Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brehon Laws - Mental Health

The Ancient Irish had laws on mental health and disability. Heavy fines were imposed on anyone mocking the disabled. Below is a relevant extract from “Medicine and early Irish law” by F. Kelly

The Brehon laws distinguish between a person who is mentally retarded (drúth), deranged (mer) or violently insane (dásachtach). The law texts contain no references to specific treatment for mental illness. Their main concern is that such individuals should not be exploited: one text states that “the rights of the insane precede all other rights”. Hence a contract with a person of unsound mind is invalid, and anyone who incites a drúth to commit a crime must himself pay the fine.

A man who impregnates a deranged woman is solely responsible for rearing the offspring, as is anyone who mischievously allows two insane persons to mate. In most circumstances, responsibility for crimes by the insane devolves on his or her guardian, generally a close relative. Society must be protected from the dangerously insane, hence a dásachtach should be tied up when he poses a threat to others. An epileptic (talmaidech) enjoys full legal competence, provided he is of sound mind. However, he must be watched over by a guardian to prevent injury to himself or to others during fits. A heavy fine is levied on anyone who mocks the disability of an epileptic, a leper, or one who is lame, blind or deaf.  


  1. Do we (our) society have the same laws?

  2. Would you be willing to please provide your source for this information? I have not found any text online which corroborates the exact statements you make and I would like to conduct further research. Thank you.

    1. The original source is the corpus iuris hibernici, but since that is hard to get your hands on I suggest Kelly's "A Guide to Early Irish Law" which covers the topic and should have footnotes to the relevant portions of the CIH.