Guest Contribution: The Lost Laws of Ireland by Catherine Duggan

December 13, 2023

The Lost Laws of Ireland: The Brehon Laws
The Brehon Law Academy is very pleased to post our first guest contribution! 


And we're doubly pleased to have such an accomplished author and contributor to the study of the Brehon Laws - Catherine Duggan. 

Catherine Duggan is the author of "The Lost Laws of Ireland: The Brehon Laws", a fresh and relatively recent addition to the library of works on Brehon Law. We were delighted when Catherine Duggan contacted us several months ago and we have continued a conversation about the real need for a renewed awareness  of these old laws and customs.

American born and of Irish descent, Catherine's love for Irish history shines through in her work. As a practicing solicitor in California, Catherine is well equipped to discern the finer intricacies of the law as it once was, but she has made great efforts to present her findings in a simplified, non-legal, and easy to follow manner. 

We asked Catherine to tell us what interests her so much about the Brehon Laws... 



My work on The Lost Laws of Ireland combined my Irish heritage and my life’s work in the law.  It represents an integration of self.  My parents were from Co. Cork and, having lived in the United States for years, returned home upon my father’s retirement.  I have traveled to Ireland regularly since I was six years old.  My entire family, but for my husband and my son, live in Ireland, and I am very much ‘at home’ in Cork. 


In 1978 an exhibit entitled the Treasures of Ireland came to the De Young Museum in San Francisco.  I was astonished at the huge collection of beautiful gold objects, mostly jewelry.  I wondered why these treasures were not more well known.  They of course now form the centerpiece of the outstanding collection in the National Museum in Dublin.  In subsequent years, I discovered the existence of the Brehon Laws, the ancient laws of Ireland.  Again, I wondered why one of the oldest legal systems in Europe was not better known. 

I found that the intricacy of Celtic law reflects the intricacy of Celtic art, both demonstrating incredible attention to detail.  The early Irish aimed at harmony both in society, through equity in law, and in art, through balance in design.  These observations are not unmindful of the inherent violent nature of the times of the Celtic warrior kings.  Nevertheless, the societal goals and artistic expression reveal a level of complexity and refinement remarkable for its time. 

This book introduces the general reader to the Brehon Laws which governed Irish society for over a thousand years, but have been until very recently hidden from view.  Although the academic community has explored this topic, the extraordinary legal system has not been made accessible to the general reader.  In my study of the ancient laws, certain themes emerged, and I focused on those areas of the law that described the societal mores that are significant to the modern reader, such as equity and fairness, divorce law, and social mobility. 


My book is intended for readers, both inside and outside Ireland, who are interested in their Irish heritage and history.  It is a synthesis of current available scholarship.


Although the subject is Brehon Law, the aim is to shed light on the surprisingly sophisticated society of ancient Ireland that the law reflects.


Get your copy of the Lost Laws of Ireland here!




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