Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents

Article excerpt

Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents. Edited by Thomas O'Loughlin. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. Distributed in the United States by ISBS, Portland, Ore. 2001. Pp. 77. $55.00.)

This small but valuable book is the work of three distinguished scholars, one of whom has also served as the editor. The work was occasioned by a conference held at Birr (Ireland) in june, 1997, to mark the promulgation there, 1300 years earlier, of a pioneering piece of social legislation promoted by that leading Gaelic cleric of the late seventh century, a man of great learning and practical ability, Adomnan (pronounced Athovnaan), heir of St. Columba and therefore abbot of Iona (Scotland). It is suspected that this law was itself a centennial tribute to St. Columba, who died in 597.

The decree-law of Adomnan (CainAdomnain, otherwise Lex Innocentium) was designed to define a category of non-combatants (innocentes)-females, clerics, and pre-adolescent boys-who would henceforth be protected from violence in the warlike society which was Gaeldom in the early Middle Ages. The most important part of this book is the translation of the core-text of Cain Adomnain, presented here with a brief introduction by Mairin Ni Dhonnchadha (pp. 53-68), who is herself preparing a full new edition of this work. Her translation shows that we may expect some marked advances over Kuno Meyer's spare but pioneering edition published in 1905. She has also (p. 16) offered an important re-dating of the narrative preface of the Cain, to about A.D. 1000. This chapter displays more typographical errors than is desirable, however, and an unfortunate habit of using bizarre anglicized plurals of Old-Irish words (cumals, fines, ollams, sets with, moreover, inadequate local guidance given as to what the words themselves mean.

The three other chapters-the same author's "Birr and the Law of the Innocents" (pp. 13-32), "The World of Adomnan" by Maire Herbert (pp. 33-9), and the indefatigable editor's "Adomnan: a man of many parts" (pp. 41-51)-provide, with a sure touch, various kinds of essential context. A paper on the larger context of Irish canon and civil law would have been welcome too-that can in large measure, however, be supplied by the pamphlet (only slightly shorter than the book under review) by T. M. Charles-Edwards, The Early Mediaeval Gaelic Lawyer (Cambridge, 1999), to which frequent reference has been made in Adomnan at Birr. …

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