By Paul F. State
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Additional info for A Brief History of Ireland
Later tales tell of Medb’s return to Ulster, the death of Cúchulainn, who is betrayed by a war goddess whose amorous advances he has rejected, and the ultimate triumph of Medb. small level area enclosed by a circular earthen bank and ditch. The “fairy forts” of Irish folklore, the raths, were typically scattered single-family units with room for houses—usually wooden-framed and frequently circular—and for storage spaces and a pen for animals. Patterned after 12 Beginnings to the End of Pagan Ireland similar types of enclosed dwellings long present on the island, this continuity indicates that the Celts were heavily influenced by the society they found already in existence.
Land was the basis of wealth, and it would be redistributed on the death of a member of the derbfhine to remaining members. Equally, succession to kingship was based on the derbfhine—any male member of a king’s extended family, including a brother, son, uncle, or nephew, was eligible to assume a newly vacant throne, his selection based on rituals to test a candidate’s fitness. Rituals varied and might include, for example, a royal chariot ride in which the candidate would have to prove a worthy passenger and a royal mantle that would have to be the right size to fit the candidate.
Kingship was hierarchical—most of the petty kings paid tribute under the rule of a greater lord—and Irish law recognized three grades of king: the ruler of a single small kingdom (rí túaithe); the ruler of several small kingdoms (overking; rúiri or rí túath); and, at the summit, the ruler of many kingdoms (provincial overking; rí ruirech or rí cóicid). By the end of the Iron Age these last types of rulerships had emerged into five federations, the so-called Five Fifths—Ulaid (Ulster), Connachta (Connacht), Munha (Munster), Laigin (Leinster), and Mide (Meath).
A Brief History of Ireland by Paul F. State