bit short. It describes him as a nationalist, and suggests that he was a proponent of socialism-in-one-country, but in fact he was always identified with the left-wing of the communist movement, and opposed the CPGB precisely for its reformism and (practical) anti-internationalism. His calls for Scottish independence, although indeed shot through with a lot of romantic guff, have to be understood in the context of 1919-1921, when it was hoped that by shattering the Union at home, British workers' could cripple the power of the Empire to act as a force of reaction at a global level.

Joined: 20-04-08
Feb 13 2013 13:16

Indeed you are correct, Tim.

Another blog on Socialist Courier quotes Maclean saying

"Russia could not produce the World Revolution," conceded Maclean, despite his nationalist fervour. "Neither can we in Gorbals, in Scotland, in Great Britain...”
He also disparaged the campaign for reforms that appear popular among “progressives" nowadays “Taxation of land or capital, including the Capital Levy, is of no use to the workers.”

He certainly found it incongruous that Gallagher who he considered a syndicalist and quasi-anarchist should be at the forefront of the CPGB with Lenin's blessing.

I think he actually thought it more likely that the expected future war with the USA would break the Empire.

Maclean's politics have been claimed by many nationalists.

My first encounter with Maclean was through the re-issue of his writings and pamphlets by the Maoist-Hoxha Workers Party of Scotland. In fact, their bookshop was a very cheap source of Peking published works of Marx and Engels.

Joined: 29-07-05
Feb 13 2013 16:30

I made a few notes on this years ago:
Marx looked at the question of the transformation of the old barbarian gentes in Ireland and elsewhere into private property, patriarchy and a ruling class in his Ethnological Notes and he concludes from his analyses from the degeneration of the gentes to civilisation: "The element of property, which has controlled society to a great extent during the comparatively short period of civilisation, gave mankind despotism, imperialism, monarchy, privileged classes and finally representative democracy". And with this move to the descent in the male line came the move from the common household (communistic) to the single house, with the wife physically separated from her gentile kin.
He looks at the positve elements of the celtic gentes: the Scottish clans, the Irish septs, the Germanic (Germani), Albanian, Dalmatian and Croatian gentes and the history handed down in their songs. During the transition to civilisation the land begins to be the basis of society instead of the kinship relations. But initially, there was strict control over rights of private property by kinship and according to the Irish Rule of Tanistry, when a landowning member of an Irish Sept died, the land was divided up, not among his children, but amongst the whole Sept (as with the Hindu "Joint Undivided Family"). For a time, for Marx, sovereignty doesn't lie with the chief, because it's not a personal phenomenon, but as social, collective institution. Irish "gavelkind" which was also common among the Britons, French and Anglo-Saxons, at one stage respected mutual dependence and equality of rights but seems to have turned into inheritance to sons. In Ireland, as in the gentes-based organisations of India, whatever remnants of kinship rights were here they were made illegal by English law. And unlike the law of the gentes, and in continuity with the law of the Romans, this was coercive force, a class-based force that was unknown in ancient society. The remnants of the role of women in relation to property was outlawed by English judges and the Catholic church, which wanted the property for itself.

A defence of John Maclean against the SPGB who define him as a "nationalist". Maclean was a part of the workers' movement, part of the British Communist Left and an internationalist. He combined his anti-war activity with the defence of the immediate interests of the workers with his interventions in the class struggle in Scotland. Unlike the SPGB, he was clearly opposed to the parliamentary circus imposed on us by our exploiters.

Joined: 20-04-08
Feb 14 2013 13:30

Labels are easily applied particularly to give a nuanced meaning such as giving capitals to the British Communist Left as if such an entity actually existed.

Maclean was a member of the British Socialist Party and when war broke out was part of its anti-war majority. The Independent Labour Party were willing to conditionally support the war while playing lip-service to Hardie's pacifist position.The Socialist Labour Party was initially divided. The Red Clydesiders were definitely not all of one voice in opposing the war.

The SPGB did not split nor have a minority within its membership who supported the war.

So the anti-war SPGB was not "internationalist" yet it managed to publish a statement from Litvinoff


And an article by Rosa Luxemburg


It is sad that even today some refuse to acknowledge the SPGB's principled stand against the war and the personal sacrifices many of its members made. But again the term "internationalist" is being used in a loaded manner, to dismiss the SPGB's consistant calls for international workers solidarity to end the war since it is an inconvenient reminder and an irrelevance.

As for Maclean being a nationalist or not.

"The preparations to use the Scottish coast and Scottish lads in John Bull’s fight with Uncle Sam force on us the policy of complete political separation from England. Hence a Scottish Communist Party."

"I feel sure that a Scottish Communist Party of genuine marxians will spring up, with the object of establishing a Scottish workers’ republic, so that Scotland will stand clear of slaughter in the event of war between Britain and America…."

The SCP, of course, was an organisation that was never ever recognised by the pro-Moscow "internationalists" nor part of any other international grouping of communists.

I think there is little doubt that he would be aligning himself with the SNP and the SSP in calling for Yes vote in the 2014 referendum...without illusions, of course and a stepping dtone to his "workers republic"

The statement made that he "clearly opposed to the parliamentary circus imposed on us by our exploiters." can be clearly disputed since he himself stood for parliamentary and municipal elections (albeit promising to adopt the Sein Fein non-attendance poicy). His 1923 election statement said:

I therefore consider that Scotland’s wisest policy is to declare for a Republic of Scotland, so that the youths of Scotland will not be forced to die for England’s markets. I accordingly stand out as a Scottish Republican candidate, feeling sure that if Scotland had to elect a Parliament to sit in Glasgow it would vote for a Working-Class Parliament. Such a Parliament would have to use the might of the workers to force the land and the means of production in Scotland out of the grasp of the brutal few who control them, and place them at the full disposal of the community. The Social Revolution s possible sooner in Scotland than in England

. My emphasis since this is basically the SPGB position about capturing political power.

He again said in support of parlimentarianism.

The limits imposed by Parliament on the Corporation necessitate a Scottish Parliament. I wish and am striving for one independent of England altogether, for reasons beyond those of Glasgow’s immediate interests. I wish a Scottish workers’ republic, within which the workers in control can evolve present-day capitalist property into working- class property, as a stage on the road to communal use of all the wealth produced.

As i said before many wish to claim MacLen for themselves. Baboon appears to be another hoping to adopt MacLean.

The SPGB never ever addressed MacLean directly in his lifetime as far as i know but in 1925 we did challeng his immediate political legacy.

"The chief fallacy of their position is their insistence upon a Scottish Workers' Republic. This demand is both reactionary and Utopian. The struggle of the workers of the United Kingdom must be a united one. The workers are under the domination of a class who rule by the use of a political machine which is the chief governing instrument for England, Scotland, Wales, etc. To appeal to the workers of Scotland for a Scottish Workers' Republic is to arouse and foster the narrow spirit of Nationalism, so well used by our masters. Economically the demand is Utopian, as the development of capitalism has made countries more and more dependent on each other, both through the specialisation of industry or agriculture, and also by the force controlled by the Great Powers to suppress or control the smaller nations.

The history of " independent " Hungary, Poland, and the Balkan States shows that the realisation of " political independence " by a country leaves the workers' conditions untouched and actually worsens them in many cases.

The appeal to the worker in this Manifesto to "rally to the cause of a Workers' Republic for Scotland" is made "so that we might win you away from the service of the imperialist gang who direct their activities from London" If the worker is to be won for Socialism, it is by getting him to understand the principles of Socialism, and not by appealing to him to concentrate on Scottish affairs. Socialism is international.”

This is still our position in face of those today in the SSP or Sheridan's Solidarity or the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement who seek to revive the idea of a “Scottish Workers’ Republic”

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 14 2013 15:11

Just out of interest, what was the SPGB's position on the Dublin lockout of 1913? Only two articles from 1913 appear in the online digital archive for the period after the start of the Lockout in August 26, and neither of them mention it.

Joined: 20-04-08
Feb 15 2013 04:02

I have no idea of what was said at the time since i have no access to the hard-copy archive of the Standard. I will post a request for further info for you and hopefully come back with something.

You probably did a website search and have already come across this 2002 piece.


Joined: 20-04-08
Feb 15 2013 11:54

I have received this reply

"I've just looked through the bound volume for 1913 and 1914 and there are quite a few comments, but there are two which we could add to our archives. The Party's attitude was one of sympathy for the strikers but criticism of Larkin as a "Leader" and for his Irish Nationalism...In another, front page article in February 1914 entitled "South Africa and Ireland" a comparison was made between the Dublin strike and a strike in South Africa which was also brutally suppressed. The article made the point that the suppressors were the Boer Nationalists who had obtained Home Rule and criticised Larkin for saying that obtaining Home Rule was more important than winning the strike."

Lo and behold, they have both now been added to the archives.



Tim Finnegan's picture
Tim Finnegan
Joined: 16-05-12
Feb 15 2013 13:21

Ajjohnstone seems to under the misguided impression that regurgitating century-old polemics qualifies as historical commentary.

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 15 2013 14:59
ajjohnstone wrote:
I have received this reply

"I've just looked through the bound volume for 1913 and 1914 and there are quite a few comments, but there are two which we could add to our archives. The Party's attitude was one of sympathy for the strikers but criticism of Larkin as a "Leader" and for his Irish Nationalism...In another, front page article in February 1914 entitled "South Africa and Ireland" a comparison was made between the Dublin strike and a strike in South Africa which was also brutally suppressed. The article made the point that the suppressors were the Boer Nationalists who had obtained Home Rule and criticised Larkin for saying that obtaining Home Rule was more important than winning the strike."

Lo and behold, they have both now been added to the archives.



OK, thanks for making the enquiry that resulted in these being put up. I must admit I don't really see any evidence of "sympathy for the strikers", or any calls for the kind of solidarity that might have helped them win, but there you go.

Joined: 28-03-10
Feb 15 2013 16:55

You are forcing us, Ocelot, to accelerate our programme of digitalising back articles from the Socialist Standard ! To meet your point about solidarity and class consciousness here's one from October 1913 which is being published here before it appears on our archives:

Legal Murder

Not so long ago that section of the Press that professes to be democratic and which is generally engaged in whitewashing the Liberal Government, was pretending to be horrified because once again the troops had been used in defence of the sacred property of the bosses on the Rand, Their leader writers were "astounded" that a Liberal Government could countenance the massacre of working men. They "demanded" an "impartial" enquiry into affairs "which caused every decent Britisher to blush with shame at the deeds perpetrated under the British flag."

And now we have the diabolical outrage repeated—this time nearer home. Not quite so near as Featherstone or Lanelly, Liverpool or London—all of which have been the scenes of events that have no doubt conveniently slipped from the memories of the leader writers—but at Dublin, the green city.

It is not proposed here to reprint the tales of horror which have found such wide publicity through other channels and which must still be fresh in the public mind—the tales of brutal bludgeoning of women and children, and of the murder of unarmed men. Suffice it to say, in the words of a Government supporter :

''Hundreds of people were injured by the police and two men died as a result of injuries received. Women returning from Mass with prayer books in their hands were grossly assaulted by the police ; little girls were thrashed by the police ; one girl in her teens was dragged through the streets by the hair of her head and beaten by the police ; women were dragged out of their beds and beaten, while lying nearly naked by the police. All these charges have been made and repeated by reliable people."

The "Times" says: "The police deliberately waited for runaways and clubbed them as they ran," and that "the whole proceedings were monstrous and unnecessary."

Reliable witnesses testify that no violence was offered by the crowd and that Nolan, one of the murdered men, was trying to get away when he was struck to the ground by a policeman. "As he fell five Dublin Metropolitan police and two Royal Irish Constabulary struck him. When he tried to get on his knees he was beaten again." A supporter of "law and order"—one who rushed to defend H. H. Asquith, the assassin of Featherstone—Mr. Handel Booth, M.P., says that the police, with pitiless brutality, charged the crowd, which was a perfectly peaceful one.

Radical, ragtime "Reynolds's" is horrified. "Someone should be charged with murder for this," it screeched. How innocent! Someone should have been charged with murder on the Rand, and at Featherstone ! At Mitchelstown in 1887 the coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against the county inspector and three constables. But what happened ? The same as will happen in Dublin and at St. Austell in Cornwall; the same as happened at Featherstone.

An enquiry was held into the affair which has made the last mentioned place notorious, which whitewashed all concerned, and—nothing was done. No action was taken by the Government to attach blame to any of its officers.

The explanation is simple. Those in charge are quite prepared to admit that a mistake has been made, but the mistake is not that the people have been slaughtered. Oh, no!—that happens every day in the pursuit of profit. The blunder is that the workers have been suppressed in such a way as to arouse suspicion and distrust.

The workers have been told that the police are out to "keep the ring," and that the law is for rich and poor alike ; but these "incidents" tend to show that the police are maintained to protect private property and the interests of the shareholders of private concerns.

If all that is said is true, those in charge of affairs in Dublin have something to answer for besides which the Marconi ministers' little deal pales into insignificance. Yet we are still waiting to hear a denial of the statements made by a trade union official, Mr. P. T. Daly, that the magistrate, E. G. Swifte, and chief prosecutor, Sir Patrick Coll, are shareholders in the Dublin United Tramways Company, and are therefore directly concerned in smashing the strike.

These narrow-minded tradesmen and petty officials are always as putty in the hands of the lords and masters of the land, but when their own petty interests are directly at stake, there is nothing too degrading and brutal for them to do. If it be true that the magistrate who proclaimed the meeting and who tried Larkin, together with the Chief Prosecutor for the Crown and the wife of the Under Secretary for Ireland, to say nothing of certain of the Irish Constabulary, are shareholders in the Dublin United Tramway Company ; if it be true that any or all of these were directly concerned in the company against which the men were striking, then the "blunder" is easily understood. Their precious dividends were at stake, and they would risk all their hopes of a front seat in heaven for a few dirty pieces of gold.

In any case the position is clear. As in Africa the workers, struggling against adverse circumstances, faced with worsening conditions, strike for some improvement in their miserable lot, and call a public meeting to discuss these matters. "Under the British flag" both these courses are supposed to be legal. The "right" of free speech is, of course, well known. Yet in Dublin is in Africa, these meetings are proclaimed, in the one case by an interested party, and in the other case by a government under the control of the Randlords. Upon the workers attempting to exercise the right they are popularly supposed to possess, a gang of hooligans, trained to murder, are let loose upon them with baton and bullet.

" The proceedings were monstrous and unnecessary." What a confession ! Is it true that they could be monstrous and necessary ?

The capitalists exist to exploit. Their only concern with the worker is to rob them. They dabble in company shares to get dividends and dividends they must have at all costs; The toilers are not looked upon as aught else than wealth producers, and immediately they threaten to stop producing profit they must be coerced. Why dodge the fact ?

We are in the midst of a class war, of a bitter struggle that can know no cessation until the master class are overthrown. Brute force is the last resort, and to brute force the capitalists turn, knowing full well that they hold the master card in the game. The Socialist did not make the struggle, neither does he desire it. But he does appeal to the toilers to take a lesson from these facts and to remember Dublin and Johannesburg, Peterloo and Mitchelstown, Tonypandy and Featherstone, when next they invited to throw up their caps for the Liberals or any other such murderous crew.

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 15 2013 17:47

Thanks. It's the Lockout centenary this year, so there's a lot of planning of various different commemorations going on in Dublin and environs, so all historical materials relating to the Lockout, particularly from a socialist/left-wing perspective are grist to the mill.

Joined: 20-04-08
Feb 16 2013 00:36

The link for above is


Tim, as for your contribution, i originally posted a link on celtic anarchism that provided an interesting account of the islanders of St Kilda. You yourself chose to side-track the thread into a defence of John MacLean and i somewhat corrected and qualified myself. Baboon decided to describe MacLean's politics which i disputed was an accurate representation. Ocelot then made a request for information on 1913 Dublin Lock-out and i obliged him.

A lot of the Standard's content in the past are short snippets and brief comments which are not suited for the website archives. Those are probably i would expect (but can't be sure) express more of what ALB describes as sympathy for those locked-out . In longer analyses, stating the obvious is not the usual practice and points of differences - polemics - are indeed usually high-lighted by all political parties.

Drawing comparisons between struggles in other parts of the world i think proves that the SPGB was indeed an internationalist party even though it did not sign on to flawed Internationals.

I still insist that MacLean can be called a nationalist, regardless of his supposed motives or purpose in demanding independence for Scotland. i think he made the mistake at the time that many Scot Trots make even today, in assuming that the Glasgow worker is in someway more radical and more receptive to socialism than his counterpart in Sheffield or Bristol which somehow makes the creation of a "workers state" more likely if political independence came to Scotland. Sadly, it ain't true. Red Clydeside although containing certain inspirational events was largely a myth.

Joined: 28-03-10
Feb 16 2013 09:07

Since the discussion has veered off in this direction, presumably it is true that at the Albert Hall meeting on 19 November 1913 Larkin, releasing that the locked-out workers were going to lose, tried to divert attention to the Home Rule struggle? I'm not quite sure why he thought workers would get a better treatment under Home Rule. And of course they didn't.

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 18 2013 10:35

I don't know the details (and I'd be interested to hear more from anybody that does) but Larkin. Connolly and O'Brien had form the Labour Party, as the electoral wing of the ITUC, the previous year (1912) specifically to build a parliamentary wing of the labour movement in a Home Rule parliament. Considering that the prospect of secondary strike support by English and Scottish unions had been turned down by the British TUC (and there was no sign of any of the more syndicalist-influenced unions doing anything unilaterally), I presume Larkin thought that if the strike was lost due to lack of wider support within the so-called "union", he may as well push for English support for the electoral wing of the Irish Labour movement, via Home Rule.

It does seem a bit ironic the SPGB first criticising Larkin's "syndicalism" and then criticising his recourse to electoralism on "internationalist" grounds. The real internationalist thing to do would be to have called for solidarity strikes by English and Scottish dock workers, but that would have contravened the apparent "ballot box only" strategy.

Joined: 28-03-10
Feb 18 2013 13:06

Just because the Socialist Standard of the time was highly critical of Syndicalism (then in its classical form of arguing that capitalism could be overthrown by a general strike of merely trade-union conscious workers while leaving the state machine in the hands of the capitalist class) does not mean that the SPGB was opposed to strikes. In an article in October 1913 on "The Socialist Policy and the Strike" in October 1913, the Socialist Standard declared of strikes

No one in his senses will deny that, under the present social system, these battles and the suffering they involve are both necessary and inevitable. They are inevitable because in a competitive system, with labour-power possessing the commodity nature, the price of that labour-power can only be determined in the way that all other prices are determined, that is, through struggle.

The April 1914 issue noted:

At a meeting of representatives of employers’ associations held recently to determine, among other things, whether combination for disorganising trading and social conditions should not be made unlawful, Mr. Wm. M. Murphy contributed the following significant statement: "Employers can beat Syndicalism anywhere and beat it hollow. The answer to a general strike is a general look-out, and that is the only way."

Which ought to be enlightening to those of the workers who are led away by the ensnaring tactics of the anti-political-actionists. When the working class is sufficiently conscious of its class interests to organise politically in order to capture the forces of oppression and repression, then will the capitalist class experience a "general lock out" ; and "that is the only way"—at present.

Murphy of course was speaking from experience -- the experience of having won the Dublin Lock-out.

I think you are probably right that Larkin turned to giving priority to Home Rule because he was disgusted with the lack of support from the trade union movement in England. André Renard, one of the leaders of the Belgian general strike of 1960-61, did the same when that failed: he blamed the trade unions in Flanders for not supporting it and became a Waloon nationalist. What a dead-end that would have been, just as Irish "independence" was as far as workers there were concerned.

That this knee-jerk reaction may be understandable does not make it right. Especially as, in the Dublin case, William M. Murphy was,also, a Home Ruler and a former Irish Parliamentary Party MP.

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 18 2013 17:33

As I said, I'm not particularly informed as to what Connolly, Larkin, O'Brien at all were thinking in relation to their electoral strategy. Particularly as the franchise was still restricted to the property qualifications established by the Third Reform Act, such that, out of a population of 4.3 million, at the time, the number with a franchise during the 1910 election were only 683,767, or about 15% of the population. In other words, we can expect that the vast majority of workers involved in the lockout had no vote at all, whether for the British or Irish Labour parties, the SPGB or the IPP. In that context, the notion of an electoral road to socialism, as per the then standard SPD social-democratic playbook, didn't make a great deal of sense. Perhaps Larkin et al hoped that Home Rule would provide a better basis for the extension of the franchise to Irish workers? It'd be interesting to find out, I guess.

Joined: 28-03-10
Feb 18 2013 21:08

The situation was the same on the mainland (or rather in the UK as a whole). No women and only about 2/3rds of men had the vote, meaning that only about 30% of adults had. As it happens, an article in the November 1913 Socialist Standard analysed the figures to argue that, despite this, workers outnumbered capitalists in the electorate by more than 3 to 1, enough for them to win control of political power once they had become class conscious.

Connolly had taken part in the "impossibilist revolt" in the Social Democratic Federation in the early 1900s but he joined the SLPGB rather than the SPGB but which also advocated a class conscious use of the ballot box. When he emigrated to America he joined the SLP there but left in 1908 to join the IWW. Desmond Greaves in his The Life and Times of James Connolly records:

The IWW adopted a new preamble, which Connolly applauded in The Harp because of its vigorous stand on the principle of the class struggle. He was asked if he approved of its repudiating the principle of political action. He laughed, "It will be impossible to prevent the workers taking it" (p.228)

That's as true today as it was then.

Of course by 1913 Connolly had ceased to be a socialist and become a Labourite on his way to becoming an Irish Republican and "another martyr for old Ireland", a sad end for someone who had once understood socialism.

Entdinglichung's picture
Joined: 2-07-08
Feb 19 2013 09:41
ocelot wrote:
In that context, the notion of an electoral road to socialism, as per the then standard SPD social-democratic playbook, didn't make a great deal of sense.

the official position of the pre-1914 SPD, coined by Kautsky was, that the SPD is a revolutionary party but not a party which makes the revolution, in practice, that meant what authors like Dieter Groh had described as "revolutionary attentism": waiting for the revolution/collapse of capitalism and than taking state power but with no concrete revolutionary strategy. The SPD couldn't adopt an open parliamentary strategy before 1918 because the constitutional framework of imperial Germany simply did not allow it, unlike Britain, Germany was a constitutional Monarchy, not a parliamentary monarchy, due to the constitution, the government was appointed solely by the emperor, parliament had relatively few possibilities to act, etc. ... the revisionists around Bernstein and the southern German SPD had at least a strategy

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 19 2013 12:05
alb wrote:
Of course by 1913 Connolly had ceased to be a socialist and become a Labourite [...]

What, in your opinion, distinguished socialists and labourites in 1913?

ocelot's picture
Joined: 15-11-09
Feb 19 2013 12:11
alb wrote:
What a dead-end that would have been, just as Irish "independence" was as far as workers there were concerned.

Irish "independence" did produce a universal franchise for both men and women. Now, if like me, you accept that electoralism is a dead-end, as far as achieving socialism or communism is concerned, then your statement makes sense. But I believe that was not the SPGB line at the time (or now?), so your assessment appears to be in conflict with that.

Joined: 28-03-10
Feb 19 2013 19:13
ocelot wrote:
Irish "independence" did produce a universal franchise for both men and women.

No doubt (but it also brought a senseless Civil War as far as workers were concerned). But this would have happened even if the breakaway part of Ireland had stayed a part of the UK. An Act of 1918 had already extended the franchise to all men and most women over 30.

ocelot wrote:
Now, if like me, you accept that electoralism is a dead-end, as far as achieving socialism or communism is concerned, then your statement makes sense. But I believe that was not the SPGB line at the time (or now?), so your assessment appears to be in conflict with that.

You call it "electoralism" but what the SPGB insisted on (and still does) is the imperative need for the working class to gain control of political power (the butt-end of the gun, if you like) as a precondition to abolishing capitalism. Basically, there are only two ways of doing this: via the ballot box and in an armed insurrection.

I can understand that armed insurrection might have more (romantic) credibility in Ireland but it doesn't (and didn't) make any sense in England. And just because the SPGB advocates using the ballot box to win political control does not mean that that's all it says workers should do to achieve socialism. Obviously they should also, and will, organise themselves at their places of work ready to take them over and run them while and after the capitalist class are being dispossessed.

If you reject both the ballot box and (presumably) armed insurrection, what are you proposing? To try to change society while ignoring political power altogether, i.e in effect leaving the butt-end of the gun in the hands of the capitalist class?

Joined: 9-09-15
Sep 9 2015 09:36

“the soil of Ireland (belonging) to 184 tribes or clans. . . .the clans held the land in common. . . .no man held individual property save his household goods, and each held only the right of usufruct over his strip of tribal domain. . . in each district of Ireland the free population lived communistically in immense wooden buildings . . . . they lived and fed in common, seated on long benches, and all the families of the district slept there upon beds of reeds. . .”.
P: Boissonade, [Life and Work in Medieval Europe. trans. by Eileen Power (London, 1927). Harper Torch book edition (New York, 1964). ]
“Irish law recognised a number of classes, from unfree to king, which were ranked within the status tracts. Little space was given to the unfree, which reflects the lack of dependence upon slaves as opposed to other societies, such as Ancient Rome. However, the laws discuss slaves, both male and female, and the term for a female slave, Cumhall, became a broader currency term. As unfree, slaves could not be legal agents either for themselves or others.[27] In addition to the wholly unfree, a few individuals were semi-free. The senchléithe (hereditary serf) was bound to work the land of his master, whereas the fuidir had no independent status nor land of his own, but could at least leave as he might desire.[28]”
“Others might be of less than full status, based on age or origin. The status of children was based on their parents, and they could not act independently. The rights of sons increased with age, but they did not fully increase until after the death of the father. A young son just out on his own was called a fer midboth (a man of middle huts), apparently someone who occupied a hut on his father’s land. These persons were semi-independent, but did not have the full honour-price of a free man until they reached 20.[29] Even after a certain age, a “Son of a Living Father” was expected to be dutiful to his father and could only set up an independent household with his father’s permission.[30] In addition, those from outside a túath normally had a low status, as status was based not only on property but also on familial connections.[31]
“There are two main ranks of commoners, the ócaire (lit. young lord) and bóaire (cow lord), though Binchy thinks the ócaire is a recent offshoot of the latter, who had less property but was still a freeman. In addition are the bóaire febsa (a bóaire of quality who had an honour-price of 5 séts). The highest commoner was the mruigfer (land man). Either of the last, according to Binchy, may be the “normal bóaire who appears within the law texts.[32] The three ranks of commoners, at least according to the status tract, vary in the type of clientship they undertook and the property they could hold, though it is unclear how this worked in practice. Commoners apparently had to co-operate in farming as they did not have enough property to own a whole plough-share or all the rights in a mill.”
“Compensation in the Welsh laws is reckoned primarily in cattle
and in the Irish ones in cattle or bondmaids (cumal) [female slaves], with considerable
use of precious metals in both. In the Germanic codes
it is mainly in precious metal . .. 2 ”
Grierson [1977. The Origins of Money. London: Athlone Press. p. 20]
“The archaeological and historical evidence indicates that early Irish society was strongly hierarchical
with various social grades of kings, lords, commoners, hereditary serfs and slaves. In early medieval
Ireland, power and social status was performed and expressed through architecture, dress, and
costume. Some ‘royal’ raths and crannogs display the physical signs of prestige in their prominent
siting, massive construction, internal size, and the scale and number of their enclosing embankments
or timber palisades. In this way, they served as symbolic expressions of status and power, and imply
the ability of their owners to marshal a large labour-force to construct them. In early medieval
Europe, royalty could also be expressed through prominent, well-appointed ‘palaces’ such as those
discovered in the contemporary Carolingians world at Aachen, Paderborn and Frankfurt (McKitterick
2008, 157-71). In Ireland, the picture is rather more complex, as the early law tracts imply that a
royal residence may not have been entirely different from the house of a prosperous lord (O’Sullivan
2008, 244). However, they indicate that house size was closely related to social rank of its occupants,
so that both custom and law restricted an individual from building larger than a certain size.”
Aidan O’Sullivan, Finbar McCormick, Lorcan Harney,
Jonathan Kinsella and Thomas Kerr
December 2010.
[Early Medieval Dwellings and
Settlements in Ireland, AD400-1100
Report 4.2. p. 48 ]
“In Gaelic Ireland each person belonged to an agnatic kin-group known as a fine (plural: finte). This was a large group of related people supposedly descended from one progenitor through male forebears. It was headed by a male chieftain, known in Old Irish as a cennfine or toísech (plural: toísig). Although these groups were primarily based on blood kinship, they also included those who were fostered into the group and those who were accepted into it for other reasons.
“Nicholls suggests that they would be better thought of as akin to the modern-day corporation[citation needed]. Within each fine, the family descended from a common great grandparent was term a derbfine (modern form dearbhfhine), lit. “close clan”. The cland (modern form clann) referred to the children of the nuclear family.
“Succession to the chieftainship or kingship was through tanistry. When a man became chieftain or king, a relative was elected to be his deputy or ‘tanist’ (Irish: tánaiste, plural tanaistí).[7] When the chieftain or king died, his tanist would automatically succeed him.[7][8] The tanist had to share the same great-grandfather as his predecessor (i.e. was of the same derbfhine) and he was elected by freemen who also shared the same great-grandfather. Tanistry meant that the kingship usually went to whichever relative was deemed to be the most fitting.[7] Sometimes there would be more than one tanist at a time and they would succeed each other in order of seniority.[7] Some Anglo-Norman lordships later adopted tanistry from the Irish.[7]
“Gaelic Ireland was divided into a hierarchy of territories ruled by a hierarchy of kings or chiefs. The smallest territory was the túath (plural: túatha), which was typically the territory of a single kin-group. It was ruled by a rí túaithe (king of a túath) or toísech túaithe (leader of a túath). Several túatha formed a mór túath (overkingdom), which was ruled by a rí mór túath or ruirí (overking). Several mór túatha formed a cóiced (province), which was ruled by a rí cóicid or rí ruirech (provincial king). In the early Middle Ages the túatha was the main political unit, but over time they were subsumed into bigger conglomerate territories and became much less important politically.[2][9]
“Gaelic society was structured hierarchically, with those further up the hierarchy generally having more privileges, wealth and power than those further down.
“The top social layer was the sóernemed, which included kings, tanists, chieftains, highly skilled poets (fili), clerics, and their immediate families. The roles of a fili included reciting traditional lore, eulogizing the king and satirizing injustices within the kingdom.[10] Before the Christianization of Ireland, this group also included the druids (druí) and vates (fáith). The druids combined the roles of priest, judge, scholar, poet, physician, and religious teacher,[11][12] while the vates were oracles.
Below that were the dóernemed, which included professionals such as jurists (brithem), physicians, skilled craftsmen, skilled musicians, scholars, and so on. A master in a particular profession was known as an ollam (modern spelling: ollamh). The various professions—including law, poetry, medicine, history and genealogy—were associated with particular families[13] and the positions became hereditary. Since the poets, jurists and doctors depended on the patronage of the ruling families, the end of the Gaelic order brought their demise.[10]
Below that were freemen who owned land and cattle (for example the bóaire).
Below that were freemen who did not own land or cattle, or who owned very little.
Below that were the unfree, which included serfs and slaves. Slaves were typically criminals (debt slaves) or prisoners of war.[14] Slavery and serfdom was inherited, though slavery in Ireland had died out by 1200.”
“Ancient Irish culture was patriarchal. The Brehon law excepted women from the ordinary course of the law so that, in general, every woman had to have a male guardian.[25] However, women had some legal capacity. By the 8th century, the preferred form of marriage was one between social equals, under which a woman was technically legally dependent on her husband and had half his honor price, but could exercise considerable authority in regard to the transfer of property. Such women were called “women of joint dominion”.[26] Thus historian Patrick Weston Joyce could write that, relative to other European countries of the time, free women in Gaelic Ireland “held a good position” and their social and property rights were “in most respects, quite on a level with men”.[27]
“Gaelic Irish society was also patrilineal, with land being primarily owned by men and inherited by the sons. Only when a man had no sons would his land pass to his daughters, and then only for their lifetimes.[19] Upon their deaths, the land was redistributed among their father’s male relations.[19] Under Brehon law, rather than inheriting land, daughters had assigned to them a certain number of their father’s cattle as their marriage-portion.[25][26] It seems that, throughout the Middle Ages, the Gaelic Irish kept many of their marriage laws and traditions sundered from those of the Church.[28] Under Gaelic law, married women could hold property independent of their husbands,[28][29] a link was maintained between married women and their own families,[28][30] couples could easily divorce or separate,[28][29] and men could have concubines (which could be lawfully bought).[28][30] These laws differed from most of contemporary Europe and from Church law.”
“Ireland has no mineral wealth, and foreign luxury goods could be
bought by Irish kings mainly for two export goods, cattle and people [slaves].”
Paul Houlm (in Duffy, MacShamhrain and Maynes 2005. p.431.) 
"For much of its early history, Ireland's situation was not very different
than that in many of the African societies we looked at in the end of
the last chapter. It was a human economy perched uncomfortably on
the fringe of an expanding commercial one. What's more, at certain
periods there was a very lively slave trade. As one historian put it,
"Ireland has no mineral wealth, and foreign luxury goods could be
bought by Irish kings mainly for two export goods, cattle and people.
"14 Hardly surprising, perhaps, that cattle and people were the two
major denominations of the currency. Still,- by the time our earliest records
kick in, around 6ooAD, the slave trade appears to have died off,
and slavery itself was a waning institution, coming under severe disapproval
from the ChurchY Why, then, were cumal still being used as
units of account, to tally up debts that were actually paid out in cows,
and in cups and brooches and other obj ects made of silver, or, in the case of minor transactions, sacks of wheat or oats? And there's an even
more obvious question: Why women? There were plenty of male slaves
in early Ireland, yet no one seems ever to have used them as money.
Most of what we know about the economy of early Medieval
Ireland comes from legal sources-a series of law codes, drawn up by
a powerful class of jurists, dating roughly from the seventh to ninth
centuries AD. These, however, are exceptionally rich. Ireland at that
time was still very much a human economy. It was also a very rural
one: people lived in scattered homesteads, not unlike the Tiv, growing
wheat and tending cattle. The closest there were to towns were a few
concentrations around monasteries. There appears to have been a near
total absence of markets, except for a few on the coast-presumably,
mainly slave or cattle markets-frequented by foreign ships. 16
As a result, money was employed almost exclusively for social
purposes: gifts; fees to craftsmen, doctors, poets, j udges, and entertainers;
various feudal payments (lords gave gifts of cattle to clients who
then had to regularly supply them with food) . The authors of the law
codes didn't even know how to put a price on most goods of ordinary
use--pitchers, pillows, chisels, slabs of bacon, and the like; no one
seems ever to have paid money for them. 17 Food was shared in families
or delivered to feudal superiors, who laid it out in sumptuous feasts
for friends, rivals, and retainers. Anyone needing a tool or furniture or
clothing either went to a kinsman with the relevant craft skills or paid
someone to make it. The objects themselves were not for sale. Kings,
in turn, assigned tasks to different clans: this one was to provide them
with leather, this one poets, this one shields ... precisely the sort of unwieldy
arrangement that markets were later developed to get around.18
Money could be loaned. There was a highly complex system of
pledges and sureties to guarantee that debtors delivered what they
owed. Mainly, though, it was used for paying fines. These fines are
endlessly and meticulously elaborated in the codes, but what really
strikes the contemporary observer is that they were carefully graded by
rank. This is true of almost all the "Barbarian Law Codes "-the size
of the penalties usually has at least as much do with the status of the
victim as it does with the nature of the injury-but only in Ireland were
things mapped out quite so systematically.
The key to the system was a notion of honor: literally "face."19
One's honor was the esteem one had in the eyes of others, one's honesty,
integrity, and character, but also one's power, in the sense of the
ability to protect oneself, and one's family and followers, from any
sort of degradation or insult. Those who had the highest degree of
honor were literally sacred beings: their persons and possessions were sacrosanct. What was so unusual about Celtic systems-and the Irish
one went further with this than any other-was that honor could be
precisely quantified. Every free person had his or her "honor price": the
price that one had to pay for an insult to the person's dignity. These
varied. The honor price of a king, for instance, was seven cumal, or
seven slave girls-this was the standard honor price for any sacred being,
the same as a bishop or master poet. Since (as all sources hasten to
point out) slave girls were not normally paid as such, this would mean,
in the case of an insult to such a person's dignity, one would have to
pay twenty-one milk cows or twenty-one ounces of silver.20 The honor
price of a wealthy peasant was two and a half cows, of a minor lord,
that, plus half a cow additionally for each of his free dependents-and
since a lord, to remain a lord, had to have at least five of these, that
brought him up to at least five cows total.21
Honor price is not to be confused with wergeld-the actual price
of a man or woman's life. If one killed a man, one paid goods to the
value of seven cumals, in recompense for killing him, to which one
then added his honor price, for having offended against his dignity (by
killing him) . Interestingly, only in the case of a king are the blood price
and his honor price the same.
There were also payments for injury: if one wounds a man's cheek,
one pays his honor price plus the price of the injury. (A blow to the
face was, for obvious reasons, particularly egregious.) The problem
was how to calculate the injury, since this varied according to both
the physical damage and status of the injured party. Here, Irish j urists
developed the ingenious expedient of measuring different wounds with
different varieties of grain: a cut on the king's cheek was measured in
grains of wheat, on that of a substantial farmer in oats, on that of a
smallholder merely in peas. One cow was paid for each.U Similarly,
if one stole, say, a man's brooch or pig, one had to pay back three
brooches or three pigs-plus his honor price, for having violated the
sanctity of his homestead. Attacking a peasant under the protection of
a lord was the same as raping a man's wife or daughter, a violation
of the honor not of the victim, but of the man who should have been
able to protect them.
Finally, one had to pay the honor price if one simply insulted
someone of any importance: say, by turning the person away at a feast,
inventing a particularly embarrassing nickname (at least, if it caught
on), or humiliating the person through the use of satire.23 Mockery
was a refined art in Medieval Ireland, and poets were considered close
to magicians: it was said that a talented satirist could rhyme rats to
death, or at the very least, raise blisters on the faces of victims. Any man publicly mocked would have no choice but to defend his honor;
and, in Medieval Ireland, the value of that honor was precisely defined.
I should note that while twenty-one cows might not seem like
much when we are dealing with kings, Ireland at the time had about
150 kings.24 Most had only a couple of thousand subjects, though there
were also higher-ranking, provincial kings for whom the honor price
was double.25 What's more, since the legal system was completely separate
from the political one, jurists, in theory, had the right the demote
anyone-including a king-who had committed a dishonorable act. If
a nobleman turned a worthy man away from his door or feast, sheltered
a fugitive, or ate steak from an obviously stolen cow, or even if
he allowed himself to be satirized and did not take the offending poet
to court, his price could be lowered to that of a commoner. But the
same was true of a king who ran away in battle, or abused his powers,
or even was caught working in the fields or otherwise engaging in tasks
beneath his dignity. A king who did something utterly outrageousmurdered
one of his own relatives, for example-might end up with no
honor price at all, which meant not that people could say anything they
liked about the king, without fear of recompense, but that he couldn't
stand as surety or witness in court, as one's oath and standing in law
was also determined by one's honor price. This didn't happen often,
but it did happen, and legal wisdom made sure to remind people of it:
the list, contained in one famous legal text, of the "seven kings who
lost their honor price," was meant to ensure that everyone remembered
that no matter how sacred and powerful, anyone could fall.
What's unusual about the Irish material is that it's all spelled out
so clearly. This is partly because Irish law codes were the work of a
class of legal specialists who seem to have turned the whole thing almost
into a form of entertainment, devoting endless hours to coming
up with every possible abstract possibility. Some of the provisos are so
whimsical ("if stung by another man's bee, one must calculate the extent
of the injury, but also, if one swatted it in the process, subtract the
replacement value of the bee") that one has to assume they were simply
j okes. Still, as a result, the moral logic that lies behind any elaborate
code of honor is laid out here in startling honesty. What about women ?
A free woman was honored at precisely so percent of the price of her
nearest male relative (her father, if alive; if not, her husband). If she
was dishonored, her price was payable to that relative. Unless, that
is, she was an independent landholder. In that case, her honor price
was the same as that of a man. And unless she was a woman of easy
virtue, in which case it was zero, since she had no honor to outrage.
What about marriage ? A suitor paid the value of the wife's honor to her father and thus became its guardian. What about serfs? The same
principle applied: when a lord acquired a serf, he bought out that
man's honor price, presenting him with its equivalent in cows. From
that moment on, if anyone insulted or injured the serf, it was seen an
attack on the lord's honor, and it was up to the lord to collect the attendant
fees. Meanwhile the lord's honor price was notched upward
as a result of gathering another dependent: in other words, he literally
absorbs his new vassal's honor into his own.26
All this, in turn, makes it possible to understand both something
of the nature of honor, and why slave girls were kept as units for
reckoning debts of honor even at a time when-owing no doubt to
church influence-they no longer actually changed hands. At first sight
it might seem strange that the honor of a nobleman or king should be
measured in slaves, since slaves were human beings whose honor was
zero. But if one's honor is ultimately founded on one's ability to extract
the honor of others, it makes perfect sense. The value of a slave is that
of the honor that has been extracted from them.
Sometimes, one comes on a single haphazard detail that gives the
game away. In this case it comes not from Ireland but from the Dimetian
Code in Wales, written somewhat later but operating on much
the same principles. At one point, after listing the honors due to the
seven holy sees of the Kingdom of Dyfed, whose bishops and abbots
were the most exalted and sacred creatures in the kingdom, the text
specifies that
Whoever draws blood from an abbot of any one of those principal
seats before mentioned, let him pay seven pounds; and a
female of his kindred to be a washerwoman, as a disgrace to
the kindred, and to serve as a memorial to the payment of the
honor priceY
A washerwoman was the lowest of servants, and the one turned
over in this case was to serve for life. She was, in effect, reduced to
slavery. Her permanent disgrace was the restoration of the abbot's
honor. While we cannot know if some similar institution once lay behind
the habit of reckoning the honor of Irish "sacred" beings in slavewomen,
the principle is clearly the same. Honor is a zero-sum game. A
man's ability to protect the women of his family is an essential part of
that honor. Therefore, forcing him to surrender a woman of his family
to perform menial and degrading chores in another's household is the
ultimate blow to his honor. This, in turn, makes it the ultimate reaffirmation
of the honor of he who takes it away.

"What makes Medieval Irish laws seem so peculiar from our perspective
is that their exponents had not the slightest discomfort with putting
an exact monetary price on human dignity. For us, the notion that the
sanctity of a priest or the majesty of a king could be held equivalent to
a million fried eggs or a hundred thousand haircuts is simply bizarre.
These are precisely the things that ought to be considered beyond all
possibility of quantification. If Medieval Irish jurists felt otherwise,
it was because people at that time did not use money to buy eggs or
haircuts.28 It was the fact that it was still a human economy, in which
money was used for social purposes, that it was possible to create such
an intricate system whereby it was possible not j ust to measure but to
add and subtract specific quantities of human dignity-and in doing so,
provide us with a unique window into the true nature of honor itself.
The obvious question is: What happens to such an economy when
people do begin to use the same money used to measure dignity to
buy eggs and haircuts? As the history of ancient Mesopotamia and
the Mediterranean world reveals, the result was a profound-and
enduring-moral crisis. "

David Graeber [Debt. pp. 171-176]
"Gaelic Ireland and Scotland were among the last areas of Christian Europe to give up their institution of slavery. Under Gaelic custom, prisoners of war were routinely taken as slaves. However, ironically, it was during the period that slavery was disappearing across most of western Europe that it was reaching its zenith in Ireland and Scotland; during the Viking invasions and the subsequent warring between Scandinavians and the native Irish the number of captives taken as slaves drastically increased. The Irish church was vehemently opposed to slavery, and blamed the 1169 Norman invasion on the persistence of the practice, as well as the practices of polygyny and divorce."

"At the start of the period Ireland had emerged from a mysterious decline that archaeological evidence suggests had hit population levels and standards of living from c. 100 BC to c. 300 AD, called the Irish Dark Age by Thomas Charles-Edwards. The population was entirely rural and dispersed, with small ringforts the largest centres of human occupation. Some 40,000 of these are known, while there may have been as many as 50,000[citation needed], and "archaeologists are agreed that the vast bulk of them are the farm enclosures of the well-to-do of early medieval Ireland". Souterrains, underground passages and chambers for hiding in or escaping through, are common.[1] It is likely that raiding Britain for slaves and other loot gave an important boost to an otherwise almost entirely agricultural economy. The lakeside enclosures called crannogs continued to be used and seem especially associated with crafts.[2]"

"Status in early Ireland was not entirely rigid and it was possible for a family to raise its status. If three consecutive generations—grandfather, father, and son—had the property qualifications of a lord, or the poetic qualifications of a higher level poet, etc., then the member of the third generation became a lord. On the other hand, the son or grandson of a lord, or a poet, etc., who did not have the proper qualifications, did not have that status. However, the grandson of a person with a certain status could have that status themselves, assuming they had the proper qualifications, even if their father did not.

"This created an interesting in-between stage. A commoner who had the property qualifications but not the parentage to become a lord is variously referred to as a flaith aithig, (a commoner lord), a fer fothlai (a man of withdrawal), or an aire iter da airig (an aire [here with a broader meaning than lord] between two [types of] aires). According to Críth Gablach, these individuals had status in between a commoner and a full lord.[38] In the case of poets, a poet with skill qualifications but who did not have proper training was a bard. (However, it has been suggested that poets who were not allied with the church were given this rank for that reason).[39]

"In addition, there were ways that, in extraordinary circumstance, an individual could achieve higher status without having parents with such qualifications. Someone who chose to become a briugu (hospitaller) could have twice the normal property qualifications of a lord of whatever grade (and this can extend, in theory, up to the qualifications of a king). Further, a briugu had to open his house to any guests. This included feeding them, no matter how large the group—he could lose his status if he ever refused a guest.[40] Because of that stipulation, the position of briugu was potentially ruinous, and this outcome is portrayed in a number of tales such as in Togail Bruidne Da Derga and Scela Mucce Meic Datho. A commoner might also ascend to the status of a lord if he is a aire échta (lord of violence). Such a person helped individuals to avenge deaths committed in another túath for a limited time after the cessation of hostilities, although the details are unclear.[41] A poet who had the skill and training of a rank, but not the proper familial qualifications received half the honour price that his skill and training otherwise earned.[42]"

"Land belonged to the fine or kin group as well as to individual families. Women were not normally eligible to inherit land. If they had no brothers, they could possess kin land for life but could not leave it to their own children. Women could, however, inherit movable property and keep control over their dowries after marriage."

"Society was graded according to social class and a woman's honour price was half that of an equivalent man. Slaves, male and female, were at the bottom of the social pyramid and one of the units of currency was cumal, meaning 'slave girl.' Probably slaves were once traded but cumal came to mean an amount equivalent to three milch cows - there was no coinage as yet. Slave girls did such work as grinding corn, cooking and feeding animals for their owners."

"As the years went by, however, many Irish living within the Pale83 felt themselves
under a disability because they could not access the king’s justice. In 1276 or 1277
there was even an offer by the Irish to buy the right to English law for all the Irish
for some amount between 7,000 and 8,000 marks.84 By 1280 the offer had gone up to 10,000 marks for all the Irish to have the “common law which the English have
and use in Ireland and to be treated as these English are treated, alive and dead, in
body and in real and personal property.”85 Nothing further seems to have hap-
pened on the matter,86 and it has been theorized that the purchase was held up by
the Anglo-Irish, who did not want to give the Irish rights under the common law.87"

[Janet Sinder, Irish Legal History: An Overview and Guide to the Sources, Law Library Journal, vol. 93:2, p. 245.]
"From the time of the original English conquest in the twelfth century until the
seventeenth century there was a parallel system of law, in addition to brehon law
and the common law, and thus another set of courts in what were called the palati-
nates or liberties.108 The palatinates were lands given to nobles by the king, along
with a delegation of royal authority for legal and administrative purposes.109
¶52 Large areas of Ireland were designated as palatinates. The earls within
them ran their own legal systems, which were based nominally on the common
law, though it was alleged the earls used elements of both the common law and
native Irish law, depending on which was more advantageous to them.110 With
four exceptions (arson, rape, treasure-trove, and forestalling), the king’s writ did
not run in the palatinates.111"

Janet Sinder, Irish Legal History: An Overview and Guide to the Sources, Law Library Journal, vol. 93:2, p. 247.]
"The following account of the ancient land laws of Ireland, which has been compiled chiefly from the Brehon Laws, is corroborated in some of its main features by those early English writers who described the native Irish customs from personal observation. It throws much light on the Irish land question of modern times.

"In theory the land belonged not to individuals, but to the tribe. The king or chief had a portion assigned to him as mensal land. The rest was occupied by the tribesmen in the several ways mentioned below. The chief, though exercising a sort of supervision over the
whole of the territory, had no right of ownership except over his own property, if he had any, and for the time being over his mensal land. It would appear that originally — in prehistoric times — the land was all common property, and chief and people were liable to be called
on to give up their portions for a new distribution. But as time went on, this custom was gradually broken in upon; and the lands held by some, after long possession, came to be looked upon as private property. As lar back as our records go, there was some private ownership in land ; and it is plainly recognised all through the Brehon Laws."

" All the Brehon writers seem to have a bias towards private, as distinguished from collective, property. Yet the original idea of collective ownership was never quite
lost : for although men owned land, the ownership was not so absolute as at present. A man, for instance, could not alienate his land outside the tribe ; and he had to
comply with certain other tribal obligations in the management and disposal of it, all which restrictions were vestiges of the old tribe ownership. But within these limits, which
were not very stringent, a man might dispose of his land just as he pleased. "


[Fouth] "The rest of the arable land, which was called the Tribe-land — equivalent to the folc or folk land of England — forming by far the largest part of the territory, belonged to the people in general — the several subdivisions of it to the several septs— no part being private property.* This was occupied by the free members of the sept, who were owners for the time being, each of his own farm. Every free man had a right to his share, a right never questioned. Those who occupied the tribe-land did not hold for any fixed term, for the land of the sept was liable to gavelkind (p. 197, below) or redistribution from time to time — once every three or four years, t Yet they were not tenants at will, for they could not be disturbed till the time of gavelling ; even then each man kept his crops and got compensation for unexhausted improvements ; and though he gave up one farm, he always got another. "

[Fifth] "The non-arable or waste land — mountain, forest, bog, &c. — was Commons-land. This was not appropriated by individuals ; but every free man had a right to use it for grazing,* for procuring fuel, or for the chase*

"There was no need of subdividing the commons by fences, for the cattle grazed over it without distinction. The portion of territory occupied by each clan or sept commonly included land held in all the five ways here described.

"Between common clan ownership on the one hand, and private ownership by individuals on the other, there was an intermediate link ; for in some cases land was owned by a family, though not by any individual member, and remained in the same family for generations. This was often the case with land granted for professional services.

"A very remarkable and peculiar development of family ownership was what was known as the Gelfine system, under which four groups of persons, all nearly related to each other, held four adjacent tracts of land as a sort of common property, subject to regulations, then well recognised, but now hard enough to understand, f

"It should be observed that the individuals and families who owned land as private property were comparatively few, and their possessions were not extensive : the great bulk of both people and land fell under the conditions of tenure described under the fourth and fifth headings. "

P. W. JOYCE,, [A SOCIAL HISTORY OF ANCIENT IRELAND TREATING OF The Government, Military System, and Law ; Religion, Learning, and Art ; Trades, Industries, and Commerce ; Manners, Customs, and Domestic Life, of the Ancient Irish People. Dublin. M. H. GILL & SON, LTD. 1920.