Brehon Families

In the “Dissertations” of Charles O’Connor, and in O’Reilly’s “Irish Writers,” accounts are given of many famous Brehons and chief judges who flourished from the first to the eighth century, as Sean, Moran, Modan, Conla, Fithil, Fachtna, Sencha, the three brothers named Burachans or Burechans, etc.; these eminent men formed and perfected a great code of laws, which from their spirit of equity, were designated Breithe Neimhidh, signifying “Celestial Judgments.” The most renowned of these brehons for the justice of his judgments was Moran, son of Cairbre-ceann-Caitt, the 101st monarch, who reigned in the first century of our Era, and (see Note, page 30, Vol. I.) he is represented in his office of chief judge of the kingdom, as wearing on his neck a golden ornament called Iodhan Morain or “Moran’s Collar,” which is described in Vallancy’s Collectanea; and this collar was fancifully said to press closely on the neck of the wearer, and almost choke him, if he attempted to pronounce an unjust judgment. Amongst the chief Brehon families were the following:—The MacEgans, hereditary Brehons in Connaught, in Leinster, and in Ormond; the O’Dorans, Brehons to the MacMurroghs, Kings of Leinster; the MacClancys, of Clare, Brehons to the O’Briens, Kings of Thomond, to the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond, and other great families in Munster; the O’Hagans, of Tullaghoge, in Tyrone, Brehons to the O’Neills, princes of Tyrone; the O’Breslins of Donegal, Brehons to the O’Donnells, and to the Maguires, lords of Fermanagh.

In the Tracts of Sir John Davis, an interesting account is given of O’Breslin, the Brehon to Maguire; Sir John, who was attorney-general to King James the First, having proceeded to various parts of Ulster, about A.D. 1607, together with the judges and chancellor, to hold assizes, on coming to Fermanagh they required to know the tenure by which Maguire held his lands; and having sent for the Brehon, O’Breslin, who was a very feeble old man, he came to the camp, and the judges having demanded his Roll, he at first refused to show it, but at length on the lord chancellor taking an oath that he would return it safe, the old Brehon drew the Roll out of his bosom, and gave it to the chancellor. The Irish MS. was well written, and, having been translated for the judges, it was found to contain an account of the rents, and tributes paid to Maguire, which consisted of cattle, corn, provisions, hogs, meal, butter, etc. (see Note 2, page 429, Vol. I.); but Davis says he lost the copy of the roll at Dublin.