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Women in Early Ireland.




Under The Brehon Laws (ancient laws of Ireland dated back to 714 BC), women occupied a unique place. The Irish law gave more rights and protection to women than any other political system before or since Women were considered equal to men in all things.

They could and did aspire to all offices and professions as equal to men. They could be political leaders, local magistrates, poets, artisans, physicians, warriors judges and lawyers. The names of some women judges have survived from these early year, such as Aine Ingue Iugaire, Brig Briugaid and Dari who left behind a noted law text written in the sixth century AD

In the early Celtic church women where consecrated Priests on an equal footing with men. Indeed St Brigid herself was ordained a Bishop by Mel a nephew of St Patrick and she was not alone. In the sixth century Rome protested against women being allowed to celebrate the mass in the Celtic church. Between the ninth and the eleventh centuries the Celtic church was subsumed into the Roman church much to the detriment of Christian women through out succeeding history.

Having said all that what we have to remember is that early societies made extensive use of slave labour, it is probably safe to assume that women who were slaves would not have enjoyed the same privileges afforded to the higher classes.

Women had protection in law from sexual harassment; from rape; from discrimination; they had the right of divorce from their husbands on an equal footing, with equitable separation rights, they could demand part of their husbands property as a divorce settlement. They had the right to inherit personal property. They had the right of sickness benefits when ill or in hospital. Ancient Ireland had Europe oldest recorded hospital system. Seen from today the Brehon Laws provided an almost feminist utopia.

Read about the Brehon Laws from Patrick Weston Joyce's A Concise History of Ireland.