Nerys T. Patterson
In Cattle Lords and Clansmen, Nerys T. Patterson provides an analysis of the social structure of medieval Ireland, focusing on the pre-Norman period. By combining difficult, often fragmentary primary sources with sociological and anthropological methods, Patterson produces a unique approach to the study of early Ireland—one that challenges previous scholarship.
Patterson begins by exploring the pastoral-agricultural base of Irish society to see how seasonal demands, especially of the cattle herds, shaped the social organization of the community. This approach provides insight into the daily life of the people and the annual cycles of their political and social relations. The book then examines kinship relations—focusing on such aspects as marriage, sexual relations, and the care of children and other dependents—and clientship, which was the power network built by wealthy cattle lords through the loan of cattle to supporters. Patterson illuminates the complex interweaving of legal status, economic worth, and social responsibility, which determined the individual’s “honor-price,” set requirements of hospitality, and both empowered and constrained the political order.
This new edition includes a chapter on seasonal rhythm, material derived from Patterson’s post-1991 publications, and an updated bibliography.
Nerys T. Patterson (1943–2007) was a Visiting Scholar at University College of North Wales, Bangor.
“. . . Nerys Patterson has given a fresh and lively account of Irish society from a sociological point of view, based on considerable familiarity with translated editions of the Old Irish law texts and literary sources in Old, Middle and Early Modern Irish. She has a number of thought-provoking observations to make about points of detail, such as the Irish attitude to sheep (pp 84-5), the varying social status accorded to druids (p. 41), and the anomalous distribution of the cró and díre compensation payments among a victim’s patrilinear and matrilinear kin (pp 53-4). More importantly, she has an overall view based on comparative studies of other societies of how economic and social pressures should have operated within early Irish society.” — Irish Historical Studies
“This book ought to send a new generation of archaeologists into the countryside of the Emerald Isle. A few more studies of this caliber will set a very different scenario for Celtic studies in the 21st century.” — Antiquity
“This book taps into the rich but tantalizingly obscure body of Old and Middle Irish law which dates from the seventh and eight centuries . . . Nerys Patterson uses the six volumes of early Irish law to reconstruct the complex hierarchical and familial relationships, which constituted secular Irish society in the centuries before and sometime after the Vikings arrived in Ireland. [Patterson’s] sociological approach is a significant addition to our understanding of early historic Irish Celtic society.” — History Ireland