Saturday, 17 November 2007

Archive: Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland - Patrick C Power

Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland
Patrick C Power

I was surprised on two counts with this book. First off, I was expecting a fairly hefty tome and in reality it's tiny. Secondly, it's signed by the author, which was an added and unexpected bonus.

Overall I couldn't help but enjoy it. The book's written in an easy and conversational style and doesn't get bogged down in too much detail, so I had no problem with reading it in a couple of hours. It was informative without being dry, and was presented in a straightforward manner so it didn't make me have to read and reread paragraphs to get the point.

As an introduction and overview of the subject it works well. Anyone who isn't that familiar with early Irish law will get a good background of how the law worked in general terms before the book goes on to explain different aspects of the law (and occasionally lore) that relates to sex, marriage, children, divorce and extra-marital relationships. Even though the book doesn't get into too much detail, there was plenty of stuff to learn (for me, anyway), and I particularly liked the bit where it states that early Irish law didn't hold a woman legally responsible for her actions for three days after she found out her husband's having an affair - up to and including blood shed.

In spite of this, the book has some drawbacks. While it's an easy read the tone is very dated now, with the use of certain words like 'crazy' that I found quite jarring. One of the underlying themes of the book is how ancient Ireland was much more pragmatic and sensible about sex and marriage than Ireland was in the 70s (when divorce was illegal), at the time the author was writing. Things like this date the book, and while it's only a minor point, along with the language, I felt it got in the way of the stuff I wanted to know about at times.

I guess inevitably, with any relatively short piece of work, there's going to be places where things get glossed over or missed out, and this was the case here because a lot of what was said lacked any sort of analysis. Although it's not an academic book, it would have been a good idea to explore how much of the brehon laws as they were written were enforced in actual reality. It was touched upon, but not nearly enough, for me. It would have been nice to have seen more mention of mythology to back up the evidence of law as well, and (probably because of the authors agenda about analysing the law) there was no real mention of the relationship between the king and the sovereignty goddess who represented the land over which he ruled or anything like that.

Ultimately I think the points I have problems with are due to my preconceptions of what the book would be like. I think they would have made the book more comprehensive, but then again perhaps less readable...I got a lot out of it, but generally it left me wanting more.