Cain Adamnain: An Old-Irish Treatise on the Law of Adamnan
This law treatise is found in only two manuscripts,
both late, but derived from the lost Book of Raphoe, written in Old Irish
probably in the ninth century. The book of Raphoe is believed to have been a collection of
materials on St. Adomnan. The Canons of Adamnan are also believed to have been copied
from it. It claims to be the first Irish law to protect women, children, and the clergy
from violence. The Annals of Ulster dates the promulgation of this law to 696/7 at the
Synod of Birr.This treatise seeks to explain the law and is not a copy of the actual law
code that was enacted at Birr in 697. There is a long list of guarantors of the law near
the end of the treatise, who as far as can be checked, were all alive in 697. This law is
also known as the Law of the Innocents. My notes are included in brackets, all
others are from Meyer. See the hard back edition of this text for the treatise in Irish
and for all of Meyer's notes. This edition is beyond copyright but Meyer should still be
cited in all references and reference to this web site would be appreciated. [MZ]
1. Five ages before the birth of Christ, to wit,
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  was a name for women till 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 cheiftains, 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 babe. 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 suffered much hardship for your sake, O women,
so that ever since Adomnan'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.
6. This is the beginning of the story. Once Adamnan and
his mother were wending their way by Ath Drochait  in
Uaithne in Ui Aido Odba in the south of Bregia. 'Come upon my back, dear mother!' saith
he. 'I shall not go', saith she. 'What is this? what ails you?', saith he. 'Because you
are not a dutiful son', saith she. 'Who is more dutiful than I am? since I put a girdle
upon my breast, carring you about from place to place, keeping you from dirt  and wet. I know of no duty whcih a son of a man could do to
his mother that I do not do for you, except the humming tune which women preform ..... Because I cannot preform that tune, I will have a
sweet-sounding harp made for you, to play to you, with a strap of bronze out of it'. 'Even
so', she said. 'Your dutifulness were good; however, that is not the duty I desire, but
that you should free women for me from encounter, from camping, from fighting, from
hosting, from wounding, from slaying, from the bondage of the cauldron.'
7. Then she went  on her
son's back until they chanced to come upon a battlefield. Such was the thickness of the
slaughter into which they came to that the soles of one woman would touch the neck of
another. Through they beheld the battlefield, they saw nothing more touching and pitiful
than the head of a woman in one place and the body in another, and her little babe upon
the breasts of the corpse, a stream of milk upon one of its cheeks, and a stream of blood
upon the other.
8. 'That is a touching and pitiful sight', said Ronnat,
the mother of Adamnan, 'what I see under thy feet, my good cleric!' Why dost thou not let
me down upon the ground that I may give it my breast? However, it is long since my breasts
have run dry! Nothing would be found in them. Why dost thou not prove thy clerkship for us
upon yon wrenched body, to see whether the Lord will resuscitate it for thee?' (Hence is
the ancient saw: 'Beautiful is every pup under its dam'.) At the word of his mother
Adamnan turned aside, adjusted the head on the neck, and made the sign of the cross with
his staff across the breast of the woman. And the woman rose up.
9.'Alas! O my great Lord of the elements!' said she. 'What
makes you say alas?' said Adamnan, 'My being put to the sword on the battlefield and
thrown into the torments of Hell. I know no one here or yonder who would do a kindness or
show mercy to me save Adamnan, the Virgin Mary urging him thereto on behalf of the host of
10. And the woman who was there resuscitated at the word
of Adamnan was Smirgat daughter of Aed Finn king of the Bregni of Connaught, wife of the
king of Luaigni of Tara. For the woman of Ui Aido Odba and of the south of Bregia and the
Luaigni of Tara had met around the ford, so that not a soul of them had come away abiding
in its body, but they had fallen sole to sole.
11. 'Well now, Adamnan,' said she, 'to thee henceforth it
is given to free the women of the western world. Neither drink or food shall go into thy
mouth until women have been freed by thee'. 'No living creature can be without food,' said
Adamnan. 'If my eyes see it, I shall stretch out may hands for it.' 'But thine eyes shall not see
and thine hands shall not reach it.'
12. Then Ronnat turned aside to Brugach son of Deda and
brought a chain from him, which she put around her sons neck at the Bridge of the Swilly
in Tirconnell, where the covenant had been made between his mother's and his father's
kindred, even between the race of Enda and that of Lugaid ,
to wit, that whoever of them would break the covenant should be buried alive in the earth,
but he who would be fulfil it was to dwell with Adamnan in Heaven. And she takes a stone
which filled her hand. It was used for striking fire. She puts it into one of her sons
cheeks, so that in it he had his fill of both food and drink.
13. Then, at the end of eight months, his mother came to
visit him, and she beheld the crown of his head. 'My dear son yonder,' said she, 'is like
an apple upon a wave. Little is his hold on the earth, he has no prayer in Heaven . But salt water has scorched him, the gulls of the sea have
dropped him' 'It is the Lord that ought to be blamed, dear mother!' said he. 'For Christ's
sake, change my torture!'
14. This is the change of torture that she made for him,
not many women would do so for their sons: she buried him in a stone chest at Raphoe  in Tirconnell, so that worms devoured the root of his tongue,
so that the slime of his head broke forth through his ears. Thereafter she took him to
Carric in Chulinn, where he stayed for another eight
15. At the end of four years God's angels came from Heaven
to converse with him. And Adamnan was lifted out of his stone chest and taken to the plain
of Birr at the confines of the Ui Neill and Munster. 'Arise now out of thy hiding-place,'
said the angel to Adamnan. 'I will not arise,' said Adomnan, 'until women are freed for
me'. It is then the angel said: 'Omnia quae a Domino rogabis propter laborem tuum
16. 'It shall not be in my time if it is done, ' said
Loingsech Bregban, native of Fanait he was, of the race of Conall. 'An evil time when a
man's sleep shall be murdered for a woman, that women should live, men should be slain.
Put the deaf and dumb one to the sword, who asserts anything but that women shall be in
everlasting bondage to the brink of Doom.'
17. These are the kings who then arose at the word of
Loingsech to put Adamnan to the sword: Doelgus son of Oengus son of Dondfraech, high-king
of Munster; Elodach, king of Deisi; Cucherca, king of Ossory; Cellach the Red, king of
Leinster; Irglach grandson of Conaing, king of Bregia; Brugach son of Dega; Fingin
Eoganach, -- these were all that were there of the kings of the western world. Adamnan
took no sword with him to battle, but the Bell of Adamnan's Wrath, to wit, the little bell
of Adamnan's alter-table. It is then Adamnan spoke these words:
18. 'I strike this little bell by the site of Lettir on
purpose that dapper Doelgus may not drink the ale that Oengus had been , I shall sing my psalms to-day in the stone cave, may it not
be without fame! Lest dapper Doelgus drink the ale which is drunk with dregs. God's curse
on Elodach, the chief of Femen of the Deissi, lest king or king's heir spring from him
after him! My humble, gentle attendant, thou armed son of the rule ,
strike the bell against Cellach of Carman, that he may be in the earth before a year's
19. 'Cellach the Red, king of Leinster, save the son that
is in his wife's womb, shall leave no seed nor issue; and even he, there shall be decay
and ruin to his offspring unless they be obedient to me. So long as they levy my groats
for me, no other tribe shall prevail over them, and the palm of encounter and of spoil.
The kingship of the Ui Chellaig shall descend from them.'
20. 'O lad of the church-armour ,
having come to renowned Maistiu [Mullaghmast], strike the little bell against Domnall,
that his year may not be full.'
'Domnall, the son of Murchad, king of Ulster, save for the
son and thy father, shall not leave seed or issue, and even so, a fall shall carry off one
of them, decay shall carry off the other. I take the over-kingship of Ulster from them'.
21. 'My little bell of true judgements by which Irgalach
is made childless. I beseech the King of true judgements that no king descend from
Irgalach. God's vengeance upon Irgalach that he be not on Bregia of true dwellings, May
there be neither offspring nor race, may he be forsaken childless! The bell of
truly-miraculous Adamnan has made desolate many kings, each one to whom it gives battle
one thing awaits -- it has made them desolate.'
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 emancipation 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 d. 545], Momædoc, Munnu [Bishop and Abbot of Cluain Eidmech in Largis (Lex)-
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 malediction 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, to wit, 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.
25.In consideration of this small and large tribute, he to
take two women to Heaven every Monday, three women every Tuesday, four women every
Wednesday, five women every Thursday, seven women every Friday, twelve women every
Saturday, fifty women on Sunday. In addition to this it was decided that every namesake of
his mother's, whatever woman on earth would be called Ronnat, and every woman who would
choose (for herself) his burial-place, should be taken to Heaven without jugdement.
26. Adamnan did not rest satisfied till sureties and
pledges were given into his hand for his fulfillment to him of this small and large
tribute (for the reason why a guarantee is taken from a bad debtor is, in order that the
guarantor may pay the debt if the debtor do not pay): his son for a house-master, his soul
for a confessor, every creature that moves about, every noble that walks the earth, every
bell that is struck at the Hours are as hostages and pledges in the hand of God and
Adamnan for the fulfillment of this Law.
It is then that Adamnan spoke these words:
27. 'Unless ye women of this world do good to my
community, the offspring ye will bear shall decay, or they shall die full of crimes.
Scarecity shall fill your storehouses, the Kingdom of Heaven ye shall not obtain; ye shall
not escape by niggardliness or falsehood from Adamnan of Hi [Iona].
'Adamnan of Hi [Iona] will help you, O women!
Give unto your prince all the good things that are you!'
Adamnan of Hi [Iona], beloved of all, has read the books of
28. This is the enactment of the Law of Adamnan of Hi
[Iona]. At Birr this enactment was enjoined by the men of Ireland and Britain as a
perpetual law by order of their nobles, clerics and laymen, both their chiefs and ollaves
and bishops and sages and confessors, including
Fland Febla, the sage-bishop of Armagh [d. 715]
Elnai, abbot of Imlech Ibair (ie Emly)
Cennfaelad, abbot of Bangor [d. 705]
Failbe Becc, abbot of Clonmacnoise [d. 713]
Conodar, abbot of Lismore [abbot of Fore d. 707]
Cilline son of Luibnean, abbot of Birr [Martyrology of
Donegal, April 14]
Colman son of Sechmusach, abbot of Lorrha [d. 710]
Eochuid, abbot of Cloyne
Forandan of Kildare [d. 698]
Suadbar of Inis Demle
Diblene, abbot of Tir-da-glas
Mochonnui of Derry [d. 706, Martyrology of Donegal, May 15]
Oisine son of Glas, abbot of Clonfermulloe [d. 706]
Manchine of Leithglinn [now Leighlin d. 726]
Mobeoc of Ard
Murchu of Balla [successor of Cronan Balnae d. 692]
Moling of Lauchair [d. 696]
Mend Maiche, abbot of Ferns
Colcu son of Moenach, abbot of Lusk [d. 702]
Bishop Ceti [Coeddi Bishop of Iona d. 712]
Bishop Curetan [of Ross Mein]
Bishop Conamail son of Conan [d. 705]
Colman grandson of Orc, abbot of Clonard [d. 701]
Aed, Bishop of Setty ['ancorita' d. 700, Aidus Slettiensis
in Tirechan's notes]
Colman son of Findbarr [abbot of Lismore d. 703]
Cardide of Ross Mor
Togialloc grandson of Luan, the Wise
Bishop Ichtbrict (ie. Egbert) [ Northumbrian who converted
Iona to the Roman Easter, d. 729]
Feradach grandson of Arthur
Faelchu son of Maelrubai
Faelan of Clonfert-Brenainn
Dibchene son of Fili
Maelcoisni son of Conall
Murchu the descendant of Maehtheine [wrote the Life of
Patrick in the Book of Armagh]
Ioain of the wisdom, son of the Smith
Iohain son of Samuel
Faelan grandson of Silne [d. 711]
Loingsech son of Oengus, King of Ireland 
Congalach son of Fergus, king of Tirconnell
Fland Find son of Maeltuile, king of Tyrone [d. 700]
Conchabur son of Maelduin, king of Kinel Coirpri [d. 706]
Eterscel son of Maelhuma, king of Munster
Cudinaisc son of Cellach, king of East Munster [d. 709
battle of Mag Elni]
Cucherca, king of Ossory [d. 713]
Congal son of Suibne, king of Deissi [d. 701]
Eoganan son of Crundmal, king of the Ui Fidgenti
[predecessor of Conall son of Donennach d. 701]
Andelaith, king of the northern Deissi
Elodach son of Dunlang, king of Desmond
Ailill son fo Cu-cen-mathair, king of Mag Fene ['Rex Muman'
d. 701 AU]
Fiachra Cosalach, king of Picts 
Becc Boirchi, king of Ulster [d. 718]
Niall son of Cernach, king of Breg-mag [d. 701]
Cellach son of Gerthide, king of Diaballaigin [AU d. 715]
Condalach son of Conang, king of Corco Dubne [AU d. 717]
Corpri son of Cu-choluimb, king of Ui Chennselaig [d. 709]
Congal grandson of Mrachaide
Conall son of Doinennch, king of the Ui (Fidgente) [d. 701]
Cellach son of Ragallach, king of Connacht [d. 703 AU 'post
Dluthach son of Fidchellach, king of the Ui Maine [burnt to
death in 712 AU]
Dunchad king of the Ui Amalgaid and of the Ui Fiachrach
Muirges son of Maelduin [king of Cenel Coirpri in Co.
Longford, d. 698]
Macnia, king of Ard of the Ui Echach [d. 702]
Murchad of Meath
Colman son of Rechtabra, king of Ferns
Maelgothartaig son of Maeldub [king of Airgialla d. 697]
Dub-diberg [son of Dongall (?) d. 702]
Mane son of Niall [son of Cernach Sotal - slain in battle
Maelcaich son of Noindenach
Erthuile grandson of Crundmal 
Aed of Odba [killed 701]
Echuid son of Dunchad, king of Deisi
Aed son of Dluthach, king of Fir Cul [killed in the battle
of Kells d. 718]
Flaithnia son of Fergal
Fiannamail grandson of Dunchad [king of Irish Dalriada d.
Feradach grandson of Ciaran [?son of Maelduin king of Cenel
Loegaire slain in c. 704]
Fedlimid grandson of Fergus [son of Fergus son of Aeddan in
AU d. 701]
Fallomain, king of the Ui Tuirtri
Fergus Forchraid Fogarach 
Garban, king of Meath [d. 702]
Eochu Lemna, king of the Ui Cremthain [died in the battle
of Corann in 703]
Eochu grandson of Domnall, king of ... [Ui Cremthainn, died
in the battle of Corann in 703]
Conall Grant, king of southern Bregia [d. 718]
Tuathal son of Dunchad, king of the Ui Chonaill Gabra [?
slain in the battle of Corann in 703]
Toiethech son of Cennfaelad, king of Luigni [d. 734 AU]
Bodbethath, king of Luigni [slain in the battle of Cloenad
Irgalach grandson of Conang, king of Connacht [slain by
Britons in Inis mac Nessan in 702]
Bruide son of Derile, king of the Pict-folk 
and the intercession of all the men of Ireland, both laymen
29. All then, both laymen and clerics, have sworn to
fulfill the whole Law of Adamnan till Doom. They have offered up the full eric of
their female stock to Adamnan, and to every coarb who will be in his seat till Doom, nor
does Adamnan take way fines from cheiftain and chruch and family to whom they are due.
30. Now, all the holy churches of Ireland together with
Adamnan have besought the unity of the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
Holy Spirit, and the heavenly hosts, and the saints of the earth, that whoever fulfills
this Law, both as a claim and levy and fulfilment and eric, may have a long and
prosperous life, and may be honored in the eyes of God and of men, may be exalted in
Heaven and on earth.
31. The holy churches of Ireland, together with Adamnan,
have also besought God with the orders of Heaven and the saints of the earth, that whoever
shall break the Law of Adamnan, both laymen and clerics, whoever shall not claim it, and
shall not fulfill it to the best of his power, and shall not levy it from every one, both
cheiftain and church, -- his life may be short with suffering and dishonour, without any
of their offspring attaining Heaven or earth.
32. Adamnan has also set down an order of malediction for
them, to wit, a psalm for every day up to twenty days and an apostle or a noble saint for
every day to be invoked with it, to wit, 'Quare' adn Peter, 'Domine quid
multiplicati' and John, 'Verba mea' and Philip, 'Domine deus meus' and
Bartholomew, 'Dixit insipieus' and Thomas, "Deus, deus maus respice' and
Matthew 'Iudica me Îomine innocentium' and Jacob 'Dixit iniustus' and
Simon 'Domine ne in furore' and Thaddeus, 'Dixi custodiam' and
Mattias, 'Deus doerum' and Mark, 'Quid gloriaris' and Luke, ' Dixit
insipiens' and Stephen, 'Exturgat deus' and Ambrose, 'Salvum me' and
Gregory of Rome, 'Deus, uenerunt gentes' and Martin, 'Deus, quis similis' and
old Paul, ' Deus laudem', and George, 'Audite caeli quae loquor',
'Non nobis, Dominem, non nobis, sed nomini tue,' &c. 
33. Here begins the speech of the angel to Adamnan: ---
After fourteen years Adamnan obtained this Law of God, and
this is the cause. On Pentecost eve a holy angel of the Lord came to him, and again at
Pentecost after a year, and seized a staff, and struck his side and said to him; 'Go forth
into Ireland, and make a law in it that women be not in any manner killed by men, through
slaughter or any other death, either by poisen, or in water, or in fire, or by any other
beast, or in a pit, or by dogs, but that they shall die in their lawful bed. Thou shalt
establish a law in Ireland and Britain for the sake of the mother of each one, because a
mother has borne each one, and for the sake of Mary mother of Jesus Christ, through whom
all are. Mary besought her Son on behalf of Adamnan about this Law. For whoever slays a
woman shall be condemned to a twofold punsihment, that is, his right hand and his left
foot shall be cut off before death, and then he shall die, and his kindred shall pay seven
full cumals , and one-seventh part of the penance.
If, instead of life and amputation, a fine has been imposed, the penance is fourteen
years, and fourteen cumals shall be paid. But if a host has done it, every fifth
man up to three hundred shall be condemned to that punishment; if few, they shall be
divided into three parts. The first part of them shall be put to death by lot, hand and
foot having been first cut off; the second part shall pay fourteen full cumals; the
thrid shall be cast into exile beyond the sea, under the rule of a hard regimen; for the
sin is great when any slays the mother and sister of Christ's mother and the mother of
Christ, and her who carries a spindle and who clothes every one. But he who from this day
forward shall put a woman to death and does not do penance according to the Law, shall not
only perish in eternity, and be cursed for God and Adamnan, but all shall be cursed that
have heard it and do not curse him, and do not chastise him according to the judgement of
This is the speech of the angel to Adamnan.--
34.This is the enactment of Adamnan's Law in Ireland and
Britain: exemption of the Church of God with her people and her emblems and her
sanctuaries and all her properties, live and dead, and her law-abiding laymen with their
lawful wives who are obedient to Adamnan and to a lawful, wise and pious confessor. The
enactment of this Law of Adamnan is a perpetual law on behalf of clerics and women and
innocent children until they are capable of slaying a man, and until they take their place
in the tribe, and their (first) expedition is known.
35. Whoever wounds or slays a young clerical student or an
innocent child under the ordinance of Adamnan's Law, eight cumals for it for every
hand (engaged), with eight years of penance, up to three hundred cumals; and one
year of penance for it for each one from three hundred to three thousand or an indefinate
number; and it is the same fine for him who commits the deed and for him who sees it and
does not save to the best of his ability. If there is neglect or ignorance, half the fine
for it, and (arracuir) that is neglect and that it is ignorance.
36. A further enactment of this Law: full due to every
Church which is in good behaviour; half-due to her for her termon outside the
green; full due to her for every degree , both for wounding and theft and burning; half-due for her
sanctuaries; half-due for merely touching the hair (?) of clerics without wounding or
theft. It is all due to every church for violating her emblems wherever it is done.
37. These are the judges of Adamnan's Laws in every church
and in every tribe, to wit, the clerics whom the community of Adamnan chooses and to whom
they commit the enactment of the Law.
38. These are the pledges of this Law: one-third of the
pledge in bronze or silver, according to the estimation of every territory, out of the
property of every case. The pledge (to be redeemed) on the third day, judgement on the
fifth day, payment on the tenth in all other cases; in this case the pledge (is to be
redeemed) at once (?), judgement on the third day and payment on the fifth.
39. A further enactment of the Law, that in every suit a
hostage is to be adjudged (?) both for the ranks of the laity and those of the church,
within the territories inside and outside, for small and large dues, in obedience to
Adamnan or his communities. There is a legal notice and impounding, and the Law of Adamnan
or his communities shall not become extinct.
40. A further enactment of the Law: If innocent children
or clerics are slain, it is to their tombs of burial their dues come, and their urradas-dues
to their chiefs within their kindred.
41. A further enactment of the Law, that payment in full
fines is to be made to Adamnan for every woman that has been slain, whether a man has a
share in it, or cattle or hound or fire or a ditch or a building, -- for everything that
is made liable under the Law, both ditch and pit and bridge and fire-place and (door-)step
and pools and kilns, and every other danger, except the
woman deserves it. But one third is left to be kept. If it is a witless person, the other
two thirds shall die. The one-third is his who has the right to it.
42. Whatever violent death a woman dies, except it be (by)
the hand of God, or (in consequence of) rightful lawful cohabitation, it is paid in full
fines to Adamnan, both slaying and drowning and burning and poison and breaking and
perishing in a quagmire and death by tame beasts and pigs and cattle. If, however, it is a
first crime a folath (foluth?) or on the part of pigs or hounds, they shall be
killed at once, and half due to the human hand for it; if it is not a first crime, full
due is paid.
43. There shall be no cross-case or balancing of guilt in
Adamnan's Law, but each one pays for his crimes for his own hand. Every trespass which is
committed in Adamnan's Law, the communities of Adamnan are to a forbach of it,
apart from women, whether it be innocents, or clerics, or anyone to whom they commit it,
viz. a cumal forbaich to the community of Hii where seven cumals are
paid, and half a cumal from seven half-cumals. Six séts on
thirty séts, three séts on five séts.
44. One-eighth of everything small and great to the
community of Adamnan from the slaying of clerics or innocent children. If it be a
life-wound any one inflicts on a woman or a cleric or an innocent, seven half-cumals are
due from him, fifteen séts upon the nearest and remoter kindred as being
accomplices. Three séts for every white blow, five séts for every drawing of blood, seven séts for every wound requiring
a tent, a cumal for every confinement to bed, and payment of the physician
besides. If it be more than that, it goes upon half-dues for killing a person. If the blow
with the palm of the hand or with the fist, one ounce of silver (is the fine) for it. If
there be a green or red mark, or a swelling, an ounce and six scruples for it. For seizing
women by the hair, five wethers. If there is a fight among women with outrage (?), three
45. Men and women are equally liable for large and small
dues from this on to (any) fights of women, except outright death. For a woman deserves
death for the killing of a man or woman, or for giving poison whereof death ensues, or for
burning, or for digging under a church, that is to say,
she is to be put in a boat of one paddle as a sea-waif (?) upon the ocean to go with the
wind from the land. A vessel of meal and water to be given with her. Judgement on her as
God deems it.
46. If it be charms from which death ensues that any one
give to another, the fines of murder followed by concealment of the corpse (are to be
paid) for it. Secret plunderings and cnáim-chró which are traced (?) to (one of )
the four nearest lands, unless these four nearest lands can lay them on any one
particularly, they swear by the altbu (?) of their soul that they do not to lay it
upon any one and pay it themselves. If they suspect any one and prove it, it is he who
shall be liable. If the probability lie between two or a greater number, let their names
be written on leaves; each leaf arranged around a lot. and the lots are put into a chalice
upon the altar. He on whom the lot falls is liable.
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 accompliceship 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.
48. A further enactment of the Law: they shall feed the
stewards of Adamnan's Law, whatever their number, with the good food  of their people, viz. five men as guarantors, and the
feeding of every one who shall levy the dues of the Law shall be according to the wealth
of every one, both chieftan and church and people. A cumal for leaving any one of
them fasting, while fines are being levied, and offenders with regard to feeding , and they sustain a joint contract of debts unless they feed
them. Two cumals to them from offenders.
49. This is the exemption of every guarantor who come to
levy this tribute, viz. the guilt of their family does not come upon them so long as they
support guarantors and while they are in possession and do not escape; but their own guilt
(comes upon them) or the guilt of their offspring and their children and of their
50. If it be rape of a maiden, seven half-cumals (is the fine) for it. If a hand (is put) upon her or in her girdle, ten ounces for it. If
a hand (is put) under her dress to defile her, three ounces and seven cumals for
it. If there be a blemish or her head or her eyes or in the face or in the ear or nose or
tooth or tongue or foot or hand, seven cumals are (to be paid) for it. If it
be a blemish on any other part of her body, seven half-cumals are (to be paid) for
it. If it be tearing of her dress, seven ounces and one cumal for it.
51. If it be making a gentlewoman blush by imputing
unchastity to her or by denying her offspring, there are seven cumals (to be
paid) for it until it comes to (the wife of) an aire désa. For her onwards to
a muiri, seven ounces.
52. If women be employed in an assault or in a host or
fight, seven cumals for every hand as far as seven, and beyond that it is to be
accounted as the crime of one man. If a woman has been got with child by stealth, without
contract, without full rights, without dowry, without betrothal, a full fine for it.
Whatever . . . which is of hand-produce, great or small, whatever of dye-stuff, or woad or
beans. If it be red dye of a cloak, ... of a cloak for it .
53. Three guarantors for every chief church for the Law of
Adamnan, viz. the prior and the cook and the steward; and a guarantor of the Law from
(every) parent-family throughout all Ireland; and two guarantors of the Law from high
chieftains, and hostages to be held for its payment, if there be the proof of a woman.
1. A derivative of cumal,
'a female slave, bondmaid'.
2. The use of 'for' seems to
imply that these trophies were put upon the stake which the men carried.
3. 'The Ford of the Bridge',
now Drogheda. Cf. Book of Fenagh, p. 81 n. 4
4. Literally, 'urine'.
5. Here the words are lebor
bæl bachlaich oca are quite obscure to me.
6. Literally, 'she turns'.
7. Enda was the eponymous
ancestor of Adamnan's mother, and Lugaid that of his father.
8. i.e. 'his prayer is not
heard in Heaven' or 'he has no spokesman in Heaven'.
9. [Note that this and other
materials on Adomnan were kept in the Book of Raphoe and the region of Tirconnell has
played a prominent role in this treatise. The king of Tirconnell signed the list of the
guarantors directly after the "king of Ireland"; overall second on the list of
10. 'The Rock of the Holly'
11. ie. 'that Doelgus may not
enjoy the kingship of his father Oengus'. This play upon the words flaith, 'kingship',
and flaith, 'ale' (i.e. laith with the prothetic f), is common
in Irish storytelling.
12. i.e. of the rule of the
church or monastery.
13. Literally, 'of the armour
of orders' (grdd).
14. [ two Cronans: Cronan
Bishop of Inisamahil d. 643 and Cronan of Moville d. 650 and addressee of Pope John IV's
15. [see section 16, reigned
696-703, slain by Cellach son of Ragallach King of Connacht in the battle of Corann. This
synod may have been called at the beginning of the reign of the new high king.]
16. [Irish Picts/ Cruithne of
Dalriada in the king list of Dalriada kings in the Book of Leinster.]
17. [expelled from the
kingship of Cenel Eogan and went to Britain in 700 AU]
18. [Fogartach is a separate
man, probably the son of Niall, grandson of Cernach who later became king of Ireland and
was slain in the battle of Cenn- Delgden in 724. Fergus Forchriad died in the battle of
Corann in 703.]
19. [d. 706, Picts of
Scotland, possibly a kinsman of Adomnan's friend Bruide son of Beli who Adomnan buried on
Iona in 693, see Life of Adomnan]
20. See a poem on these
maledictive psalms (sailm escaine) of Adamnan in Hibernica Minora, p.
21. A cumal or
'bondmaid' represented the value of three milch-cows.
22. i.e. the orders of the
23. Literally, 'persecution'.
24. i.e. a blow that neither
draws blood nor causes discolouring.
25. viz. to look for treasure.
26. Or, perhaps, 'the food of a
27. Something seems to be
28. dilim or dirim (probably
the same word) are obscure to me.
Source: Edited and Translated by Kuno Meyer, Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1905
This text has been prepared for the internet by Michelle Ziegler, 2000 as part of the website Early Medieval Resources for
Britain, Ireland and Brittany. It appears here by permission.
For more sources on Adomnan or the Cain Adamnan:
Herbert, Maire and Padraig O'Rianin. Editors. (1988) Betha
Adamnain: The Irish Life of Adamnan. Irish Texts Society.
Herbert, Maire (1988) Iona, Kells, and Derry Oxford.
Ni Dhonnchadha, Mairin (1982) "The Guarantor List of Cain
Adamnain, 697" Peritia 1:178-215.
Sharpe, Richard (1995) Adomnan of Iona: Life of St.
Smyth, Alfred P. (1984) Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland
AD 80-1000 Edinburgh University Press.
Ziegler, Michelle (2000) "Adomnan of
Iona" Early Medieval Resources of Britain, Ireland and Brittany web
site. Updated Frequently.
This text is part of the Internet
Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No
permission is granted for commercial use.
Paul Halsall, March 4, 2001