Burren Millenium Project Application


Reclaiming Ireland's Brehon Heritage

1. Name of Proposer

The committee of the Burren Law School with Professor Donnchadha O'Corrain - details at Appendix I - and the Burren Trust - see Appendix II.

2. Title of Proposal - Reclaiming Ireland's Brehon Heritage

3. Description of Proposal

The corpus of Brehon Law constitutes a unique and invaluable part of Ireland's legal and cultural heritage to which the public at large should have access. While much work of compiling, editing and translating has been done by the School of Celtic Studies (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) and in the Celtic Studies Departments of universities, the body of reliable translation and commentary is limited and confined for the most part to academic journals and publications which are not readily available or known to the ordinary reader. (Fergus Kelly's A Guide to Early Irish Law is a notable exception.)

That there is a public appetite for exploring the richness of the ancient laws is evident from the first Burren Law School which was convened at Newtown Castle, Ballyvaughan in April 1994 on the theme of "Woman and Family in Irish Law - a Brehon Perspective". This attracted an audience who would never meet under normal circumstances Old Irish scholars, members of the judiciary and legal professions, professionals in childcare and fosterage as well as the public at large. The school has been convened annually attracting an ever-expanding audience - see Appendix III.

It was immediately apparent to those attending that the ancient laws have many illuminating insights to contribute to current debates in areas relating to children, fosterage, marriage, divorce, remarriage and property. It was also apparent to members of the legal and other professions present that access to a whole body of ancient laws which had preceded the colonially inherited legal system, has been effectively denied them.

The experience of the annual Burren Law School has highlighted the need for the opening up of the Brehon laws to the widest possible audience as part of the wider cultural project of reclaiming the past. In particular, it suggests the need to bridge the gap between the academic scholarship being carried on in the DIAS and the universities on the one hand and the public at large on the other, as well as resourcing further academic scholarship and popularisation work.

The audiences for this work can be viewed as:

  • The population at large, particularly in relation to those areas of the ancient laws with contemporary resonances e.g. the family, the child, the environment and the role of the law itself;
  • Students and scholars in contemporary law;
  • Students and scholars in history and Irish studies, at home and abroad.

There is much anecdotal evidence - as well as the proliferation of material on the Internet - to suggest that there is considerable interest, not only at home but also among people of Irish extraction in places such as the US in exploring the richness of the ancient laws.

A Burren Trust has been created whose objects include the making available of resources to further:

  • The translation, editing and contextualising of the Brehon Laws with particular emphasis on subjects with contemporary relevance;
  • To bridge the gap between existing scholarship and the public at large;
  • To encourage access to study of the Brehon Laws by students of contemporary law as well as students of history and Celtic studies, both at home and abroad.

Funding for the Trust will be sought from a variety of sources:

  • National Millennium Fund;
  • Private benefactors in Ireland;
  • Private benefactors in the US and;
  • Legal firms, associations and professional bodies e.g. to endow work on the role of the lawyer in medieval Ireland.

Oversight of the work by the Trust will be delegated to a committee numbering not less than three and not more than ten and drawn from bodies such as:

  • Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS);
  • Celtic Studies Departments of universities;
  • Legal departments of universities;
  • The legal Profession and;
  • Burren College of Art.

The Role of the Committee will be to:

  • Elaborate priorities, consistent with the objects of the Trust, for the purpose of allocating resources to the work of translation, editing, commentaries, etc. and
  • Identify parties to undertake the relevant work.

4. Millennium Aspects of the Proposal

At the foundation of the State, English institutions operating in Ireland - legal, social and beaurocratic - were wholly taken over by the nascent state and no account was taken of the pre- Norman, pre-Christian systems which operated alongside the imported systems until the Seventeenth Century, if not longer. The Millennium marks the appropriate occasion to address this deficit and to provide relevant information vital to national identity.

There is a massive resurgence of interest in history, genealogy, archaeology, mythology and Irish culture generally at home and among the Irish Diaspora. This is to be seen in relevant University courses and night-classes taken by native and foreign students.

With the growing integration of Europe, there is a growing awareness of the need for a more clearly articulated national identity reflected in language, culture and heritage. The Brehon laws constitute a very large part of this heritage, without which there will continue to be a large lacuna within the articulation of our cultural inheritance.

This is a project of unique cultural significance in defining national identity and the Millennium is the appropriate temporal landmark in which to launch it.

5. Cost of Proposal

Doing justice to this neglected cultural project could run into many millions. However, the present proposal is to make a start with a particular focus on communicating the ongoing work to the public at large.

Initially, it is proposed to create a post for one translator, later to be increased, (attached to a third level institution such as the CELT project at UCC or the DIAS), whose sole task would be the provision of a professional translation of these laws while making the work available in digital form on the Internet. It is envisaged the post would be filled initially for five years, and be resourced at £40,000 a year approximately i.e. £200,000 over five years to cover salary and expenses related to placing the work on the Internet. This is the initial segment of the proposal to which we are looking to the Millennium Committee.

6. Money in Place

As this project is being freshly launched at this stage - following an initial brainstorming five years ago - attention is only now being devoted to raising funds. Already a sum of the order of £10,000 is envisaged from an overseas trust.

In addition, the sponsors are working with like minded parties in Ireland such as the CELT project at UCC and the Internet-based Brehon Law Project in the U.S. to ensure that as new material emerges, it will be immediately available on the Internet and CD ROM to as wide an audience as possible with the least delay.

The committee of the Burren Law School will also be involved on an ongoing basis through the annual Burren Law School in drawing attention to the newly emerging material while Newtown

Castle, home of the annual Burren Law School, will act as a public vehicle in which to display Brehon materials. This aspect is sponsored by the Burren College of Art.

7. National Millennium Fund

The promoters are looking to the National Millennium Fund to resource translation and related work of popularisation for five years at an envisaged cost of £200,000.

8. Additional Funding

Apart from the funding, already committed in principle to the Burren Trust, it is planned to raise additional funding in the U.S. sources, drawing on the interest in Brehon Law among the Irish Diaspora, as well as from Irish corporate and legal sponsors. This funding will be devoted to the creation of the materials for making the Brehon Laws available to the public at large.

9. Current Position

  • A Burren Trust has been created and Revenue approval for the objects received;
  • Initial funding commitment in principle obtained;
  • Commitment from Burren College of Art to host Brehon artifacts;
  • Close liaison established with the Brehon Law aspect of the CELT project at UCC and the new Brehon Law Project in the U.S. as well as long-standing links to the DIAS and the Celtic Studies Department at NUI Maynooth;
  • Burren Law School 2000 being planned as the launching pad for this project - Minister for Education to be invited to launch.

10. Timescale

Initial translation and related work to be done over five years. The work of popularising the Brehon Laws to be given a self-sustaining momentum including the introduction of background courses on Brehon Law in the legal training for solicitors and barristers.

Appendix I

Committee of the Burren Law School

  • Ivana Bacik: Reid professor of Law, Trinity College
  • Sean Braiden: Airline Consultant
  • Michael Green: Founder Burren College of Art
  • Martin Hawkes; Co. Director
  • Muíreann Ní Bhrolchain: Dean of Celtic Studies, NUI, Maynooth
  • Peter Ward: Barrister
  • Brian Sheridan: Solicitor, and Member of the Council of the Law Society
  • Kieran McGrath: Barrister and Editor of the Social Worker
  • Donnchadha O'Corrain Professor of History, UCC (Liaison with CELT Project)

Appendix II

Burren Trust

The Burren Trust Limited is a company limited by guarantee.

The relevant objects of the Trust in relation to the Brehon Laws as approved by the Revenue, provide for the Trust:

  • "to popularise and fund translation of the Brehon Laws" and
  • "to promote, establish and maintain an ... heritage museum and public library facilities for all aspects of Irish heritage and the Brehon Laws."

Within the provisions of the articles of the Trust, the directors will appoint a body of persons with powers, authorities and discretions to exercise the functions of the Trust in relation to the above objects. This body of persons will be drawn from the relevant academic and legal institutions and the committee of the Burren Law School (Appendix I).

Appendix III

The Burren Law School - Background

The Burren was the site of a number of Brehon law schools in the sixteenth century, most notably the O'Davern Law School and this has inspired a group of people to establish the Burren Law School. The purpose of the law is to promote an awareness of and interest in our legal past and to provide a forum for lawyers, members or other professions and the public at large to debate legal, social and political issues of contemporary interest. The inaugural Burren Law School took place in April 1994 and was addressed by Minister Mervyn Taylor and by Judge Anthony Hart of Northern Ireland, among others.

The School has gone from strength to strength and last year's school included among its speakers/visitors past and present members of the Supreme Court, a member of the UK Court of Appeal, as well as a visit from the presidents of the law societies of Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The Burren Law School provides a unique forum where people from diverse disciplines who wouldn't otherwise meet, have an opportunity to debate and promote positive reforms in areas of common interest. In this it reflects the nature of medieval Brehon Law schools which were deeply rooted in the local society of the period.

Initiated in 1994, the Burren Law School examines topical legal issues from a contemporary and Brehon Law perspective. Previous themes have been "Women and Family in Irish Law" (1994), "Crime and Punishment" (1995), "The Child in Irish Law" (1996), "The Poet and the Media in Irish Law" (1997), "Law Making in Ireland - Legislature and Judiciary - a Brehon Perspective" (1998), "Alienation from the Law, Ireland and Europe" (1999). Speakers have included Government Ministers - Mervyn Taylor, Dick Spring, Sile deValera, Desmond O'Malley, Donal Carey etc.. Judges Hugh O'Flaherty, Catherine McGuinness, Michael Moriarty, Declan Budd, Anthony Harte, - Northern Ireland. Nick Phillips - England, Eamon Barnes, DPP, Martin Mansergh, Professor William Duncan, TCD, Muireann Ni Bhrolchain (NUIM), Professor Donnchadh O'Corrain (NUIC), Marie McGonigle, Olive Braiden (RCC), Professor Ivana Bacik, TCD, and many others over the years.

The Conference has grown steadily in popularity, promoting multi-disciplinary debates on aspects of the ancient and contemporary legal practise.

The attendance has included guests from United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Spain and South Africa as well as Ireland.

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