Women and Slavery in the Early Irish Laws


  • Charlene M. Eska


Ireland, law, women, slavery, society


As stated by Fergus Kelly (Early Irish Farming, 438), the numerous ‘references to slavery in law-tracts, wisdom-texts, saints’ Lives, annals, and sagas’ attest to the ‘considerable importance [of slavery] in early Irish Society’. Yet, despite these numerous references to slavery, only a handful of scholars to date have undertaken the task of researching this subject: Paul Holm has analyzed the slave trade of Dublin; Niall Brady has looked at labor and agriculture; and Fergus Kelly has described slavery in general and slave labor as represented by the early Irish law-tracts. This paper builds upon the work of previous scholars and, in particular, focuses on women and slavery as represented in the early Irish laws. This paper will discuss, from a legal standpoint, the specific law-tracts in which women and slavery are mentioned, the legal contexts of such references, and possible interpretations of the material.