Bretha nemed toísech‘The first Bretha nemed (‘Judgments concerning privileged persons’)’

Forannán • Máel Tuili • Báethgalach hua Búirecháin
  • Old Irish
  • prose
  • Early Irish law texts
Old Irish legal tract on the law of privileged persons (nemed), with particular attention being paid towards churchmen, poets and judges.
Bretha nemed toísech
‘The first Bretha nemed (‘Judgments concerning privileged persons’)’
Although citations from this text often simply identify their source text as Bretha nemed (‘Judgments of privileged persons’), it would seem that this title was used to refer to “a whole series of tracts which were originally associated with a particular school”.(1)n. 1 D. A. Binchy, ‘Bretha Nemed’, Ériu 17 (1955): 4. Our text is also more specifically referred to as Bretha nemed toísech ("the first Bretha nemed"), distinguishing it from other parts of the series, such as the Bretha nemed dédenach ("the last Bretha nemed"). A shorthand for this title, with toísech abbreviated to t, occurs four times in the manuscripts.(2)n. 2 Liam Breatnach, ‘The first third of Bretha Nemed Toísech’, Ériu 40 (1989): 2. According to Liam Breatnach, the ‘first’ and ‘last’ Bretha nemed were so named by later medieval lawyers to situate them in a chronological framework.(3)n. 3 ibid.
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Máel TuiliMáel Tuili
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Báethgalach hua BúirecháinBáethgalach hua Búirecháin
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Three kinsmen: Forannán (a bishop), Máel Tuili (a poet) and Báethgalach hua Búirecháin (a judge), who flourished during the reign of Cathal mac Finguine.(4)n. 4 Liam Breatnach, ‘Canon law and secular law in early Ireland: the significance of Bretha Nemed’, Peritia 3 (1984). See Aimirgein Glúngel tuir tend.
  • Old Irish
721 x 742 (Breatnach).(5)n. 5 Liam Breatnach, ‘Canon law and secular law in early Ireland: the significance of Bretha Nemed’, Peritia 3 (1984).
prose (primary)
Textual relationships

As possible sources for the present text, Breatnach mentions Collectio canonum Hibernensis, Ántéchtae and Críth gablach.(6)n. 6 Liam Breatnach, Companion to CIH (2005): 190–191.


Early Irish law texts
Work in progress

[1] First third » entry

Description: The first third of Bretha nemed toísech, which introduces the text and proceeds with legal matter concerning the Church in Irish society.

[2] Middle third » entry

[3] Last third » entry

Nero A 7
CIH 2211-2232
Contents Passages in Nero A 7
corresponding to citations
Citations (CIH) Citations by title BN
unless stated otherwise
Part I
The Church (Nero A 7, CIH 2211.1-2213.29)
CIH 2211.1-2213.29 § 1. Definition of the privileged classes (nemed), with its division into two tiers:
  • noble nemed (sóernemed), i.e. the [ecclesiastical] scholar (ecnae), churchman (eclais), lord (flaith) and poet (file).
  • base nemed (dóernemed), i.e. the craftsmen.
CIH 2100.11-15
§ 2. Introduction to §§ 3-14 CIH 2100.16-17
§ 3. On the "good qualifications ennobling a church", in part translated from the Collectio canonum Hibernensis CIH 2100.17-24 & 1531.9 (O’Dav); 1305.38-40; 1531.11; 1562.18-19
§ 4. On the privileges of a (qualified) church, e.g. that it cannot be held accountable for crimes or offences committed by others. CIH 2100.25-26
1989.19-21; cp. 1421.17
§ 5. The three things on account of which churches may pursue claims against other churches. This section concludes by citing Ántéchtae breth. CIH 2100.27-29
§ 6 CIH 2211.27 CIH CIH 2100.38-39; 978.29-33; 1099.24-28 CIH 978f
[note with title]

§ 7 CIH 1498.3-4 (O'Dav)
§ 8 CIH 2100.33
1920.39 = 1148.16, 1310.19; CormY 1225
§ 9 CIH 2100.34
§ 10 CIH 2100.34
§ 11 CIH 2100.35
§ 12 CIH 2100.36
§ 13 CIH 1478.39 (O'Dav 340) = 1480.42 (O'Dav 407)
§ 14 CIH 1595.21 = 639.18, 2264.7, 686.37, 1233.2, 704.25
CIH 1528.16 (O'Dav 1529)
§ 15 CIH 1473.29 (O'Dav 194)
§ 16 CIH 1523.33 (O'Dav 1424)
§ 17
§ 18
§ 19
§ 20
§ 21 CIH 1479.1 (O’Dav 341), 1528.18 (O’Dav 1530), 950.15
§ 22 CIH 1498.5 (O'Dav 830); 1512.1 (O'Dav 1148); 1473.26 (O’Dav 192); 1528.21 (O'Dav 1531); 1519.33 (O'Dav 1334); Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 P 16, ff 146a28-37.
§ 23 CIH 1473.28 (O’Dav 193)
§ 24 CIH 1466.16 (O'Dav 5); 620.32; 1523.32 (O'Dav 1423)
Part II
most of it addressed to Morand and concerned with poets (Nero A 7, CIH 2213.29-2221.7)
CIH 2213.29-2221.7 Reference (CIH 2213.30) to Críth gablach CIH 2214.2,20 CormY 689
CIH 2214.12 CIH 551.29
CIH 2214.40 CIH 1535.4
CIH 2215.3 CormY 676
CIH 2215.11f CIH 1964i
[BN t.]
CIH 2217.8 CormY 876
CIH 2217.27,30 CormY 430
CIH 2219.22 CIH 1562b
Part III
half of it addressed to Neire; mostly about judges and judgments (Nero A 7, CIH 2221.8-2230.1; 2232.17-37; 2230.1-2232.17)
CIH 2221.8-2230.1 CIH 2222.26 CIH 1967g
[BN t.]
CIH 2223.19 CormY 143
CIH 2223.21 CormY 142
CIH 2223.22f CIH 2004f
[BN t.]
CIH 2223.25 CormY 536
CIH 2223.28 CormY 971
CIH 2223.32 CormY 304
CIH 2225.7 CIH 1920e
[BN t.]
CIH 2225.12 ff. CIH 876.27
without citation
CIH 2227.1 CIH 363.25 and 365.13
without citation.
CIH 2228.10 CIH 963.27
CIH 2232.17-37
CIH 2230.1-2232.17
[2230.6 ff clientship, lordship]
Passage in CIH 2232.33-37 also occurs in Scéla Moṡauluim



D. A. Binchy, ‘Bretha Nemed’, Ériu 17 (1955): 4.
Liam Breatnach, ‘The first third of Bretha Nemed Toísech’, Ériu 40 (1989): 2.
Liam Breatnach, Companion to CIH (2005): 190–191.
Liam Breatnach, ‘The first third of Bretha Nemed Toísech’, Ériu 40 (1989): 3.

Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] Binchy, D. A. [ed.], Corpus iuris Hibernici: ad fidem codicum manuscriptorum, 7 vols, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1978. 
The standard diplomatic edition of early Irish law texts, undertaken by D. A. Binchy and published in 7 volumes.
Diplomatic edition
Edition wanted.
A critical edition of the complete text, with translation and discussion, by Liam Breatnach is forthcoming.
[ed.] Breatnach, Liam [ed. and tr.], “The first third of Bretha Nemed Toísech”, Ériu 40 (1989): 1–40.
Edition of the first third of the Nero A 7 text, "normalized to an eighth-century OIr. standard", with variant readings.
[ed.] [tr.] Breatnach, Liam [ed. and tr.], “Canon law and secular law in early Ireland: the significance of Bretha Nemed”, Peritia 3 (1984): 439–459.
Part of the text edited and translated.

Secondary sources (select)

See Breatnach above
Breatnach, Liam, A companion to the Corpus iuris Hibernici, Early Irish Law Series 5, Dublin: DIAS, 2005. 
comments: A companion to Binchy (D. A.) 1978a. Review article: McLeod, N., “A true companion to the Corpus iuris Hibernici”, Peritia 19 (2005).
Etchingham, Colmán, and Catherine Swift, “English and Pictish terms for brooch in an 8th-century Irish law-text”, Medieval Archaeology 48 (2004): 31–49.
Ads.ahds.ac.uk – eprint (PDF): <link>
Kelly, Fergus, A guide to early Irish law, Early Irish Law Series 3, Dublin: DIAS, 1988.
Smith, Roland, “Morand and the Bretha Nemed”, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 17 (1928): 407–411.

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