The enactment of this Law of Adomnan is a perpetual law on behalf of clerics and women and innocent children.

According to the Annals of Ulster the Law of the Innocents was enacted in the year 697 at the Synod of Birr held in county Offaly and was the work of one Adomnan, abbot of Iona. The primary purpose of the law was to afford protection to non-combatants such as women, children and the clergy from the brutal realities of contemporary warfare, and was ratified by a long list of kings and clerics (see Article 28) including all the rulers of Ireland, Dalriada and the Picts. It was enacted at the time when the influence of the Celtic Church of Iona was almost at its peak and spread across Ireland and northern Britain.

The actual law code itself has not survived, what has survived is a late medieval copy of a treatise on the law belived to have originally come from the lost Book of Raphoe which was written in Old Irish sometime during the ninth century.

This document gives an indication of what life for women was like in the seventh century, Cumalach (that is little slave) was a name for women till Adomnan come to free them it says and suggests that women were expected to do their share of the fighting at the time. There is also a long and undoubtedly fictional account of why Adomnan took it upon himself to struggle for the emancipation of women, full of the usual Dark Age gore; so that worms devoured the root of his tongue, so that the slime of his head broke forth through his ears is a nice touch I think.

It does however provide a detailed account of the Law and enumerates not only of the penalties to be imposed not only for the killing of innocents, but also for various other offences against women such as rape and would we would call these days as sexual assault; If a hand is put under her dress to defile her, three ounces and seven cumals for it. for example. The traffic isn't only one way though and Article 49 illustrates a novel method of capital punishment for women guilty of murder; For a woman deserves death for the killing of a man or woman...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.

More importantly what the Law of the Innocents provides an illustration of what one might call the 'civilizing' effects of early Christianity, of how the church sought to ameliorate the conditions of life in the rather brutal society of the first millennium and improve the moral conduct of the populace so as to remove some of the worst effects of the inevitable consequences of human nature.


The treatise on the Law of the Innocents

1. Five ages before the birth of Christ, that is, 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 Adomnan, 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 Adomnan 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 chieftains, 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 Adomnan 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. Adomnan suffered much hardship for your sake, 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 Adomnan's Law.

6. This is the beginning of the story. Once Adomnan 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!' said he. 'I shall not go', said 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 which 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 Adomnan, 'what I see under your feet, my good cleric!' Why do you 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 don't you not prove your clerkship for us on that wrenched body, to see whether the Lord will resuscitate it for you?' (Hence is the old saying: 'Beautiful is every pup under its mother'.) At the word of his mother Adomnan 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, my great Lord of the elements!' she said. 'What makes you say alas?' said Adomnan, 'My being put to the sword on the battlefield and thrown into the torments of Hell. I know no one here or over there who would do a kindness or show mercy to me except Adomnan, the Virgin Mary urging him thereto on behalf of the host of Heaven'.

10. And the woman who was there resuscitated at the word of Adomnan 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, Adomnan,' said she, 'to you henceforth it is given to free the women of the western world. Neither drink or food shall go into your mouth until women have been freed by you'. 'No living creature can be without food,' said Adomnan. 'If my eyes see it, I shall stretch out may hands for it.' 'But your eyes shall not see and your 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 Adomnan 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 over there,' she said, '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 months.

15. At the end of four years God's angels came from Heaven to converse with him. And Adomnan 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 your hiding-place,' said the angel to Adomnan. '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 habebis'.

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 Adomnan 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. Adomnan took no sword with him to battle, but the Bell of Adamnan's Wrath, to wit, the little bell of Adomnan's alter-table. It is then Adomnan 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 has brewed, I shall sing my psalms to-day in the stone cave, may it not be without fame, lest dapper Doelgus drinks the ale which is drunk with dregs. God's curse on Elodach, the chief of Femen of the Deisi, lest king or king's heir spring from him after him! My humble, gentle attendant, you armed son of the rule, strike the bell against Cellach of Carman, that he may be buried in the earth before a year's end.'

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. 'Man of the church-armour, having come to renowned Maistiu, 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 your 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 Adomnan 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 Adomnan until now, so that the Law of Adomnan is the first law made (for women) in Heaven and upon earth. 22. Adomnan 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, Mobi, Momaedoc, Munnu, 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 Adomnan, 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 Adomnan for having brought them out of the bondage and out of the slavery in which they had been. Adomnan 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 Adomnan. 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. Adomnan 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 Adomnan for the fulfillment of this Law.

It is then that Adomnan spoke these words:

27. 'Unless the women of this world do good to my community, the offspring you will bear shall decay, or they shall die full of crimes. Scarecity shall fill your storehouses, the Kingdom of Heaven you shall not obtain; you shall not escape by niggardliness or falsehood from Adomnan of Hi.

'Adomnan of Hi will help you, O women!
Give unto your prince all the good things that are you!'

Adomnan of Hi , beloved of all, has read the books of the Gael.

28. This is the enactment of the Law of Adomnan of Hi. 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

and the intercession of all the men of Ireland, both laymen and clerics.

29. All then, both laymen and clerics, have sworn to fulfill the whole Law of Adomnan till Doom. They have offered up the full eric of their female stock to Adomnan, and to every coarb who will be in his seat till Doom, nor does Adomnan take way fines from cheiftain and chruch and family to whom they are due.

30. Now, all the holy churches of Ireland together with Adomnan 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 Adomnan, have also besought God with the orders of Heaven and the saints of the earth, that whoever shall break the Law of Adomnan, 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. Adomnan 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,' etcetera.

33. Here begins the speech of the angel to Adomnan:

After fourteen years Adomnan 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 poison, 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. You 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 Adomnan about this Law. For whoever slays a woman shall be condemned to a twofold punishment, 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 third 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 Adomnan, 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 Law'.

This is the speech of the angel to Adomnan.

34. This is the enactment of Adomnan'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 Adomnan and to a lawful, wise and pious confessor. The enactment of this Law of Adomnan 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 Adomnan's Law, eight cumals for it for every hand, 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 Adomnan's Laws in every church and in every tribe, to wit, the clerics whom the community of Adomnan 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 Adomnan or his communities. There is a legal notice and impounding, and the Law of Adomnan 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 Adomnan 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 Adomnan, 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 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 Adomnan's Law, but each one pays for his crimes for his own hand. Every trespass which is committed in Adomnan's Law, the communities of Adomnan are to a forbach of it, apart from women, whether it be innocents, or clerics, or anyone to whom they commit it, that is, a cumal forbaich to the community of Hi 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 Adomnan 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 wethers.

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 Adomnan's Law, whatever their number, with the good food of their people, that is, 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, that is, 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 retainers.

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 Adomnan, that is, 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.

Based on the 1905 translation by Kuno Meyer together with additional material from http://claymore.wisemagic.com/scotradiance and www.orthodox-iona.co.uk

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