For those of us fascinated by ancient and medieval Ireland, Fergus Kelly’s books fill the gap between the readily-available popular folklore, and the primary sources that are beyond our reach. Informative, interesting and very readable, this is a wonderful book for anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of medieval Irish history.
Heavily foot-noted, and translated first-hand for us from the law texts, the book offers valuable insight into Irish life in the pre-Norman period, including the status, rights and responsibilities of everyone from kings to outlaws, druids to slaves. Crime and punishment is well covered, as are oaths, outlaws, child-rearing, captives and hostages, and the ancient law-texts themselves.
The list of sources is extensive, and quotes from the old manuscripts are included in Irish next to their English translations. The book’s organisation is easy to follow, and the index makes finding any detail a simple matter.
Among my favourite passages, I’ve discovered that a pregnant women is legally entitled (!) to any food she craves; and what board games a foster-son could expect to learn; and information on early hunger strikes. Some crimes seem to transcend the millenia: see page 143 if the neighbour’s dog is pooping out-of-bounds.
It’s a joy to find a book as entertaining as it is informative and reliable, and Fergus Kelly’s books are all three.