Brehon Law and Marriage

Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland

In the fifth century, Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland and with it Roman law whose patriarchal orientation was in conflict with the matriarchal orientation of Irish aboriginal society. The change to Roman law and to patriarchy was not immediate.

Gradually but insidiously the role of women was confined to childbearing, engaging in charitable deeds, for which they were occasionally lauded in the Irish annals, and being subservient to their husbands.

As Ireland began to embrace Christianity some 1,600 years ago, the Irish retained many of their aboriginal pagan customs, many of which dealt with marriage. In the early Christian era, the Irish recognized ten different kinds of marriage. In Gaelic-Irish law (Brehon law) all of these forms of marriage were formal contracts which varied with regard to the status of the persons involved and in the contribution both parties brought into the marriage. Irish women continued to be full partners…

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