The Role of Women in the 7th and 8th Centuries in Ireland

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‘Legally incompetent and useless ' was the term that defined women in the 7th and 8th century in Ireland. It would be wrong to exaggerate the status of women in early Irish society- a society which was patriarchal and in which every aspect of social, legal, political and cultural life was dominated by men.# At this time in Ireland, people genuinely believed that every individual was born without gender and it was women who failed to develop both socially and physiologically, thus making them weaker than men. Although it cannot be denied that women did have a certain freedom within the law regarding marriage and divorce, the role of women, primarily in this era was to follow the example of the men in her life. I am going to examine the role of women in regards to their role in society, marriage, divorce, fosterage and inheritance. There was a certain basic inequality imposed on women in early Irish society but this was also common throughout Europe at the time also. According to the Cáin Lánamna (Laws of coupling), the three steadiness ' a women should possess are: a steady tongue, a steady virtue and steady housewifery.# Women were considered different to men- almost inhuman in a way. It was up to men to understand the nature of women at this time- so that he could make decisions on who to pray with, who to wed or who to avoid. Women at this time were placed in the same social category as criminals, political hostages, slaves and all sorts of idiots, fools and madmen. Although the Church considered both male and female to be spiritually equal, it also considered males to be superior to females socially. The Triads of Ireland state that reticence, virtue and industry seem to be the qualities most admired in a woman in medieval Ireland. The women of this time could not engage in the sale or purchase of items without the permission of those superior: men. Throughout her entire life, a woman was under the rule of a man, from her father until she wed, then


Bibliography: Bitel, Lisa: Land of Women: tales of sex and gender from early Ireland (Cornell University Press, 1996) Kelly, Fergus: A Guide to Early Irish Law (DIAS, Dublin 1988) Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí: Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200 (USA, 1995) Patterson, Nerys: Cattle Lords and Clansmen; the social structures of Early Ireland (2nd Edition, Notre Dame, 1994)

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