The Brehon Laws
4.8 (24 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
156 students enrolled

The Brehon Laws

The laws and customs of the early Irish people
Highest Rated
4.8 (24 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
156 students enrolled
Created by Kevin Flanagan
Last updated 3/2019
English [Auto-generated]
Price: $29.99
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
This course includes
  • 7 hours on-demand video
  • 8 articles
  • 24 downloadable resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What you'll learn
  • A comprehensive introduction to the Brehon Laws of Early Ireland
  • Anyone can take this course. While it's recommended that you take the 'Ancient Ireland Culture and Society' and 'Irish Mythology' courses first to gain a solid foundation, it is not essential.

Take a journey into the ancient past and learn all about the ancient Brehons of Ireland and their famous laws.

For thousands of years the people of Ireland lived by a native set of laws known today as ‘Brehon Law’.

This ancient and just system held the fabric of Irish society together.

In this course, you will meet the brehon lawyers and explore the fragments of ancient manuscripts they have left behind for us, gems of wisdom from the ancient past.

Were kings brehons? Were brehons druids and poets, too?

We will learn about the key legal or 'brehon' families and some famous law schools, and learn all about the principles of justice and logic which characterize the brehon laws.

We will take a stroll through wider Irish society and learn how the laws had an impact on other aspects of daily life.

This course is the third in a trilogy of courses designed to give participants a deep and vivid understanding of early Irish society, mythology, and law.

While it is recommended to take the other courses first to give you a solid foundation (See my profile for: 'Ancient Irish Culture and Society' and 'Irish Mythology'), it is not essential before taking this course.

I founded the Brehon Law Academy in 2013 to rekindle and awareness and appreciation for the old laws of ancient Ireland.

Since then I have worked with 100s of students from around the world and you are invited to join us on this journey.

Who this course is for:
  • Everyone who has an interest in ancient civilizations, Irish culture and history, and particularly anyone who is curious to learn more about this fascinating chapter of human history.
Course content
Expand all 52 lectures 07:03:28
+ Welcome to the Course!
2 lectures 09:38

An overview of the course.

Brehon Laws Course Syllabus

From the quotes of eminent scholars and historical figures.

Preview 08:55
+ The Brehons
5 lectures 26:32

Who were this mysterious class of 'eminent jurists', the keepers of the laws? Let's find out in the first video of this section.

Preview 07:22

Like with all the professions, there were several grades, or classes, of Brehons which was determined by a number of interesting factors. Ready to learn all about it? Let's go...

Grades of Brehon

As we have lawyers, barristers, and other legal officers today, the Brehons also had law agents known as elbe and aigne. We'll learn about their different roles and grades in this video.

Law Agents: Advocates and Barristers - 'Elbe & Aigne'

The spoken words of a Brehon's judgment was held to a degree of reverence among the people, so it should not be surprising to find a curious set of myths describing the supernatural penalties attached to a judge who gave a false judgment.

False Judgments

Mentioned in the previous lectures, here you'll have a chance to get to know Cormac Mac Airt, 'Ireland's Greatest King', a bit better.

Bonus: King Cormac MacAirt - Ireland's Greatest King
Knowledge Check: The Brehons
2 questions
+ Legal Manuscripts and Law Schools
6 lectures 34:21

Here you will learn about some of the key manuscripts containing tracts from the Brehon Law.

As a bonus, you'll also learn how to read the complicated sentence structure in which some of the manuscripts were written.

Early Irish Legal Manuscripts
Bonus: Bretha Nemed - Judgements of the Nobles

Through the course of time, the profession of brehons became increasingly hereditary as certain families came to be heavily associated to the law. Eventually, certain families founded law schools which produced many of the legal manuscripts we discussed previously.

Preview 03:17

To give you an idea of the education procedure for brehons, here is an video showing the 7 Grades of Wisdom, the educational grades of the poets.

BONUS: The 7 Grades of Wisdom

The brehons were preservers of the law, but also of an ancient language which came to be the 'legal language' of the brehons. It was an archaic language by the 5th C., literally translated as 'the language of the feini', or 'the language of the freemen'.

The Ancient Language of the Brehons

A mythological tale which highlights the use of the archaic Irish language among the professional grades.

Bonus: The Dialogue of the Two Sages
Knowledge Check: Legal Manuscripts
2 questions
+ Restitution and Honour Price
5 lectures 28:40

One of the first fundamental principles of the Brehon Law.

Restitution - 'Aithgein'

A short account from the Irish myths describing the judgment of king Cormac and how 'good judgment' was a desirable and honoured trait. Listen to the story to hear an example of how restitution may have worked in principle.

The Judgment of King Cormac

Another fantastic story about restitution from Irish mythology. This time, starring the boy-hero Cuchulain.

How Cuchulain got his Name - Restitution in Irish Mythology

A third example of restitution from Irish mythology. Here, an account from the alleged 'first people in Ireland', showing the antiquity of the concept of restitution in Irish society. What's more interesting about this story is the subject matter and the judgment. It's an example of the high-regard generally held for women in early Irish society.

The First Judgment in Ireland

Honour price was a fundamental aspect of the Brehon laws. The texts are replete with references to this. It regulated relationships, legal rights and duties, and the level of compensation one could expect for injury.

Honour Price
Knowledge Check: Restitution and Honour Price
2 questions
+ Crime, Punishment, and Enforcement
4 lectures 26:53

How did the brehons view crime and what sort of punishments were meted out?

Crime and Punishment

Eric is a specific fine used only in cases involving death.

Eric Fine
Bonus: Judgements of Bloodshed

If there was no state apparatus as we are familiar with, what gave the brehons their power and how were their judgements enforced?

Jurisdiction and Enforcement
Knowledge Check: Crime, Punishment, and Enforcement
2 questions
+ Procedure
3 lectures 22:28

Another fundamental principle from the Brehon Law. Athgabail was a commonly used legal process for securing a remedy for debts owed.

Distraint - 'Athgabail'

An extract from a manuscript taken from the Ancient Laws and Institutes of Ireland. In the form of a dialogue, it lists out several way to lay a claim of distress agains the 'Men of Art' (Aes Dana).

Distraint Against the 'Men of Art'

Fasting has historically been used in Ireland, and elsewhere, as a tool to compel a stronger party to justice.

Here, we'll learn about troscud; an ancient custom of fasting which eventually became a necessary step in legal procedure whenever a weaker party wanted to compel a stronger party to justice.

Preview 06:38
Knowledge Check: Procedure
2 questions
+ Contracts, Pledges, and Hostages
5 lectures 49:30

Agreement makes the law - but in the absence of enforcement mechanisms what compelled people to honour their agreements?

Contract Law and Pledges

An insightful bonus resource that describes the laws of Bee Keeping in more detail.

Bonus: Bechbretha - Bee Judgements

Listen to a radio interview where I discuss the ecological aspects of the brehon laws in relation to bee keeping and trees.

Preview 26:55

Hostages were used to secure compliance in public affairs.

Pledges were used to secure compliance in contracts.

It is not a coincidence that these two words are so similar.

Hostages - 'Gíall'

A story from the Irish manuscripts about the semi-legendary king, Niall of the Nine Hostages.

From this story, you will get a better insight into how hostages were used to secure power in early Ireland.

Niall of the Nine Hostages
Knowledge Check: Contract Law and Pledges
2 questions
+ Family, Status and Land
6 lectures 46:37

Status was fundamental and formed the framework of all social interactions.

Status and Society

Here we take a cursory look at the role of women in early Ireland by taking account of their presence in mythology, law, and history.

Preview 21:34

The laws and customs concerning marriage and the varying degrees of union.

Marriage - Cáin Lánamna

In pre-Christian times, divorce was not forbidden. Here we look at the grounds that men could divorce their wives and vice versa.

Divorce - Imscarad

The legal rules of inheritance.

Inheritance 'Orbae'

Land usage and ownership within the túath.

Land Ownership under the Brehon Law
Knowledge Check: Family, Status, and Land
3 questions
+ Wider Society
6 lectures 51:56

A brief overview of society under the brehon laws.

Overview of Society

Though they were aware of coinage, the early Irish never minted coins and the kings did not issue currency. What did they use instead?

Money in Early Ireland

Ireland is called the land of a thousand welcomes and her hospitality is renowned. Imagine, it was once illegal to be inhospitable to travellers or guests!


The earliest 'copyright' case in the world took place in early Ireland. Listen to the story and learn about the profound judgement that was issued.

Preview 04:52

If you caused injury to another it was your bounden responsibility to 'maintain' them and nurse them back to good health.

Sick Maintenance - 'Folog n-Othrusa'

I am joined here by Andrew St. Ledger of the Woodland League to discuss the significance of trees in early Irish culture and society.

Bonus: Sacred Irish Trees: an Interview with Andrew St. Ledger
+ The Demise of the Brehon Law
3 lectures 01:09:14

If these laws were so great, so just, then why were the eventually replaced with the English Common Law?

In this lecture we will explore the historical factors that led to the ultimate demise of the Brehon Laws of Ireland. We'll learn how, against the force of two empires - the British and the Roman - the Gaelic laws, customs, and way of life was no match.

The Demise of the Brehon Law

In 1367, a statute was enacted by a parliament stationed in Kilkenny, Ireland, in the name of the English king Edward III.

It targeted settlers of Anglo-Norman descent and addressed a growing concern among the English elite and loyal landed gentry that too many settlers were turning away from their own Anglo-Norman customs and way of life in favour of the Gaelic order.

In this lecture, we'll learn all about these Statutes of Kilkenny which give a rare glimpse into society at the time.

It also demonstrates how the landed Anglo-Norman settlers became 'Ní Gaelaí ná na Gael féin' or 'More Irish than the Irish themselves'.

Statutes of Kilkenny 1367

A fascinating insight into early Irish society, the clash of kingdoms, and how attitudes to kingship radically differed between Ireland and England.

Bonus: The Case of Tanistry
Knowledge Check: The Demise of the Brehon Laws
1 question