Text: Cáin Adamnáin

Adamnan of Iona (aka, Adomnán) is believed to be responsible for advancing the so-called “Law of Innocents,” which we might claim as the first international treaty protecting innocent civilians in Europe, enacted at Birr in 697. There is a long list of guarantors (kings and churchmen) from various kingdoms in Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England.

The following text was adapted by Michael Newton from the edition in Kuno Meyer, ed. Cáin Adamnáin: An Old-Irish Treatise on the Law of Adamnan. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905.

§ 1. Five ages before the birth of Christ: from Adam to the Flood, from the Flood to Abraham; from Abraham to David; from David to the Captivity in Babylon; from the Babylonian Captivity to the birth of Christ. During that time women were in bondage and in slavery, until Adamnan, son of Ronan, son of Tinne, son of Aed, son of Colum, son of Lugaid, son of Setne, son of Fergus, son of Conall, son of Niall, came.

§ 2. Cumalach [“slave”] was a name for women until Adamnan come to free them. And this was the cumalach, a woman for whom a hole was dug at the end of the door so that it came over her nakedness. The end of the great spit was placed upon her till the cooking of the portion was ended. After she had come out of that earth-pit she had to dip a candle four man’s hands in length in a plate of butter or lard; that candle to be on her palm until division of food and distribution of liquor and making of beds, in the houses of kings and chieftains, had ended. That women had no share in bag or in basket, nor in the company of the house-master; but she dwelt in a hut outside the enclosure, lest bane from sea or land should come to her chief.

§ 3. The work which the best women had to do, was to go to battle and battlefield, encounter and camping, fighting and hosting, wounding and slaying. On one side of her she would carry her bag of provisions, on the other her baby. Her wooden pole upon her back. Thirty feet long it was, and had on one end an iron hook, which she would thrust into the tress of some woman in the opposite battalion. Her husband behind her, carrying a fence-stake in his hand, and flogging her on to battle. For at that time it was the head of a woman, or her two breasts, which were taken as trophies.

§ 4. Now after the coming of Adamnan no woman is deprived of her testimony, if it be bound in righteous deeds. For a mother is a venerable treasure, a mother is a goodly treasure, the mother of saints and bishops and righteous men, an increase in the Kingdom of Heaven, a propagation on earth.

§ 5. Adamnan endured much hardship for your sake, o women, so that ever since Adamnan’s time one half of your house is yours, and there is a place for your chair in the other half; so that your contract and your safeguard are free; and the first law made in Heaven and on earth for women is Adamnan’s Law. […]

§ 21. While it has made desolate strongholds, it has made kings desolate in defense of women, in bringing them to belief, so that their contract and their safeguard are free from the time of Adamnan until now, so that the Law of Adamnan is the first law made (for women) in Heaven and upon earth.

§ 22. Adamnan did not rest satisfied until securities and bonds were given to him for the liberation of women. These were the securities: sun and moon, and all other elements of God; Peter, Paul, Andrew, and the other apostles; Gregory, the two Patricks, the two Ciarans, the two Cronans, the four Fintans, Mobiu [Abbot of Cumscraig], Mobi [called Clarenech “Flat face” Abbot of Glasnevin †545], Momædoc, Munnu [Bishop and Abbot of Cluain Eidmech in Largis, also called Fintan], Scothine, Senan, Fechine, Duilech, Cairnech, Cianan, Cartach, Victor, bishop Curitan, bishop Maeldub, Ionan son of Saman, Foilan abbot of Imlech Ibair, Cilline abbot of Lorrha, Colman son of Sechnusach, Eochaid abbot of Cluain Uama, the two Finnens, and son of Labraid Lan.

§ 23. Those guarantors gave three shouts of damnation on every male who would kill a woman with his right hand or left, by a kick, or by his tongue, so that his heirs are elder and nettle, and the corncrake. The same guarantors gave three shouts of blessing on every female who would do something for the community of Adamnan, however often his reliquaries would come. A horse to be given quarter to his reliquaries, (to be sent) to the coarb to the bath at Raphoe; but that this is from queens only, with whatever every other woman is able to give.

§ 24. Woman have said and vowed that they would give one half of their household to Adamnan for having brought them out of the bondage and out of the slavery in which they had been. Adamnan accepted but a little from them, namely, a white tunic with a black border from every penitent nun, a scruple of gold from every chieftain’s wife, a linen cloth from every gentleman’s wife, seven cakes from every unfree woman, a wether from every flock, the first lamb that was brought forth in a house, whether black or white, for God and for Adamnan. […]

§ 47. If the offenders who violate the Law do not pay, their kindred pay full fines according to the greatness of the crime, and after that (the offender) becomes forfeited, and is banished until the end of the law. One-half of seven cumals for complicity upon every direct and indirect kindred afterwards. If there be assistance and shelter and connivance, it is death for it; but such as the fine (of the principals) was such shall be that of accomplices. […]

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