byPatrick Whitehurst

It is understandable that some may doubt the words of any man who has kissed the Blarney Stone five times as I have, but I swear this is not "blarney". Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone are a "stone's throw," as it were, from Cork City in County Cork, Ireland. To kiss that legendary stone confers on the kisser the gift of eloquence, the ability to deceive without offending.

Elizabeth I of England probably originated the word "blarney" after receiving a series of letters from Cormac MacDermot MacCarthy, a diplomat and heir to the Blarney Castle.

Not everyone enjoys kissing the Blarney Stone, which is located in Blarney Castle, Cork City, as you have to lie on your back and wiggle over to the cold stone.


 His "fair words and soft speech" were making good Queen Bess tear her hair out in exasperation. MacCarthy, in an effort to talk his way out of handing his castle over to an agent of the Queen, prevaricated until the Queen screamed, "I will hear no more of this Blarney talk. Blarney, Blarney. All is Blarney."

Blarney there was, Blarney there is, and Blarney there will always be. But somehow "fair words and soft speech" produced a canon of ancient Irish laws, some dating back 3,000 years, that are so practical they should be reconsidered again today. They were not the brutal imperious laws of Hammurabi who demanded an eye for an eye, but they were severe enough to be a strong deterrent.

These were the Brehon Laws, and up until Elizabeth had had it up to her crown with anything Irish, they were the laws the Irish people had been living with since long before Julius Caesar.

Irish Law was practical, "down home" law and Elizabeth had it banned. English common law was substituted and that was the end of Gaelic order, which as far as I can determine, was far superior to anything the English offered, and from a practical point of view seems superior to anything we have going for us today.

Even Ireland's enemies, if there are any left, love Ireland's old simple justice. Take for instance the following from old Brehon law:

"When you become old your family must provide you with one oatcake a day, plus a container of sour milk.

They must bathe you every twentieth night and wash your head every Saturday.

Seventeen sticks of firewood is the allotment for keeping you warm."

"February first is the day on which husband or wife may decide to walk away from the marriage." (Divorce was legal in Ireland until the twelfth century.)

"If an accident occurs while a building is under construction no fine is due for injury to the bystander who is present only out of curiosity. Should the owner of the building have knowledge of danger or defect, however, full payment shall be made to those present on legitimate business, and to beasts. But only half payment to idlers." (This should take care of at least one half of the construction crew.)

"If the doctor heals your wounds, but it breaks out anew because of his carelessness, neglect or gross want of skill, he must return the fee you paid. He must also pay you damages as if he himself had wounded you." (This law probably established ground rules for the first malpractice suit.)


Hidden coves slash into wild coastline on the Sheepshead Peninsula near Bantry.


"No fools, drunks or female scolds are allowed in the doctor's house when a patient is healing there. No bad news to be brought, and no talking across the bed. No grunting of pigs or barking of dogs outside."-

"Children shall be sent at an early age to distant members of the tribe to be reared in the hereditary professions of law, medicine, poetic composition or war, or of tilling the soil and wifeliness. Foster children shall be returned to their parents at the age of marriage: fourteen for girls and seventeen for boys." (Haven't we all longed for a law like this? Except for the return clause.)

"If a woman makes an assignation with a man to come to her in a bed or behind a bush, the man is not guilty even if she screams. If she has not agreed to a meeting, however, he is guilty as soon as she screams." (Isn't it amazing how long sexual harassment has been recognized?)

"The husband-to-be shall pay a bride-price of land, cattle, horses, gold or silver to the father of the bride. Husband and wife retain individual rights to all the land, flocks and household goods each brings to the marriage." (Community property is older than star-light, isn't it?)

These are only a few of the hundreds of old Irish Brehon Laws that have been passed on orally from times before the first century B.C. Laws written in ancient manuscripts that the Bretons buried or hid below the hearth stones of their smoldering peat fires to protect them from the soldiers of Queen Elizabeth.

Some of these manuscripts have been discovered and preserved in the libraries of Trinity College and the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, in the British Museum, Oxford University, and in the libraries of Europe.

This is no "blarney." Honest!

Some of these delightful old laws were discovered in a book by Mary Dowling Daley - "Irish Laws." Thank you, Mary, for the right to use them here.