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Can We Match the Wisdom of the Brehons?

Lessons from the Gaelic Judgments of the Neighborhood

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<em>Edit Article</em> Can We Match the Wisdom of the Brehons?

Illustration Credit: Cozy Comfort by Olga Cuttell

Early Irish law was based on decisions made by Gaelic brehons, learned men and women of old Irish society who took on the responsibilities of being the local judge. Legend has it that one great brehon, Morann, son of Carbery Kinncat (king of Ireland in the first century), wore a collar around his neck that tightened whenever he delivered a false judgment and expanded again when he delivered the true one. The goal of the brehons was justice, pure and simple, even if justice hardly ever is—even with something as seemingly simple as trees.The brehons called their laws fenechas—the law of the freemen of Gaelic Ireland—and it was a civil code that focused on payment of compensation for harm done. Trees were revered and protected as an essential part of each community and recognized as both sacred and valuable, so a seventh-century text called Bretha Comaithchesa (Judgments of the Neighborhood) specifically regulated how Irish society dealt with harm done to trees. Twenty-eight principal trees and shrubs were divided into four classes, with different rules applied to each group. Damage to an especially valuab …

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