By Paul F. State
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Additional resources for A Brief History of Ireland
The brehon law system (cin comhfhocuis) was based on negotiated justice, in which families were held responsible for the misdeeds of group members. The worst crime of all was murder of one’s own kin (fingal). The derbfhine punished members who transgressed the law and, in the event a member was slain, exacted vengeance, either in blood or in money. Money in this entirely rural society meant milk cows, a young heifer (sét, modern Irish séad) serving as the basic unit, although female slaves were used as higher units, equal to six séts.
However, there were no snakes in postglacial Ireland—unless “snakes” refers to the serpent symbol of the druids. The serpent as the symbol of Satan adopted by Christians, which derives from the Garden of Eden account in the Old Testament, may have served as a metaphor for the conversion of the Irish. Similarly, no firm evidence exists that he taught the doctrine of the Trinity by using a shamrock, a three-leafed clover, to explain the existence of three divine persons in one God. However, these and other popular myths that resound down the centuries point to the profound impact made by St.
Patrick found a people thoroughly pagan in belief and practice, and his debates with the druids, some of which have been preserved, have left us a record of early Irish life, though liberally leavened with legendary lore. Because he sought to convert by persuasion rather than by confrontation, he focused on changing beliefs, not customs, and so helped to keep intact Ireland’s social structure. Because of Patrick, Ireland traces its Christian roots to Britain, and Patrick’s voice is the first recorded in Western history to declaim unequivocally against slavery.
A Brief History of Ireland by Paul F. State