What is a tuath?
"for they are grown so bold, they will not be called captains anymore, but style themselves territory commanders"
1599, Edmund Spenser
In the quote above an English soldier gloomily reflects on the state of affairs in the year 1599, after ten years of bitter war most of the country is now under Irish control. But what is interesting is his reference to "territory commanders". The territories he is referring to are called in Irish tuatha.
A tuath is a small territory.The word can be translated as both country or people. Originally, all of Ireland was divided into these territories, but by the 1600's they existed mainly in the west and north.
Each tuath was an autonomous local administration, headed by a king, with its own customary law (fenechus) and economy. Administration was in the hands of an aristocratic class.
It was said "No tuath is a proper tuath unless it has a an ecclesiastical scholar, a churchman, a poet and a king."
Why are they important now?
The Irish counties are very recent, particularly in the west of Ireland. Before about 1550 the tuatha were the only territories in much of Ireland. Every castle, town, abbey and ringfort in the West and North of Ireland was built and developed within these tuatha.
Most of the baronies in the west of Ireland correspond almost exactly to the old Irish territories as they were in the late 16th century.
This is how the land was organised for thousands of years, on the ground and in peoples minds. Irish legends, folklore and history all take place within the tuatha.
It is not possible to understand the history of Ireland without understanding the tuatha which shaped and were shaped by that history.
How we know the Tuatha
The tuatha exist now on maps as land divisions called baronies. The Elizabethan courtier Sir John Perrots commissioners reported 184 baronies in Ireland in 1589, most of which correspond to an Irish tuath.
Later, baronies were formed from combined small territories, or split a large one, or in some rare cases were created without regard for the earlier boundaries.
A word meaning both people and the territory they inhabit, the Irish countries were the smallest independent units in Irish political . A king, a bishop, its own troops, entered alliances with other tuatha
a king over kings
The Assembly Hill
Irish government was decentralised, local assemblies in each tuath held on special hills called Tulach, Sacred trees, usually ancient whitethorns usually adorned these hills and served as symbols of authority.
the oireachtas consisted of all freemen of the tuath.
Another layer of government occured at provincial level at the great annual fairs
and at a national level by Cáin law enacted by synods or decrees
Hospitality was compulsory under law for all householders, but entitlements were regulated to prevent abuses of the system.
Food production and food distribution were organised collectively.
Land was set aside to supply public hostelries offering food, drink, entertainment and board were run throughout the country. the true origin of the Irish pub!
Cases involving local land disputes were heard at these establishments.
The church developed in a unique way as it adapted to the highly autonomous regionality in Ireland and the secular law which laid down regulations for the operation of the religious establishments. The clergy were also subject to the law, with certain exemptions.
An anchrite or hermit was given equal
initially ran the schools and did not confine themseves to theology
Ireland abounds in fortresses of every type. Castles forts
Rath means security in a physical sense and in a law sense. Contracts were bound by the owners of a rath who were by definition nobility.
lFénechus is the name of the unique and ancient law system of Ireland
Fenechus, the secular law, was the foundation stone of Irish culture it was in operation throughout the island.
local law was paramount within each tuath and could not be changed by higher levels of government.Ireland, having no concept of criminal law, or state punishment, had no police force, no state prosecutions, no death penalty,
wide involvement in law by people as experts in their own areas of expertise
All professionals were educated through poetry
Education began with the alphabet and the psalms in latin,
The Pale Englands Outpost
intrinsically part of Ireland, but also traditionally the point of entry for foreigners
a majority within it spoke Irish in the 16th century
The unique culture of the Norman Irish who fused with the native culhture
The Academy of EmpireWhere the British Empire began the bfirst military colonial forts built at Fort Protector and Fort Governor beyond the Pale frontier in the 1540's