THE AGRARIAN SYSTEM OF THE IRISH CELTS.
The little knowledge we possess of the customs of the primitive Celts, seems to shew that the same institutions existed origin ally among them as among other nations,joint property, and even community of wives, and cannibalism.(1) Professor Sullivan, who has devoted his life to the study of the ancient Celtic laws, allows that in early times no one had a right of usufruct in the soil, except by consent of the clan, and that a fresh distribution was made every year. At the much more recent period, with which the Brehon Laws make us acquainted, the social organization of Ireland resembled that of India, and of modern Servia. The population was divided into clans or tribes (fine), the members of which claimed to be connected by descent from a common ancestor. At the head of the clan was a chief, whom Irish traditions call a king. When the clan was numerous, it was subdivided into groups, each united by closer ties of kinship, and also having a chief, called by Anglo-Irish jurists caput cognationis. These groups corresponded to the Roman gens, and the Greek ; and to the cognationes hominum of Germany, amongst whom, Caesar tells us, the soil was redistributed every year.(2) The juristic and political unit in the social order was not, as at present, the isolated individual, but the family group called the sept. This was precisely similar to the Zadruga, the family community, which the Germans appropriately call Hauskommunion. The sept also resembled the family groups, the societies of compani or Frarescheux, the "coteries" and "fraternities," which in the middle ages in France lived in one large building, cella, tilling the land in common and dividing its produce, living "au même pot" and "au même chanteau."
Modern India affords us, in its joint-family, the exact image of the Celtic sept of ancient Ireland. The joint-family is a juristic person, which holds and acquires property and has a perpetual existence, like a society in mortmain. It presents a perfect type of the archaic mode of joint occupancy which we meet with in all primitive agricultural societies. It consists of an association of all the persons who would have taken part in the funeral ceremonies of the common ancestor; and is the agnatic family of the Romans, comprising all those who would have been subject to the authority of the common ancestor, were he alive to exercise it. According to the decisions of the Indian courts, no member of the family can claim a share of the common property. The produce has to be brought together, and then divided among all according to the rules of joint- ownership. The members of the family are united, as they say in India, "for maintenance, religion, and the soil." In Ireland the joint responsibility of the members of the sept is complete; they are bound to pay the composition for all offences committed by any member. The resemblance between the Hindoo and the Irish joint-family extends even to details. By the Brahmin law, whatever a member of the community gains by any special scientific knowledge, or by the exercise of the liberal arts, belongs to him in several ownership, unless he acquired his knowledge at the cost of the family. One of the old treatises on the Irish laws, the Corus Bescna, establishes the same distinction. A member of the tribe may give the church two-thirds of what he gains by a liberal profession, it is different, however, if the profession be that of the tribe itself. In this case the emolument belongs to the community.
The tribe, at the date of the Brehon Laws, is a civil person, which, as the texts say, "is self-supporting." It is perpetuated, in the first instance, by the possession of land, "the land is a perpetual person." But it can also exist without cultivating the soil, by the exercise of some trade. A portion of the tribe's domain, probably the arable, is divided among the different families of the clan; but these parcels still remain subject to the control of the community. "Every one," says the law, "shall preserve his land intact, neither selling it, burdening it with debts, nor giving it in satisfaction of crimes or contracts." As in all primitive customs, alienation is only allowed with the consent of the whole community: in India this is still the rule.(3) The necessity of following the same rotation of crops the German Flurzwang is as strict here as in the Russian mir, or the ancient German village. This, with marriage, says the Corus Bescna, is one of the fundamental institutions of the Irish nation. The statement of Tacitus with regard to the Germans, apud eos nullum testamentum, is as true of the Irish Celts as of all primitive peoples. Gifts and legacies were borrowed from the Roman Law of the clergy, that the pious might be allowed to enrich the church for the salvation of their souls.
The agrarian system of Ireland, at the time of the Brehon Laws, shews us the state of transition between the primitive collectivity and private ownership. At the period of the Brehon Laws, the whole territory of the tribe is still regarded in theory as belonging to the whole community; but, as a matter of fact, a very considerable portion of the soil has been permanently appropriated by certain families.
There are, however, very extensive common lands, covered with grass and heath, which serve as pasture for the cattle. Portions of the communal domain are cultivated in turn, according to the practice still in force in many countries, and especially in the Belgian Ardennes: the occupancy is, however, only temporary, and the ownership still remains in the tribe. The system of periodic redistribution, with alternate occupancy, is still maintained under the form of rundale.(4) A great part of the soil was subject to methods of tenure and agrarian customs, strongly impregnated with traditions of the old joint ownership. At the time of the Brehon Laws, private ownership had hardly been evolved from the primitive community of the soil. An Irish manuscript of the twelfth century, the Lebor na Huidre, has preserved the memory of this transformation, and indicates its cause, as an economist might do. It contains this curious passage: "Round the fields there was neither ditch, hedge, nor stone wall, and the land was not divided until the time of the sons of Aed Slane. It was in consequence of the great number of families at this time, that divisions and boundaries of the soil were introduced in Ireland." This is, in truth, one of the chief causes which give rise to private property. When the number of co-partners becomes excessive, the lot which accrues to each in the common domain is too slender for the "extensive" agriculture which they practise. They have to adopt a mode of cultivation which demands permanent improvements and the sinking of capital in the soil; and this cannot be done without the guarantee of hereditary possession, or, at any rate, of a very considerable term. Hence arises several occupancy, of permanent duration, and transmissible within the family. The periodic partition, every year or every three years, evidently allows of only a rudimentary cultivation, which consequently produces little, and 50 requires a large extent of ground.
In another Irish manuscript, older than the Lebor na Huidre, and bearing the title Liber Hymnorum, a method of occupying the soil is mentioned, which exactly recalls that which is still in force in the Swiss Allmends. There is a periodical allotment to each family of a share in the bog, the forest and the arable. The weide, wald und feld of the Germanic mark correspond exactly to the bog-land, wood-land, and arable-land of the Celtic tribe. The Liber Hymnorum (probably of the eleventh century) contains the following passage: "Very numerous were the inhabitants of Ireland at this time (the time of the sons of Aed Slane, from the year 651 to 694), and their number was so great that they only received in the partition three lots of nine `ridges' of land, namely nine ridges of bog-land, nine of forest, and nine of arable." Every family in the Swiss Allmend receives, in the same manner, certain parcels in each of the zones of the communal domain. This passage of the Liber Hymnorum clearly shews that it was the increase of the population which put an end to the periodic re-distribution of the collective property. Tacitus, describing the customs of the Germans, also shews the close connection that exists between extensive cultivation and the temporary occupation of the soil. "The extent of their fields," he tells us, "facilitates these partitions;" and he adds, "They do not labour to contend with the fertility of the soil, which bears nothing but corn: every year they change the part for cultivation, and some always remains unoccupied."
The system of succession in force among the Irish Celts, called by English jurists gavelkind, resembles that which is still to be found in the family communities or Zadrugas of Servia. When a member of the sept or Irish clan dies, leaving property, the chief makes a new distribution of all the lands of the 8ept among the different households, who thus obtain a larger number of parcels.(5) Succession in the direct line is accordingly still unknown: the collective succession of the clan is the system in force, and women are entirely excluded. The Irish gavelkind, it will be seen, is quite different from the gavelkind customary in the county of Kent. The latter merely enjoins the division of the inheritance in equal parts among the children, as in the French law. If we wish to form an idea of the agrarian organization prevailing among the Irish Celts at the time of the Brehon Laws, we must look for its type, not in the village communities as still existing in Russia or Java, but rather in the system of family communities, such as are to be seen among the French peasants of the middle ages, or the modern Servians. The Irish sept is almost exactly similar to the Slav Zadruga: the primitive community has given way to the family property of the gens. There is however one very, great difference to notice. In Ireland the chief of the sept has already acquired the authority and privileges of a feudal lord, whereas in Servia an aristocracy is not yet developed, and the democratic equality of primitive times is maintained.
1. Mr Cliffe Leslie quotes the following important passage of St Jerome, concerning two ancient Celtic tribes, the Scoti and Atticotti:Scotorum notio uxores propries non ha bet, sed ut cuique libitum fuerit pecudum more lasciviunt. Ipse adolescentulus vidi Atticottos, gentem britannicam, humanis vesci carnibus.
2. De Bell. Gall. VI. 29. The same social organization was found among the Scotch as among the Irish. Mr Skene, in his hook, The Highlanders of Scotland, quotes the evidence of an English officer in 1730. "The Highlanders are divided into tribes or clans under leaders or chieftains, and every clan is subdivided into `stocks' likewise subject to chieftains. These `stocks' are again divided into branches of the same race, which contain fifty or sixty men related
by common descent."
For the Brehon Laws see Ancient Laws of Ireland, published under the direction of the Brehon Laws Commission, and Sir Henry Maine, Lectures on the Early History of Institutions.
3. "The alienation of landed property," says Sir G. Campbell, "is very rare, and the village community has a right of veto." (Systems of Land Tenure, p. 166.) See also for the droit de retrait, the curious work of M. Viollet, Caractère collectif des premières proprété's immobiliéres, p. 30.
4. The word rundale is said to come from the Celtic roinn-diol, which signifies a share in the distribution, or the portion of one member. Under the rundale system, a certain portion of land was occupied by a group of families. (George Sigerson, History of Land Tenures in Ireland, p. 161) The pasturage and bog were subject to joint occupation, and the arable, divided into holdings, passed periodicallysometimes as often as every yearfrom one family to another. Other traces of the mark system were also frequently met with; the arable was divided into three zones of different qualities, and every family had one or more lots in each zone. (See Wakefield's Account, Vol. i. p. 260, and Sigerson loc. cit.) Quite recently the same agrarian system was to be found in the Scotch Highlands. Sir H. Maine states, that in the Western Highlands, village communities, which have been recently dissolved, used to divide the land periodically among the inhabitants by lot. Mr Skene, who is of great authority on this subject, expresses an opinion that this agrarian system once prevailed generally among the Scotch Celts. (See his note on Tribe Communities in Scotland in the second volume of his edition of Fordun's Chronicle.) Co. operative societies, "knots," for agricultural purposes were established among kinsmen and also among strangers; and, according to Mr Sigerson, results were thus obtained, which isolated families could never have arrived at.
5. The word gavelkind comes from Gabhail-eine, which denotes "accepted from the tribe." It refers therefore to the partition among the members of the sept. This system of succession was in force as late as the time of James I. Sir John Davis, the attorney-general at the time, thus speaks of it at the commencement of the seventeenth century
"Issint les terres de nature de gavelkind ne fueront partibles enter le prochen heires males de cesty qui morust seisie, mes enter touts les males de son sept en east manner. Le canfinny, ou chief del sept (this is the caput cognationis), fesait toutes lea partitions per son discretion. Cest canfinny, apres le mort de chescun tertenant qua avait competent portion de terre, assemblait tout le sept, et aiant mis touts lour possessions en hotchpotch fesalt nouvel partition de tout: en quel partition il ne assignait a les fils de cesty que mourust le portion que lour pera avait; mes il allottait al chascun del sept solonque son antiquity. Et issint per reason da ceux frequents partitions et ramovements on translations des tenants del un portion al anter touts les possessions fueront incertaines, et le uncertainty des possessions fuit la verey cause que nul civil habitation fueront erected, nul enclosure on improvement fult fait du terres." Davis, Reports, Le irish customs de Gavelkind. We can sea here the struggle commencing between economic ideas and the archaic forms of property.Hotchpotch, the Flemish Utsepot, is the Spanish Olla podrida, a mixture of various meats and vegetables.