the great joys (and expenses) of a trip to Dublin is the opportunity
to browse bookshops for titles of Irish interest. Of the many
volumes returning with me to American after this summer's trip,
Bart Jaski's Early Irish Kingship and Succession has
easily been the most fascinating.
a daunting subject with circumspection, and strips away the
accretion of mythology and misinformation that has plagued the
subject, particularly in light of the 'courtesy recognition'
afforded modern Irish chiefs since the 1940s, based on primogeniture
descent from the last inaugurated chief, as recommended by the
first Chief Herald, Edward McLysaght. In the wake of the debate
over "anistry vs. primogeniture," the casual observer
has been left to wade in extremely muddy waters.
has done much to shed light on a system of succession that is,
in effect, devoid of absolute rules, at least in practice. He
compares the theoretical writings on succession with the practical
application of those rules within specific dynasties, and arrives
at a very reasonable and surprisingly clear overview of what
might be called "successional norms," rather than
"successional rules." For those who have been led
to believe that the concept of 'tanistry' has nothing whatsoever
to do with seniority in descent, the book will provide some
important new insights. In fact, Jaski points out that the many
stories, anectdotal and otherwise, supporting the right of a
junior member of the kin to succeed to the kingship, only exist
because it was essential to justify an event that was highly
unusual! One is forced to conclude, after reading the book,
that McLysaght was perhaps applying the only Brehon Law successional
principal possible after some chiefships had been dormant for
three centuries or more.
should not be misled by the book title's reference to "kingship."
While this is certainly covered in depth, there is considerable
discussion of the succession of the headship of smaller kinship
groups, from the gelfine to the iarfine, again citing both theoretical
principles and actual examples.
also includes valuable material on division of property and
other conventions surrounding inheritance. If one were to nit-pick,
it should be stated that there are a few more typographical
and grammatical errors that might be expected, but these are
easily overlooked when considering the books great value as
a reference, filling, as it does, a considerable vacuum in the
available literature on the subject. All in all, Dr. Jaski is
to be commended for his even-handed and clear presentation of
the material. Not since Katharine Simms' From Kings to warlords
have I personally read such a balanced, intriguing, and thoroughly
O'Shea, Gaelic Heritage.