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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Statutes of Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle, the Seat of the Butler Family was for a short time the legislative capital of Ireland. Photo by Flickr user Jpverkamp and used under a Creative Commons licence.

Kilkenny Castle, the Seat of the Butler Family was for a short time the legislative capital of Ireland. Photo by Flickr user Jpverkamp and used under a Creative Commons licence.

The previous article posted on the Inquisition discussed the effect that the Great Plague had on the Irish populace. In the piece a great ironic twist of Irish history was run through somewhat abruptly and is something the Inquisition wishes to address at this point.

The Anglo-Irish issue is a highly contentious one at the moment, but the traditional conflict is a very different one.

Great Britain and Ireland have had a long and chequered history from the mutually beneficial to the latterly better publicised unsavoury aspects. Linguistically the Irish love of playing with language (The most well known example of Hiberno-English – James Joyce) has resulted in amny different descriptions for individuals who, in various ways, embody values from both sides, their accents, affectations, customs or sense of self creating an imaginary bridge across the Irish Sea. We have the West Brits, landed gentry, proddies, Free Staters and many others. The rainbow of definitions describe a sliding scale from those who pronounce book as ‘buk’ and not ‘bewk’ to those whose labourers farm vast fields while they shoot partridge from their Land Rover so their wax jackets and expensive tweed do not become sodden.

More Irish than the Irish Themselves

The naturalised norman lords who became “more Irish than the Irish themselves” embody this situation from its very inception. Their station was a difficult one, one that was new to Ireland but had been seen time and again in Britain, most particularly with the transfer of customs and deities between the inhabitants of Roman Britain.

The situation however came to a head when the norman nobles, most notably the Earls of Desmond and Kildare, began to openly disobey and even disavow the English monarch. The stage was set for revolt. As the English looked on with foreboding they set about putting legislature in place that would more clearly delineate social structures and thereby hopefully avoid what was essentially to become a civil war among the aristocratic elite of Ireland.

Previously the cohabitation of the various factions on the divided isle had been fractious but any violence had been brief and merely localised incendiary response or revenge. A lasting peace based upon sound principles of equality for all peoples enshrined in a legal framework had been requested by two popes who held feudal lordship over English kings and thereby Ireland. In practice these requests fell on deaf ears and the English saw the native Irish as inferior. So the question of the rights of the naturalised Irish who fell between two stools became pivotal.

The Statutes of Kilkenny

In 1366 the English introduced the laws in Kilkenny which they thought would re-emphasise this division and push the norman knights back into the English fold. Unfortunately they did not have the power to enforce these laws and the situation remained volatile. The laws included:

  • no marital relations with the Irish, nor mistresses or adoptions
  • no trade with the Irish
  • exclusive use of the English language, including when naming children
  • above a certain levele of income horses must be ridden with a saddle
  • Brehon (Irish) law and Marcher (norman) law were not to be used, only Common (English) law
  • Irish games such as hurling were not to be practiced, only military training
  • no fighting the Irish without royal sanction, equally so no peace to be made either
  • in the event of a peace negotiation the Irish were to give hostages to guarantee good behaviour
  • no contact with Irish singers, poets and musicians as they may be spies
  • farm labourers were forbidden to leave Ireland
  • Lastly, and most tellingly, wars between the English here were also forbidden.

Medieval Ireland, Gerhard Richter, Gill and Macmillan, 2005

This article was posted by on Monday, October 18th, 2010 at 13:25.
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