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Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland by…

Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland

by Patrick C. Power

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At a brief 96 pages, Patrick C. Power's book is, despite its title, less of a general history of sex and marriage in ancient Ireland, than it is a catalogue of the application of early Irish Brehon Laws to issues relevant to women. I am not a fan, generally speaking, of sweeping statements vis-a-vis gender norms in ancient times, and you will get no arguments from me that Celtic Ireland (or Minoan Crete, for that matter), was some matriarchal utopia.

Historians should be as wary of wishful thinking as they are of superimposing modern values onto ancient times, just as they should be aware that there is a difference between ideology and practice. That said, there can be no doubt that ancient Ireland possessed a far more egalitarian legal system, as it concerned women, than any other European culture of the time. Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland delves into issues such as property, divorce, and spousal abuse, and the modern reader might be somewhat surprised at the ways these issues were handled.

I found Power's small book quite informative, so far as it went, but finished it with the conviction that I would need to find a work that provided a much fuller account of women in ancient Irish society. And, as always, I cannot help but wish that there were a comprehensive history of the Brehon Laws available for the reader who is not a legal specialist. ( )
2 vote AbigailAdams26 | Apr 8, 2013 |
Even if the Claddagh Ring is from the medieval or later period of Irish History, the copy I had has a slightly different cover, what's between the covers is excellent and should be compulsary reading for writers writing about Celtic Ireland, pre-imposition of English Law.

Power makes this quite readable and includes occasional side-swipes at modern laws and how he finds that the Brehon rulings are much more civilised and at least once he bemoans the fact that we didn't return to them when we achieved indpendence (though the Irish Civil War may have been instrumental in disrupting plans like that.)

Marriage in Ireland was a fluid concept with a variety of forms, from temporary to more permanent, though all could be finished with a divorce and what a woman brought into a relationship and the fruits of her labours were part of the settlement when seperation occured.

It's an interesting read, and as I said, should be compulsary for all authors who write romances set in Ireland in the pre-English Law period, Roman law is largely not applicable here. There was some inspiration took from some Roman law about property when Christianity entered the country but largely it wasn't used. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Sep 11, 2012 |
This is a fascinating history of what laws existed in Ireland before they were changed by the church (and as they were changed by the church). The most interesting point is that laws regarding sex, marriage, etc. used to be very equivical, fair, and even "up to date" before Christianity. The laws changed as Christian morals were imposed (and they would change furthur in the future as the church zeroed in until they got the out of date laws like "no divorces" that are only now being remedied). ( )
  the1butterfly | Jul 29, 2007 |
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In ancient Ireland - from the dawn of history until the coming of the Normans - marriage customs and sexual mores were very different from those that held sway in other European countries - and especially from the 'Christian' customs that the Norman conquerors sought to impose on the Irish. Liberal and humane, they allowed for divorce and remarriage and acknowledged the status of women as independent individuals. This riveting account, based on heroic, historical and legal sources, makes surprising and entertaining reading.
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