Geis II: Social Structure of Medieval Ireland

What was the social structure like in medieval Ireland? I know that sounds boring but believe me, it’s not! It was way different than you think for a medieval society. Discover that and more today as we continue our series on the medieval Irish geis. Also, be sure to support the show at http://www.patreon.com/deadideaspod to get your portrait drawn!

Become our patron on Patreon at www.patreon.com/deadideaspod

Co-host: Andre Sólo

Time/place: Ireland, 902 CE

Dead Idea: Geis

A Map of Medieval Ireland, by Adam McKithern

ireland-902-ce-by-adam-mckithern

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Glossary of Irish Words and Spellings

Note: “KH” should be pronounced like the ending sound of “Bach”

  • Aífe (EE-fuh) – a warrior woman in the Táin bó Cúailnge, rival of Scáthach
  • aire (EYE-ruh) – lordly class
  • brat (BRAT) – cloak
  • Caier (KEYE-ur)  – king of Connacht in the story Caier and Nede
  • coibche (KWIV-khuh) – bride-price
  • Conall Cernach (KO-nul KAIR-nakh) – curly blond-haired warrior and favorite of Conaire in The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
  • Conaire (KO-na-ruh) – king of Tara in the The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
  • Connacht (KON-akht) – a kingdom in the middle west of Ireland
  • Connla (KON-luh) – son of Cú Chulainn in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • Críth Gablach (KREEH GOW-luhch) – a law-tract featuring 7 ranks of lords, 7 ranks of farmers, and 7 ranks of kings
  • Cú Chulainn (KOO KHUH-lun) – hero in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • cúlán (KOO-lun) – men’s hairstyle with shaved front, long back
  • cumal (COO-wul) – unit of measurement roughly equal to 34 acres of land or 3 cattle; lit. “slave girl”
  • dairt (DEERCH) – a heifer, as in “from a needle to a dairt”, the honor-price of the lowest level of farmer which varies from a needle to a heifer
  • Diarmuid (JAR-muhj) – hero in the story of Diarmuid and Grainne
  • Drogheda (DRO-hay-duh) – site of a battle against the Vikings in 902 CE
  • Emer (EV-ur) – woman wooed by Cú Chulainn in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • féni (FAY-nee) – farmer class, subdivided into 7 ranks according to the Crith Gablach law-tract: 1. 1st fer midboth (FAIR MEE-vuh) lit. “man between huts”; 2. 2nd fer midboth; 3. ócaire (O-keye-ruh); 4. aithech (EYE-chuh); 5. bóaire (BO-eye-ruh); 6. mruigfher (MREE-khur); 7. fer fothlai (FAIR FO-lee)
  • fidchell (FEE-khel) – an Old Irish board game, often called “Irish chess”
  • Forgall (FOR-gul) – father of Emer in the Táin bó Cúailnge
  • fuba and ruba (FOO-buh and ROO-buh) – military service; lit. “attack and defense”
  • fuidir (FEE-jur) – transitional slave
  • geis (GAYSH) / pl. geassa (GAYSA) – mystical personal injunction
  • Grainne (GRAH-nyuh) – woman in the story of Diarmuid and Grainne
  • léine (LAY-nya) – tunic
  • Mac Cécht (Mak KEKHT) – warrior and right-hand man of Conaire in The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
  • Nede (NAY-thuh) – a satire poet in the story of Caier and Nede
  • rath (RATH) – a loan taken from a lord in a clientship contract
  • rosc (ROSK) – a nearly untranslatable type of poem with multiple meanings, often signaled in English by ellipses where parts are left untranslated
  • Scáthach (SKAH-hakh) – a warrior woman in the Táin bó Cúailnge, mentor of Cú Chulainn
  • senchléithe (SHEN-khlay-huh) – hereditary serf
  • sét (SET) – unit of measurement equal to 4/5 of a cow
  • Táin bó Cúailnge (TOYN bo KOOL-nee) – epic featuring Cú Chulainn; lit. “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”
  • Tara (TAH-ruh) – traditional capital of the high kinds of Ireland
  • Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (TO-gul BREEJ-nuh da JAIR-guh) – epic featuring King Conaire; lit. “The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel” or “…of the Red God”
  • toinal (TEE-nyul) – joint conjugal fund
  • Uí Néill (oy NAYLZ) – one of the most powerful clans of medieval Ireland
  • Ulster (UHL-stur) – Anglicized name for a kingdom in northeast Ireland

Main Sources

Ambient Mixer. “A Lively Night at the Tavern.” Ambient Mixer. (Audio Clip). Used under CC license. Downloaded Dec. 18, 2016, from: http://rpg.ambient-mixer.com/bustling-tavern

Barrett, C. (2006). “Early Gaelic Dress: An Introduction.” Downloaded Nov. 18, 2016, from: http://coblaith.net/EarlyGaelicDress/EarlyGaelicDress12bw.pdf

Dwyer, F. (2010-2017). Irish History Podcast.

Dwyer, F. (2013). Witches, Spies and Stockholm Syndrome: Life in Medieval Ireland. Dublin: New Island.

Kenny, G. (2013). “Anglo-Irish and Gaelic Marriage Laws and Traditions in Late Medieval Ireland.” Journal of Medieval History, 32(1): 27-42.

Kinsella, T. (1969). The Tain Bo Cuailnge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mallory, J. P. (1992). Aspects of the Tain. Belfast: December Publications.

MacCulloch, J. A. (1911). The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

O’Connor, R. (2013). The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel: Kingship and Narrative Artistry in a Medieval Irish Saga. Oxford: University Press.

O’Leary, P. (1988). “Honour-bound: The Social Context of Early Irish Heroic Geis.” Celtica, 20: 85-107.

Patterson, N. (1994). Cattle Lords and Clansmen. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Stokes, W. (1862). Three Irish Glossaries. London: Williams and Norgate.

Wyatt, D. R. (2009). Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland: 800-1200. Boston: Brill.

 

Maps, pics, references, and more at http://www.deadideas.net. Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff.

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