Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Law of Adamnan

Iona Abbey
In 697, a law was adopted in the British Isles at a council in Birr, Ireland called the Law of Adamnan or the Law of the Innocents. It was drafted by Adamnan, the abbot of Iona, and accepted and guaranteed by forty clerical leaders and fifty-one civil leaders, including all the major rulers in Ireland and two kings from Scotland. The law forbade the practice of sending women into battles and fights, forbade the killing of non-combatants, including women, children, and clergy, and gave these non-combatants other protections as well. An early explanation of the law described the origin of the law in this way: 
“…women were in bondage and in slavery, until Adamnan, son of Ronan, son of Tinne, son of Aed, son of Colum, son of Lugaid, son of Setne, son of Fergus, son of Conall, son of Niall, came…

“The work which the best women had to do, was to go to battle and battlefield, encounter and camping, fighting and hosting, wounding and slaying. On one side of her she would carry her bag of provisions, on the other her babe. Her wooden pole upon her back. Thirty feet long it was, and had on one end an iron hook, which she would thrust into the tress of some woman in the opposite battalion. Her husband behind her, carrying a fence-stake in his hand, and flogging her on to battle. …

“Now after the coming of Adamnan no woman is deprived of her testimony, if it be bound in righteous deeds. For a mother is a venerable treasure, a mother is a goodly treasure, the mother of saints and bishops and righteous men, an increase in the Kingdom of Heaven, a propagation on earth…

“This is the beginning of the story. Once Adamnan and his mother were wending their way by Ath Drochait in Uaithne in Ui Aido Odba in the south of Bregia. ‘Come upon my back, dear mother!’ saith he. ‘I shall not go’, saith she. ‘What is this? what ails you?’, saith he. ‘Because you are not a dutiful son’, saith she. ‘Who is more dutiful than I am? since I put a girdle upon my breast, carrying you about from place to place, keeping you from dirt and wet. I know of no duty which a son of a man could do to his mother that I do not do for you, except the humming tune which women perform ..... Because I cannot perform that tune, I will have a sweet-sounding harp made for you, to play to you, with a strap of bronze out of it’. ‘Even so’, she said. ‘Your dutifulness were good; however, that is not the duty I desire, but that you should free women for me from encounter, from camping, from fighting, from hosting, from wounding, from slaying, from the bondage of the cauldron [another cruel practice described in the document].’”
Other similar reforms of warfare would take place during the Middle Ages, such as in the “Peace of God” in 10th century France. Yet in our own day there is a bill awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate that inclusion a provision that would require women to register for the draft. Will we abandon our good heritage and fall back into the ways of the days before Adamnan, forcing women into combat?

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