Infertility – if either partner in a marriage is infertile, there is evidence that early Irish law permitted the other to acquire a child elsewhere. The husband of an infertile wife may thus impregnate another woman in a lower form of marriage. The wife of an infertile husband may likewise leave him temporarily so as to become pregnant by another man. The resultant child is treated as belonging to the husband. A wife may divorce her husband with retention of the bride-price if he is impotent or becomes so fat that he is incapable of intercourse. If the mother of a child develops a wasting-sickness (anbobracht), the father is solely responsible for the rearing of the child, whether he is married to her or not. He is similarly responsible if she becomes leprous (clam) on the grounds that the child may become infected by her sores.

Extract from Medicine and early Irish law by F. Kelly



Ferta – the term is preserved as an element in Irish place-names like Clonfert, Ardfert and at least a dozen other examples. A Ferta is a burial site which was used to mark boundaries and stake a tribe’s ancestral claim to the land. Archaeology research demonstrates burials to be boundary markers as they occur on hilltops, on spurs over rivers, on ravines overlooking large expanses of countryside or on known boundaries. Furthermore it is known from the large corpus of early medieval genealogies, laws, sagas and topographical sources that graves were used to mark boundaries and a large number of graves are included in the medieval Irish corpus of topographical poems and prose texts known as Dindshenchas Érenn ‘the place-lore of Ireland’.

Anthropological evidence universally recognises that burial rites were not only used as indicators of cultural identity but also of authority over a territory. In early Irish sources, especially in the laws and in saints’ lives, the legal process of taking possession of land involves the ability to cross and use the ferta or ancestral graves. This places burials at the heart of acquiring authority in early Ireland and may often explain the location of certain burials.

Extract from “Mapping Death: People, Boundaries and Territories in Ireland 1st – 8th Centuries AD” Full paper available:—The-Heritage-Council