Discover biodiversity through the 8th century Brehon Laws.


Bryan Leech invites you to explore the Celtic Woodland Walk at Kilgraney House and Herb Gardens, where the 8th century Brehon laws come to life amidst the lush greenery.

In this blog, Bryan embarks on a journey to uncover the rules, customs and cultural significance of our ancestors in writing the Brehon Laws. Visit these very special herbal gardens and connect with the rich heritage of Ireland’s trees in this very special gardening attraction.

Brehon Laws

In the misty annals of Irish legal history lies a remarkable document known as the Brehon Laws. Dating back to the 8th century, these laws offer a fascinating glimpse into the legal and social framework of early medieval Ireland.

In many respects Brehon law was quite progressive. It recognised divorce and equal rights between the genders and, interestingly, showed concern for the environment. Among the myriad subjects covered by the Brehon Laws, one particularly intriguing aspect is their treatment of native species of plants and trees.

The Importance of Trees

Trees held a multifaceted importance in ancient Ireland, permeating every aspect of society. They provided essential resources for survival, including timber for construction, firewood for warmth, and fruits for sustenance. Moreover, trees held symbolic and spiritual significance, featuring prominently in myth, folklore, and religious rituals.

In 2012, we developed a woodland walk garden at Kilgraney House and the trees and shrubs were planted in groups to reflect the classifications within the Brehon Laws. The laws outlined four classes of tree, roughly mirroring classes in early Irish society. These were the airig fedo (‘nobles of the wood’), the aithig fedo (‘commoners of the wood’), the fodla fedo (‘lower divisions of the wood’) and the losa fedo (‘bushes of the wood’).

Legal Protection of Trees

Central to the Brehon Laws was the concept of ownership and protection of trees. Landowners held rights over the trees growing on their land, but tenants also had certain privileges and responsibilities regarding tree management. Regulations were in place to prevent indiscriminate tree cutting and to ensure sustainable use of forest resources.

The Brehon Laws recognised various types of trees, each with its own set of uses and regulations. Oak, ash, and yew were prized for their timber, while fruit trees like apple and pear provided food and drink. Certain trees, such as the sacred hazel, held spiritual significance and were protected from harm.

Disputes over trees were not uncommon in ancient Ireland, and the Brehon Laws provided a framework for resolving such conflicts. Mediation and arbitration were preferred methods, with trained legal experts known as Brehons facilitating negotiations between parties. Restitution, compensation, or fines could be imposed to resolve disputes and restore harmony.

Early Irish Society

Although the Brehon Laws were eventually supplanted by English common law, their legacy endured in Irish legal tradition. Elements of Brehon law continued to influence local customs and practices long after their formal abolition. Today, scholars and historians continue to study the Brehon Laws to glean insights into early Irish society and governance.

The Brehon Laws offer a fascinating window into the legal treatment of trees in ancient Ireland. Through their provisions on ownership, protection, and dispute resolution, these laws reflect the intricate relationship between humans and the natural world. By exploring the Brehon Laws, we gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, economic, and spiritual significance of trees in early Irish society.

Come and explore the Celtic Woodland Walk at Kilgraney House and journey through the 8th century Brehon Laws. Take the time to reflect on the timeless wisdom embedded within these ancient texts and the enduring legacy they left behind.