CHAPTER V. SOCIAL CONDITION OF THE IRISH PREVIOUS TO THE NORMAN INVASION.
The total population of Ireland, when the Normans first entered it, can only be approximated by conjecture. Supposing the whole force with which Roderick and his allies invested the Normans in Dublin, to be, as stated by a cotemporary writer, some 50,000 men, and that that force included one-fourth of all the men of the military age in the country; and further, supposing the men of military age to bear the proportion of one-fifth to the whole number of inhabitants, this would give a total population of about one million. Even this conjecture is to be taken with great diffidence and distrust, but, for the sake of clearness, it is set down as a possible Irish census, towards the close of the twelfth century.
This population was divided into two great classes, the Saer-Clanna, or free tribes, chiefly, if not exclusively, of Milesian race; and the Daer-Clanna, or unfree tribes, consisting of the descendants of the subjugated older races, or of clans once free, reduced to servitude by the sword, or of the posterity of foreign mercenary soldiers. Of the free clans, the most illustrious were those of whose Princes we have traced the record - the descendants of Nial in Ulster and Meath, of Cathaeir More in Leinster, of Oliold in Munster, and of Eochaid in Connaught. An arbitrary division once limited the free clans to six in the southern half-kingdom, and six in the north; and the unfree also to six. But Geoffrey Keating, whose love of truth was quite as strong as his credulity in ancient legends - and that is saying much - disclaimed that classification, and collected his genealogies from principal heads - branching out into three families of tribes, descended from Eber Finn, one from Ir, and four from Eremhon, sons of Milesians of Spain; and ninth tribe sprung from Ith, granduncle to the sons of Milesius. The principal Eberian families' names were McCarthy, O'Sullivan, O'Mahony, O'Donovan, O'Brien, O'Dea, O'Quin, McMahon (of Clare), McNamara, O'Carroll (of Ely), and O'Gara; the Irian families were Magennis, O'Farrall, and O'Conor (of Kerry); the posterity of Eremhon branched out into the O'Neils, O'Donnells, O'Dohertys, O'Gallahers, O'Boyles, McGeoghegans, O'Conors (of Connaught), O'Flahertys, O'Heynes, O'Shaughnessys, O'Clerys, O'Dowdas, McDonalds (of Antrim), O'Kellys, Maguires, Kavanaghs, Fitzpatricks, O'Dwyers, and O'Conors (of Offally). The chief families of Ithian origin were the O'Driscolls, O'Learys, Coffeys, and Clancys. Out of the greater tribes many subdivisions arose from time to time, when new names were coined for some intermediate ancestor; but the farther enumeration of these may be conveniently dispensed with.
The Daer-Clanna, or unfree tribes, have left no history. Under the despotism of the Milesian kings, it was high treason to record the actions of the conquered race; so that the Irish Belgae fared as badly in this respect, at the hands of the Milesian historians, as the latter fared in after times from the chroniclers of the Normans. We only know that such tribes were, and that their numbers and physical force more than once excited the apprehension of the children of the conquerors. What proportion they bore to the Saer-Clanna we have no positive data to determine. A fourth, a fifth, or a sixth, they may have been; but one thing is certain, the jealous policy of the superior race never permitted them to reascend the plane of equality, from which they had been hurled, at the very commencement of the Milesian ascendency.
In addition to the enslaved by conquest and the enslaved by crime, there were also the enslaved by purchase. From the earliest period, slave dealers from Ireland had frequented Bristol, the great British slave market, to purchase human beings. Christian morality, though it may have mitigated the horrors of this odious traffic, did not at once lead to its abolition. In vain Saint Wulfstan preached against it in the South, as Saint Aidan had done long before him in the North of England. Files of fair-haired Saxon slaves, of both sexes, yoked together with ropes, continued to be shipped at Bristol, and bondmen and bondwomen continued to be articles of value - exchanged between the Prince and his subordinates, as stipend or tribute. The King of Cashel alone gave to the chief of the Eugenians, as part of his annual stipend, ten bondmen and ten women; to the lord of Bruree, seven pages and seven bondwomen; to the lord of Deisi, eight slaves of each sex, and seven female slaves to the lord of Kerry; among the items which make up the tribute from Ossory to Cashel are ten bondmen and ten grown women; and from the Deisi, eight bondmen and eight "brown-haired" women. The annual exchanges of this description, set down as due in the Book of Rights, would require the transfer of several hundreds of slaves yearly, from one set of masters to another. Cruelties and outrages must have been inseparable from the system, and we can hardly wonder at the sweeping decree by which the Synod of Armagh (A.D. 1171) declared all the English slaves in Ireland free to return to their homes, and anathematized the whole inhuman traffic. The fathers of that council looked upon the Norman invasion as a punishment from Heaven on the slave trade; for they believed in their purity of heart, that power is transferred from one nation to another, because of injustices, oppressions, and divers deceits.