Is ferr fera chiniud – a man is better than his birth.

A maxim of Irish Law first recorded in the eight century. It is a precept which underlies the phrase “All men are created equal” which appears in the American Declaration of Independence and the underlying meaning is the same.

The Brehon precept is in sharp contrast with the beliefs and values of the contemporaneous European social hierarchy and is evident right down to the post modern era as expressed through the English proverb “you can't make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear”.

The precept dictates that the individual may not be hindered or restricted, in any way what so ever, in his or her development because to the circumstances of his or her birth. The individual is encouraged to achieve what he will, and is free to accumulate wealth and will be honoured for his success. A person was judged by their deeds and not their genealogy.

The Brehon precept expects a man to improve the conditions prevailing at the time of his birth. Jefferson’s precept indicates that every man should have an equal chance to improve such conditions.” Quoted from - Secret And Silent Men Of 1798 By James Caulfield. Brehon Law quote from Uraicceacht Bec an eight century text from Munster dealing with rank and status.


(Edit: Reference to the above can be found in Joseph R. Peden, 'Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law' Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1977 pp.81-95, at page 86 (Download pdf here).

Views: 427

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Tír na Saor ~ Land of the Free to add comments!

Join Tír na Saor ~ Land of the Free

Comment by james caulfield on December 15, 2014 at 13:01

JFKennedy being a lawyer he was undoubtedly familiar with the 'Brehon Law. When he said "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" I believe he was rephrasing the Brehon precept 'A man is better than his birth'.  James Caulfield

Comment by Finnegan on June 17, 2014 at 8:46

Did you find that on one o' those matchboxes Kev ?  My favourite one is - " Many a mans tongue broke his nose ", lol

Comment by Kev on June 17, 2014 at 0:48

"I can't remember exactly where I got the above..."

Actual text from the post: 

Quoted from - Secret And Silent Men Of 1798 By James Caulfield. Brehon Law quote from Uraicceacht Bec an eight century text from Munster dealing with rank and status


Comment by Kev on June 16, 2014 at 20:30

Have updated the post with source for the above maxim. I can't remember exactly where I got the above, it may have been from a book and so not online verbatim, but there is a mention of it (without the Irish form) in Joseph R. Peden's article:  'Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol.1, No.2, pp.81-95. Pergamon Press 1977, at page 86 (Download pdf here).

The section in questions reads: 
What is somewhat surprising is the fact that these ranks and categories were not fixed. The law texts say that "the free may sit in the seat of the unfree" and "the unfree may sit in the seat of the free". "Everyone may become free by his wealth and unfree by his lips". The free who become unfree are those who sell all their land or rights or body in service to another (slavery). The unfree in the seat of the free are those who buy land or the right to the franchise by their art (skilled craftsmen), their talent (bards), or by husbandry (tenants at will). This social mobility is reflected in the legal maxim: A man is better than his birth.

- Joseph R. Peden, 'Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law' Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1977 pp.81-95, at page 86 (Download pdf here).

Comment by Kev on November 28, 2013 at 17:50

Maxims of early Irish (Brehon) law:

Sruithiu feb áes - Excellence is more honored than age.

This maxim is found in "Bretha Nemed Toísech". A gloss on it says "is uaisle inti occa mbi eolus, cid ócc, oldas in sen ocna bia" (one who has knowledge, although young, is more noble than an old person who does not).

Níbi lesach nach súanach. - No one who is sleepy is successful.

This maxim is quoted in the Laws (CIH 362.35-36, 887.13, 1442.12-25, 1899.3-4) in discussions of distraint. One of the glosses on it explains it in terms of that legal procedure: "nocha bi les og don tí bis ina suan can fasc na hathgabala do breith" (whoever remains asleep without serving notice of distrained animals does not get complete redress). As Neil McLeod has suggested, the maxim in general use was probably equivalent to "the early bird gets the worm".

Is comaithech cach combúasach. - Something of equal value is close enough.

Neil McLeod explained and translated this maxim, found in "Bretha Nemed Toísech" (CIH 2227.10-11). It describes the cattle that a claimant (a poet in this case) is legally entitled to seize in substitution for a debt that is owed to him.

Ferr reconn íarcunn.Foresight is better than hindsight.

A maxim from "Bríathra Flainn Fhína maic Ossu". Compare "Messam airli íargáes" in this collection.

Fotha filed foglaim. - Learning is a poet's foundation.

This alliterating maxim on the importance of education in the formation of a "fili" is found in "Brethad Nemed Toísech" (CIH 2224.25)

Codnach cách co sendata. - Everyone is compos mentis until old age.

This maxim from the law tract "Bretha Nemed Toísech" (CIH 2225.25) seems to imply that senility or "leanbaíocht na haoise" (the childishness of age) was the normally expected outcome of any long life. The Laws (e.g. CIH 2106.36) actually presume legal incompetence beginning at the age of 88.

A modern quatrain ("Dánfhocail", p. 23) expresses this expectation in these words:

Óg gach neach san aois óige,
óg arís gach seanóire;
óg deireadh aoise gach duine,
deireadh gach seanaoise óige.

Áithiu cech delg is óa. - Younger thorns are shaper.

This maxim is found in "Passions and Homilies" (4136-37), where King David tells his son Solomon that he is more clever and keener-witted than himself, "amal atbeir isin derbárusc" ("as it says in the proverb"), which he then quotes. A slightly different version is found in "Acallam na Senórach" (1384), where Garad begs off playing fidchell with the women of the Fían, claiming that he is too old: "Is áithe cach n-delg as só".

Ní·fríth ní·fuigébthar brithem bas fíriu cathroí. - A truer judge than the battle field has never been found, and never will be.

This maxim is found in Fergus Kelly's edition of "Audacht Morainn" (p. 64) and in Rudolf Thurneysen's earlier edition in ZCP 11 (p. 83).

Dligid cach gúbrethach garsécle athshuidi díbad. - Every false judge deserves short life, removal from office, and death without an heir.

Or today, at least a twenty year term in prison! Early Irish legal literature mentions various punishments that judges or other authorities can suffer if they give an improper or corrupt judgment, ranging from fines to loss of rank. A rather dramatic symptom of a false judgment is the appearance of blotches or blisters ("bolga") on the face of the judge. The above maxim, which combines a triadic structure with the common "dligid" formula, is quoted in "Audacht Morainn" (p. 64), and in Thurneysen's edition of the same text in ZCP 11 (p. 84, §34).

Ferrdi ciall comairli.Sense is the better of advice.

Advice makes good sense better.

This is one of a series of eleven similar maxims in "Cath Muighe Rath" (FDG, p. 158-160), all beginning with "(Is) ferrdi" (is the better of, is improved by). See also "Ferrdi fis fiafraigid" in this collection.

Comment by Kev on November 20, 2013 at 13:44

From the Brehon laws:

"Wherein is the Jurisprudence of the Language of the Féni found?

Answer: In proof and right and nature.

Proof is founded on rules and maxims and true testimonies. Right is founded on verbal contracts and acknowledgment. [The law of] nature is founded on remission and joint arrangement."

(Remember: The 'Féni' referred to the classes of 'freemen' in early Irish society.) The Irish were legal geniuses. The sum total of the purpose and scope of the law is here summed up in a mere three sentences. So much forgotten, another tragedy to be addressed and acknowledged.

The time is ripe for a Great Brehon Revival.

Comment by Kev on November 12, 2013 at 3:32

From Neil Callaghan on Facebook 

NA FINNA  Read this and Know That F.B. Conceder this Galice code of conduct Abuse.

Fírinne – Truth
‘Truth on our Lips!’ Always speak the Truth; Seek the Truth in every situation; Only make a Judgement when the full Truth is known; Value the Truth as the Keeper of Sovereignty.

Urraim- Honour 
Always keep thy Word; Know yourself and your Beliefs; Be keen to make good Moral Judgement; Always maintain high standards of Conduct; Honour is the Soul of a Man.
Cóir – Justice
Always help the meek to receive proper Justice; Challenge Evil wherever it is encountered; Come to the Aid of those who need it; To be Just is the sign of your Birthmark.

Laochas – Valour 
Always be Heroic in your Actions; Be Fearless against all enemies; Set aside Self-interest for National interest; Fight for what is Right; Always show Leadership.Calmacht – Prowess
‘Strength in our Hands’! Discipline your Body, Mind and Spirit; Train hard to achieve Healthy standards; Take the Lead in all Actions; Be rigorous in your Goals.

Dílseacht – Loyalty 
Be known as the Worthy One; Be Loyal to your Family, Loved Ones, Friends, Country and your Causes; Dedicate yourself to protecting and fulfilling your duties; Loyalty is the Measure of the Soul. Give Freely and give extra; Never impoverish yourself as others will suffer; Show generosity to Friend and Stranger alike; Be merciful and fair in your dealing; Show Kindness in Action and in Deed.

Cúirtéis – Courtesy 
Be Polite and Mannerly in Dress, Speech and Carriage; Treat all people as equals; Acknowledge natural and earned merits; Be kind to Animals and the Environment; Be fair in Competition. 

Aireachas – Nobleness 
‘Purity in our Hearts!’ Be diligent in Study; Enhance your Knowledge; Always show Wisdom; Practice and improve your Skills; Use your Natural Gifts to generate Goodness; Enrich your life and those around you; Attend to necessities; Take Command and Leadership..

© 2017   Created by Kev.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service