Murphy's Emerald Idyll
The Irish King
Ancient Irish society
was aristocratic. There were no cities, but compounds where the king
lived. It was here he entertained his many chieftains with feasts, poets,
singers, musicians, jugglers and annual assemblies at which games were held.
The Irish "Tuatha" or tribe was ruled by a king through a general assembly of people which met once a year in a field among ancestral tombs. Celtic society was divided into three classes. The class of nobles
consisted of warriors, bards, druids, jurists, men of learning, and craftsmen. The class of free commoners was composed of farmers and lesser craftsmen. The class of the unfreed consisted of slaves, laborers, the subjugated and those who had been degraded. A king presided over all.
Kingship was sacred to the Celts. Kings in their mythological tales are barely more than euhemerized gods. The tribal king was often depicted as married to a tribal goddess. The quality of the king determined the fertility of the land. If a king were healthy and virile and without blemish, the land was fertile. If he were weak or morally blemished, the land was barren.
It was for this reason that the Irish were so intolerant of imperfection, especially in their leaders. If a king were imperfect, either physically [or morally blemished], he was forced to abdicate. Nuada, though an exceptionally capable king, was forced to abdicate when he lost an arm in battle. Bres, who replaced him, although physically without blemish, soon demonstrated moral imperfection in that he lacked an attribute so characteristic of and so demanded by the Irish. He lacked a spirit of generosity and hospitality. "No matter how often his chiefs visited him their breaths did not smell of ale." Kings were expected to distribute wealth to their chieftains in return for their military service and loyalty. It was for this reason that they had to constantly accumulate more wealth by expansion.
The king was elected from the descendants of a great-grandfather. Thus four generations were eligible for election. Although the king was the trustee, all land was held in common by the local tribe. All shared in inheritances and all shared in fines that might be levied against a tribe by a conquering enemy.
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From: Fun with Irish Myths, by John J. Ollivier, pp 33-34, Top of the Mountain Publishing, Largo, Florida 34643-5117, U.S.A. Paperback With permission of the author, who has also written Fun with Greek Myths, and Fun with Nursery Rhymes, and, soon to be released, Fun with Nordic Myths.