September 6, 2006
Cattle-Lords and Clansmen
Cattle-Lords and Clansmen: the Social Structure of Early Ireland by Nerys Patterson was one of the Celtic books that was recommended to me by online scholarly types. Even though I’m pretty used to reading academic books, this one was rather difficult and tedious to get through. She starts by reviewing and critiquing previous scholarship on what ancient/medieval Irish society was like. She notes that earlier scholars used innacurate translations, and until recently modern scholars did not like to use ancient Irish law as a source for evidence of social structure. Patterson takes a multi-disciplinary approach- using evidence from law tracts, other texts, linguistics and archeology. If like me, you are not interested in the nitty-gritty of law and social rank, skip the first couple chapters to get to the good stuff.
Ch. 3 is about the economics and material culture, and there are some interesting tidbits on the cultural associations of various animals, as well as their uses and roles.Ch. 4 is about how the Irish divided up land , which has some cosmological implications.
Ch. 5 Seasonal Rhythyms of Social Life, was very interesting and informative- it discusses how the cycles of agricultural, military and courtship/marriage/family activity interrelated to the seasons and festivals. The festivals, it turns out, are less solar than they are agricultural and tribal in nature.
This is probably better to read after getting through more of the earlier scholarship. One book you should read first is Celtic Heritage by Rees, which she cites a lot. Though it’s a difficult read, it is useful for understanding how ancient Irish society worked, how they related to the land, how they saw the world they lived in.