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Authors: Peter Tremayne

Tags: #_NB_Fixed, #_rt_yes, #blt, #Clerical Sleuth, #Fiction, #Historical, #Mystery, #Medieval Ireland

Badger's Moon

BOOK: Badger's Moon
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For Denis, The O’Long of Garranelongy,
descendant of the Eoghanacht Prince Longadh,
eponymous ancestor of the O’Longs who was a
contemporary of Sister Fidelma, and for Lester,
Madam O’Long, with gratitude for their friendship
and hospitality.

May no demons, no ill, no calamity or terrifying dreams
Disturb our rest, our willing, prompt repose.

An Evening Prayer
ascribed to St Patrick, 5th century

Historical Note

The Sister Fidelma mysteries are set mainly in Ireland during the mid-seventh century AD.

Sister Fidelma is not simply a religieuse, a former member of the community of St Brigid of Kildare. She is also a qualified
dálaigh
, or advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland. As this background will not be familiar to many readers encountering the Sister Fidelma stories for the first time, this Historical Note is designed to provide a few essential points of reference to make the stories more appreciated.

The Ireland of Fidelma’s day consisted of five main provincial kingdoms; indeed, the modern Irish word for a province is still
cúige
, literally ‘a fifth’. Four provincial kings – of Ulaidh (Ulster), of Connacht, of Muman (Munster) and of Laigin (Leinster) – gave their qualified allegiance to the
Ard Rí
or High King, who ruled from Tara, in the ‘royal’ fifth province of Midhe (Meath), which means the ‘middle province’. Even among the provincial kingdoms, there was a decentralisation of power to petty kingdoms and clan territories.

The law of primogeniture, the inheritance by the eldest son or daughter, was an alien concept in Ireland. Kingship, from the lowliest clan chieftain to the High King, was only partially hereditary and mainly electoral. Each ruler had to prove him or herself worthy of office and was elected by the
derbfhine
of their family – a minimum of three generations from a common ancestor gathered in conclave. If a ruler did not pursue the commonwealth of the people, he was impeached and removed from office. Therefore the monarchical system of ancient Ireland had more in common with a modern day republic than with the feudal monarchies which had developed in medieval Europe.

Ireland, in the seventh century AD, was governed by a system of sophisticated laws called the Laws of the Fénechus, or land-tillers, which became more popularly known as the Brehon Laws, deriving from the word
breaitheamh
– a judge. Tradition has it that these laws were first gathered in 714 BC by order of the High King, Ollamh Fódhla. Over a thousand years later, in AD 438, the High King, Laoghaire, appointed a commission of nine learned people to study, revise and commit the laws to the new writing in Latin characters. One of those serving on the commission was Patrick, eventually to become patron saint of Ireland. After three years, the commission produced a written text of the laws, which is their first known codification.

The first complete surviving texts of the ancient laws of Ireland are preserved in an eleventh-century manuscript book in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. It was not until the seventeenth century that the English colonial administration in Ireland finally suppressed the use of the Brehon law system. To even possess a copy of the Irish law books was punishable often by death or transportation.

The law system was not static and every three years, at the Féis Temhach (Festival of Tara), the lawyers and administrators gathered to consider and revise the laws in the light of changing society and its needs.

Under these laws, women occupied a unique place. The Irish laws gave more rights and protection to women than any other western law code at that time or until recent times. Women could, and did, aspire to all offices and professions as co-equal with men. They could be political leaders, command their people in battle as warriors, be physicians, poets, artisans, local magistrates, lawyers and judges. We know the names of many female judges of Fidelma’s period – Bríg Briugaid, Áine Ingine Iugaire and Darí among others. Darí, for example, was not only a judge but also the author of a noted law text written in the sixth century AD.

Women were protected by law against sexual harassment, against discrimination and against rape. They had the right of divorce on equal terms from their husbands, with equitable separation laws, and could demand part of their husband’s property as a divorce settlement; they had the right of inheritance of personal property and the right of sickness benefits when ill or hospitalised. Ancient Ireland had Europe’s oldest recorded system of hospitals. Seen from today’s perspective, the Brehon Laws might appear to enshrine an almost ideal society.

Fidelma went to study law at the bardic school of the Brehon Morann of Tara and, after eight years of study, she obtained the degree of
anruth
, only one degree below the highest offered in either bardic or ecclesiastical universities in ancient Ireland. The highest degree was
ollamh
, which is still the modern Irish word for a professor. Fidelma’s studies were in both the criminal code of the
Senchus Mór
and the civil code of the
Leabhar Acaill
. Thereby she became a
dálaigh
or advocate of the law courts.

Her main role could be compared to a modern Scottish sheriff-substitute whose job is to gather and assess the evidence, independent of the police, to see if there is a case to be answered. The modern French
juge d’instruction
holds a similar role. However, sometimes Fidelma is faced with the task of prosecuting in the courts, of defending or even rendering judgements in minor cases when a Brehon was not available.

In those days most of the professional or intellectual classes were members of the new Christian religious houses, just as, in previous centuries, all intellectuals and members of the professions had been Druids. Fidelma became a member of the religious community of Kildare, established in the late fifth century by St Brigid. But by the time the action of this story takes place, Fidelma has left Kildare in disillusionment. The reason why may be found in the title story of the short story collection
Hemlock At Vespers
.

While the seventh century is considered part of the European Dark Ages, for Ireland it was the period of Golden Enlightenment. Students from every corner of Europe flocked to the Irish secular and ecclesiastic colleges to receive their education, including the sons of many of the Anglo-Saxon kings. At the great ecclesiastical university of Durrow at this time, it is recorded that no fewer than eighteen different nations were represented among the students. At the same time, Irish male and female missionaries were setting out to return Europe to Christianity, as it had fallen to the pagan invasions. They established churches, monasteries, and centres of learning as far east as Kiev, in the Ukraine, as far north as the Faroes, and as far south as Taranto in southern Italy. Ireland was a byword for literacy and learning.

However, what we now call the Celtic Church was in constant dispute with Rome on matters of liturgy and ritual. Rome had begun to reform itself in the fourth century, changing its dating of Easter and aspects of its liturgy. The Celtic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church maintained their independence from Rome in such matters. The Celtic Church of Ireland, during Fidelma’s time, was much concerned with this conflict so that it is impossible to write on church matters without referring to the philosophical warfare between them.

One thing that was shared by both the Celtic Church and Rome in the seventh century was that the concept of celibacy was not universal. In spite of previous explanations on this matter, however, a few readers were surprised when in
The Haunted Abbor
it was revealed that Sister Fidelma and her companion Brother Eadulf had undertaken one of the nine legal forms of marriage under Irish law.

While there were always ascetics in the churches who sublimated physical love in dedication to the deity, it was not until the Council of Nice in AD 325 that clerical marriages were condemned (but not banned) by the hierarchy of the Western Church. Celibacy was not a popular concept. It arose in Rome mainly from the customs practised by the pagan priestesses of Vesta and the priests of Diana, which became an inheritance of Roman culture.

By the fifth century, Rome had forbidden its clerics from the rank of abbot and bishop to sleep with their wives – implying they were still marrying – and, shortly after, even to marry at all. The main reason appears to be property concerns, for Pope Pelagius I (AD 536–61) decreed that sons of priests should not be allowed to inherit church property. The general clergy were discouraged from marrying by Rome but not expressly forbidden to do so.

The celibacy lobby in Rome became strong and it was Peter Damian (AD 1000–1072), a leading theologian whose writings reveal him to be a misogynist, who became a major influence and persuaded Pope Leo IX (AD 1049–54) to enforce celibacy on all clergy. Leo IX ordered the wives of priests to be sent as slaves to Rome for the Pope to ‘dispose of’. In AD 1139, Innocent II tried a softer approach by requesting all priests to divorce their wives. But Pope Urban II, in AD 1189, decreed that wives of priests could be seized and sold as slaves by any of the European feudal lords. The priests fought back. It took Rome a long time to enforce universal celibacy. The Celtic Church took centuries to give up its anti-celibacy and fall in line with Rome, while in the Eastern Orthodox Church priests below the rank of abbot and bishop have retained their right to marry until this day.

An awareness of these facts concerning the liberal attitudes towards sexual relations in the Celtic Church is essential towards understanding the background to the Fidelma stories.

The condemnation of the ‘sin of the flesh’ remained alien to the Celtic Church for a long time after Rome’s attitude became a dogma. In Fidelma’s world, both sexes inhabited abbeys and monastic foundations, which were known as
conhospitae
, or double houses, where men and women lived raising their children in Christ’s service.

Fidelma’s own house of St Brigid of Kildare was one such community of both sexes during her time. When Brigid established her community of Kildare (
Cill Dara
– church of the oaks) she invited a bishop named Conláed to join her. Her first surviving biography, completed fifty years after her death in AD 650, during Fidelma’s lifetime, was written by a monk of Kildare named Cogitosis, who makes it clear that it continued to be a mixed community after her death.

It should also be pointed out, demonstrating their co-equal role with men, that women were priests of the Celtic Church in this period. Brigid herself was ordained a bishop by Patrick’s nephew, Mel, and her case was not unique. In the sixth century, Rome actually wrote a protest at the Celtic practice of allowing women to celebrate the divine sacrifice of Mass.

Unlike the Roman Church, the Irish Church did not have a system of ‘confessors’ where ‘sins’ had to be confessed to clerics who then had the authority to absolve the penitent of those sins in Christ’s name. Instead, people chose a ‘soul friend’ (
anam cham
), clerical or lay, with whom they discussed matters of emotional and spiritual well-being.

To help readers more readily identify personal names, a list of the principal characters is given.

In response to the numerous readers who have asked for help in pronouncing the Irish names and words, I have included a pronunciation guide.

Thus armed, we may now enter Fidelma’s world. The events of this story take place in AD 667 in the days following the night known as
Gelach a’ bhruic
, the Badger’s Moon, which is the full moon of October in whose light the ancient Irish believed that the badger dried grass to build its nest.

Pronunciation Guide

As the Fidelma series has become increasingly popular, many English-speaking fans have written wanting assurance about the way to pronounce the Irish names and words.

Irish belongs to the Celtic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It is closely related to Manx and Scottish Gaelic and a cousin of Welsh, Cornish and Breton. It is a very old European literary language. Professor Calvert Watkins of Harvard maintained it contains Europe’s oldest
vernacular
literature, Greek and Latin being a
lingua franca
. Surviving texts date from the seventh century AD.

The Irish of Fidelma’s period is classed as Old Irish; after AD 950 the language entered a period known as Middle Irish. Therefore, in the Fidelma books, Old Irish forms are generally adhered to, whenever possible, in both names and words. This is like using Chaucer’s English compared to modern English. For example, a word such as
aidche
(‘night’) in Old Irish is now rendered
oiche
in modern Irish.

There are only eighteen letters in the Irish alphabet. From earliest times there has been a literary standard but today four distinct spoken dialects are recognised. For our purposes, we will keep to Fidelma’s dialect of Munster.

It is a general rule that stress is placed on the first syllable but, as in all languages, there are exceptions. In Munster the exceptions to the rule of initial stress are a) if the second syllable is long then it bears the stress; b) if the first two syllables are short and the third is long then the third syllable is stressed – such as in the word for fool,
amadán
, pronounced amad-awn; and c) where the second syllable contains ach and there is no long syllable, the second syllable bears the stress.

There are five short vowels – a, e, i, o, u – and five long vowels – á, é, í, ó, ú. On the long vowels note the accent, like the French acute, which is called a
fada
(literally, ‘long’), and this is the only accent in Irish. It occurs on capitals as well as lower case.

The accent is important for, depending on where it is placed, it changes the entire word.
Seán
(Shawn) = John. But
sean
(shan) = old and
séan
(she-an) = an omen. By leaving out the accent on his name, the actor Sean Connery has become ‘Old’ Connery!

These short and long vowels are either ‘broad’ or ‘slender’. The six broad vowels are:

a pronounced ‘o’ as in cot á pronounced ‘aw’ as in law

o pronounced ‘u’ as in cut ó pronounced ‘o’ as in low

u pronounced ‘u’ as in run ú pronounced ‘u’ as in rule

The four slender vowels are:

i pronounced ‘i’ as in hit í pronounced ‘ee’ as in see

e pronounced ‘e’ as in let é pronounced ‘ay’ as in say

There are double vowels, some of which are fairly easy because they compare to English pronunciation – such as ‘ae’ as s
ay
or ‘ui’ as in q
ui
t. However, some double and even triple vowels in Irish need to be learnt.

ái pronounced like ‘aw’ in law (
dálaigh
= daw-lee)

ia pronounced like ‘ea’ in near

io pronounced like ‘o’ in come

éa pronounced like ‘ea’ in bear

ei pronounced like ‘e’ in let

aoi pronounced like the ‘ea’ in mean

uai pronounced like the ‘ue’ in blue

eoi pronounced like the ‘eo’ in yeoman

iai pronounced like the ‘ee’ in see

Hidden vowels

Most people will have noticed that many Irish people pronounce the word film as fil-um. This is actually a transference of Irish pronunciation rules. When
l
,
n
or
r
is followed by
b
,
bh
,
ch
,
g
(not after
n
),
m
or
mh
, and is preceded by a short stressed vowel, an additional vowel is heard between them. So
bolg
(stomach) is pronounced bol-ag;
garbh
(rough) is gar-ev;
dorcha
(dark) is dor-ach-a;
gorm
(blue) is gor-um and
ainm
(name) is an-im.

The consonants

b
,
d
,
f
,
h
,
l
,
m
,
n
,
p
,
r
and
t
are said more or less as in English

g
is always hard like the ‘g’ in gate

c
is always hard like the ‘c’ in cat

s
is pronounced like the ‘s’ in said except before a slender vowel

when it is pronounced ‘sh’ as in shin

In Irish the letters
j
,
k
,
q
,
w
,
x
,
y
or
z
do not exist and
v
is formed by the combination of
bh
.

Consonants can change their sound by aspiration or eclipse. Aspiration is caused by using the letter
h
after them.

bh
is like the ‘v’ in voice

ch
is a soft breath as in loch (not pronounced as lock!) or as in Ba
ch

dh
before a broad vowel is like the ‘g’ in gap

dh
before a slender vowel is like the ‘y’ in year

fh
is totally silent

gh
before a slender vowel can sound like ‘y’ as in yet

mh
is pronounced like the ‘w’ in wall

ph
is like the ‘f’ in fall

th
is like the ‘h’ in ham

sh
is also like the ‘h’ in ham

Consonants can also change their sound by being eclipsed, or silenced, by another consonant placed before it. For example
na mBan
(of women) is pronounced nah
m
’on;
i bpaipéar
(in the paper) i
b
’ap’er and
i gcathair
(in the city) i
g
’a’har.

p
can be eclipsed by
b
,
t

t
can be eclipsed by
d

c
can be eclipsed by
g

f
can be eclipsed by
bh

b
can be eclipsed by
m

d
and
g
can be eclipsed by
n

For those interested in learning more about the language, it is worth remembering that, after centuries of suppression during the colonial period, Irish became the first official language of the Irish state on independence in 1922. The last published census of 1991 showed one third of the population returning themselves as Irish-speaking. In Northern Ireland, where the language continued to be openly discouraged after Partition in 1922, only 10.5 per cent of the population were able to speak the language in 1991, the first time an enumeration of speakers was allowed since Partition.

Language courses are now available on video and audio-cassette from a range of producers from Linguaphone to RTÉ and BBC. There are some sixty summer schools and special intensive courses available. Teilifís na Gaeilge is a television station broadcasting entirely in Irish and there are several Irish language radio stations and newspapers. Information can be obtained from Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, 46 Sráid Chill Dara, Baile Atha Cliath 2, Éire.

Readers might also like to know that
Valley of the Shadow
, in the Fidelma series, was produced on audio-cassette, read by Marie McCarthy, from Magna Story Sound (SS391 – ISBN 1-85903-313-X).

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