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Brehon Law

The honeybee (Old Irish bec) was very important in the early Irish economy, as demonstrated by the special law-text shown here, Bechbretha ('bee-judgments'), composed in the seventh century. There are many references to bees in other law-texts, in saints' Lives, in sagas and in poetry. As well as honey (Old Irish mil), each monastery required considerable quantities of beeswax (Old Irish céir) for candle-making, the waxed tablets used to practise scribal techniques, seals and adhesives. Much of the Bechbretha is concerned with the legal intricacies connected with the swarming of bees. In the law shown here, if a person finds a stray swarm they can claim it as their own property. A ninth portion of the honey must go to the head of the finder's clan or church.

At the bottom of the page shown here, the 21-year-old scribe Hugh McEgan records the date as Christmas Eve 1350, which was two years after the Black Death came to Ireland. He asks everybody who reads the page to say a prayer for his soul. However, the Annals of Ulster record McEgan's death nine years later at the age of 30.

Shelfmark: TCD MS 1316/2 page 25

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin is an Archivist in the Department of Manuscripts & Archives. Holding an MPhil in Early Irish, Caoimhe has a special interest in medieval and early-modern Irish manuscripts, as well as in Irish literary archives. She has worked with a diverse range of collections such as Oscar Wilde, John Banville and Máirtín Ó Cadhain.