The legal backdrop to this story is that pre-industrial peoples
generally followed ancient law, ie, natural or common law, that held
that a person had a right to a piece of land only as long as he used it.
When he moved on, he lost his claim to it. Years ago when I got into the
middle of a travellers dispute in Dublin as a journalist, an Irish
traveller explained to me what he called Romanistan: "Because I *am*
here, I have the right to *be* here." The concept of private ownership
of land, apart from the king owning the whole country, only entered the
English law books in the 16th century. The New World natives fell foul
of this innovation when the Europeans offered to buy land from them: "We
belong to the land; she doesn't belong to us."

The story in question seems to fly in the face of this convention and is
perhaps quoted as a sort of case law as a precedent. According to
convention, Ninne & Co. were trespassing, and by unharnessing the horses
were laying claim to the land. Pretending they didn't mean to claim the
land by this action
seems disingenuous. This custom comes up in other stories. For example,
Foill mac Nechtain was quick to tell Ibar not to unharness the horses
when young Cúchulainn was on his weapon-reddening excursion. The fact
that Ninne's people had occupied the land previously clouds the issue,
but since they had left so long ago that Ninne could plausibly pretend
that he didn't know this, the current occupier had a stronger claim, and
he was right to tell Ninne's group to remove their horses in order to
protect his claim.

Would Ninne be related to Cet mac Matach of Connacht, scourge of the
Ulstermen, the bully in the story of Mac Datho's Pig faced down by
Conall Cearnach? If so, Conchobar would have been tempted to rewrite the
law to nip any Clan Matach immigration in the bud.

Richard Marsh

----- Original Message -----
From: Neil McLeod <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2002 7:06 AM
Subject: Re: a short legal story

> At 23:00 26/06/02 +0200, David wrote:
> > ... The story appears twice in commentaries to the legal text Din
> >Techtugud "On Taking Possession of Land", in CIH iii 907.36-908.6 (=
> >and in CIH v 1859.6-15 (= D). I am not aware that any edition or
> >has been made of this short story so far; but if any
> exists,
> >please tell me so: I'd be the more happy.
> The passage at CIH 1859.6f is printed (at pp 4 and 6) and translated
(at pp
> 5 and 7) in volume iv of the Ancient Laws of Ireland (AL).
> Here is the translation as published in AL. (Words in square brackets
> printed in italics in AL.)
> "Ninne, son of Matech, [one] of the Feini, went northwards into the
> of the Uladh with three horsemen to visit friends, and they
> their horses in a land which had previously belonged to their tribe,
> it was not to demand a share therein; and the person whose land it was
> to them, take away your horses from the land. Then the two who were
> Ninne replied: it does not make our claim greater that we have
> our horses here; it is not to claim a share therein. This is not easy
> it was your own before; they shall not be [left] there for that
> They did not know until then that the land had been theirs before.
They did
> not remove their horses from thence. The person whose land it was then
> drove their horses from it by force. They afterwards applied to
> Mac Nessa concerning it, and he awarded a fine for unlawful expulsion
> the person who drove the horses out of the land, and an equivalent of
> was driven off it, and he gave them lands in proportion to their
> Kind regards,
> Neil
> ----------------------------------------------
> Professor Neil McLeod
> School of Law, Murdoch University
> Murdoch, 6150, AUSTRALIA
> ([log in to unmask])
> Ph (08) 9360 2981, Fax (08) 9310 6671