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16 eLaw J. 1 (2009)

handle is hein.journals/elajrnl16 and id is 1 raw text is: Truth in Early Irish Law: An Examination of the Source and Nature
of Truth in Early Irish Law Through Forms and Procedures of
Desai Link*
Early Irish law is interpreted through translations of law texts that date back to the 7h
Century CE. These texts reveal a highly developed legal system, complete with a professional
body of lawyers, judges and legal concepts familiar to modern jurists. One such example is
the idea of 'truth' in legal proceedings. Which evidence is valid? Whose testimony is sound?
The methods of early Irish law in answering these questions pose a challenge to established
preconceptions of the early Irish.
Joseph Sullivan, when speaking about judicial oaths in early Irish law, stated that the
'Celtic mind has always had a distinctive leaning towards the mystical and the
supernatural'.  Although the act of oath making was considered sacred, a broad
statement such as this suggests a preconception that Celts were pagan, animalistic and
therefore comparatively devoid of science and pragmatism. This is a notion that has
been well established since the Renaissance and has origins that may predate
Christianity.2 The examination of the forms and standards of evidence used in early
Irish law reveal a very pragmatic, rational approach to the search for truth. Truth was
ultimately based on an overarching scheme of natural law,3 which incorporated
supernatural elements. However the processes used to determine truth in a legal sense
indicate a tendency away from the supernatural, towards forms of evidence that do not
invoke supernatural forces. Often truth was measured by status4 and history,5 in
addition to more familiar notions of sound testimony and judgments. The onus of
asserting falsehood was on the supernatural forces. Their silence was consent.6
1. Natural Law
There are a few variations of natural law, a situation which is to be expected of an
idea that is evident in almost every early society.7 One example is the Greco-Roman
natural law that has deities who are themselves subjects of the natural order: they are
not omnipotent. The deities themselves were often personifications of natural
occurrences. A god could rightly be called 'Zeus, Nature, Providence, Fate, Necessity
or Law'.8 The pursuit of truth therefore needed no recourse to the supernatural, nor
did it need divine validation.
The pursuit of truth in early Irish law did need recourse to the supernatural, in the
sense that if something wrong had happened, such as a false testimony or a corrupt
*I would like to thank Professor Neil McLeod for his advice and encouragement. Any errors in this
paper are solely mine. I welcome comments and feedback and can be contacted on d esai@iinet~net~au
Joseph M Sullivan, 'Judicial Oaths in Ancient Ireland' (1902) 14 Green Bag 85.
2 Patrick Sims-Williams, 'The Visionary Celt: The Construction of an Ethnic Preconception' (1986) 11
Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies , 71-96.
3Neil McLeod, 'The Concept of Law In Early Irish Jurisprudence' (1982) 17 Irish Jurist 356.
4Geardid Mac Niocaill 'Admissable and Inadmissable Evidence In Early Irish Law' (1969) 4 Irish
Jurist 332.
5Robin Stacey, 'Berrad Airechta: An Old Irish Tract on Suretyship' in T. M. Charles-Edwards, Morfydd Owen
and D. B. Walters (eds), Lawyers and Laymen (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1986) 210, 220.
6 McLeod, above n 3, 356-7.
7McLeod, above n 3, 356-7.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, (London: Penguin BooksLtd, 1964) 13.

eLaw Journal: Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law (2009) 16(1)

Desai Link

Truth in Early Irish Lavy

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