Artisans in the Law Codes
Artisans in Irish Literature


Artisans are skilled manual laborers who make items that may be functional or strictly for decoration. Such items could include chariots, combs, furniture, leather, nails, plows, weapons and even jewelry. From medieval Irish legal codes and literature it is clear that artisans existed within a tuáth and played a vital role in medieval Irish society, particularly for the production of iron tools for agricultural and for woodworking[1] . Therefore on could have expected to find within a tuáth a carpenter (sáer), blacksmith (gobae), silversmith, coppersmith, chariot builder and a leather worker.
Much like most of the professions in medieval Ireland, the job of the artisan was most likely hereditary [2] . Skills were passed down from parents and from foster parents. Although it is hard to say what training for these skilled laborers consisted of due to the lack of texts in this subject, a vivid picture of artisan life can be draw with the help of the medieval Irish laws and literature.

Artisans in the Law Codes

Honor price for artisans varied greatly on the craft. For example, the Uraicecht Becc gives a highly skilled carpenter an honor price of 7 séts[3] . The honor price of a carpenter was base on their skill, thus a more skill carpenter would have a higher honor price. The Uraicecht Becc gives the following honor prices for differently skilled carpenters:

7 séts - skilled in one of the following: church-building, mill construction, boat-building, manufacturing bowls or cups

15 séts - has the ability to perform all the above skills.

20 séts - if the carpenter has all the above skills and any other qualifications. The carpenter also gains the class of 'chief expert write'[4] .

However for a blacksmith, although the honor price was also 7 séts, it was fixed. Because plows, spades and other essential tools used in food production were so important, blacksmiths were expected to know these skill sets and their honor price was not based on skill level. Other professions such as chariot builders and engravers had very low honor prices of 3 séts- less than that of a bóaire. Even lower than these professional ranks placed the comb maker and the leather worker whose honor prices were set at 1 dairt[5] .

Laws relating to accidents in the Bretha Étgid state that is a craftsman were to injure another while working, the craftsman is not held liable[6] . This law presumes that anyone who comes within the work place of a craftsman automatically recognizes they are endangering themselves. Thus, craftsman cannot be held liable for any accidental deaths or injuries near their work place. In the case a craftsman is illegally injured by another, the Críth Gablach entitles him to sick maintenance. In a situation such as this, the sick maintenance is set at half the rate due to whomever is employing the craftsman at the time.

Artisans in Literature

Táin Bó Cúilng

Cú Chulainn, on of the great worriers and heros of Irish sagas, was originally named Sétanta. When Sétanta was little, the king, Conchobhar noticed the boy's strength and invited him to a feast being held by the smith, Culann. On his way to the feast, Sétanta is attacked by the smith's huge dog. The boy kills the animal by jamming his ball into the its mouth and smashing its head against a rock. Upon hearing this news, Culann becomes enraged but Sétanta promisses to find a replacement watch dog and until then serve in its place. This is where Sétanta receives his name Cú Chulainn, meaning "Hound of Culann"[7] . A version of the story can be found here.
  1. ^
    Kock, John T. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia.
  2. ^
    Handy, Amber. "Profesional Classes" (Lecture, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, September 16, 2010).
  3. ^
    Fergus Kelly. A Guide to Early Irish Law, p 61-63.
  4. ^
    Fergus, Kelly. A Guide to Early Irish Law, p 61-63.
  5. ^
    Fergus. Kelly. A Guide to Early Irish Law, p 61-63.
  6. ^
    Corpus Iuris Hibernici ed. D.A. Binchy, Dublin.
  7. ^
    Carson, Ciaran. The Táin. Penguin Group. 2007.