Studia Hibernica

An investigation of the word oireachtas in modern and medieval Ireland and its economic role in earlier periods

Studia Hibernica (2017), 43, (1), 1–24.

Abstract

Oireachtas is a later medieval Irish word which seems to evolve from earlier terms such as airecht but which was chosen as the most appropriate word for the legislature of a newly independent Ireland at a time when Irish society was expressing a considerable interest in its ancestral roots and in an ethnic identity expressed by use of Irish terminology. This paper explores the evidence for the submission of agricultural renders to higher political authorities at such assemblies and their ultimate redistribution across both higher and lower levels in Irish society. It is argued that there is little or no evidence for the presence of large numbers of craftsmen engaged in creating goods for sale (as occurred, for example, in Norse market assemblies) at a medieval Irish oireachtas. It is, however, clear that political and legislative assemblies, concerned with political submission, judicial penalties and the material wealth generated by both, were a key element in encouraging the circulation of goods in the medieval Irish economy and that such assemblies could but did not necessarily take place in the immediate vicinity of fortified urban settlements. This has implications for our understanding of medieval Irish trade, of the organisation of manufacture and of the role of towns in Irish-speaking society from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.

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Author details

Swift, Catherine