My beloved husband is my most steadfast writing critic. He suggested yesterday’s post on the Brehon Laws and dog ordure was a bit heavy. Or at least heavier than my usual tone. So here is something a bit lighter. This piece, written by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan, is from a fabulous book of children’s poems by Irish poets, Something Beginning With P. Seems altogether appropriate in many ways.
I know your dog is old and weary
for him his days grow slow and dreary
his legs are stiff, he stops and staggers
his tail now only limply waggers
his eyes, like mine have deepening baggers
but still he does his job for you – deposits
large and juicy poos.
Please, dear Neighbour, do me one favour
it is a point I fain would labour
those doggy shits I do no savour-
There is a saying that it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but about the size of the fight in the dog. However in this case it is about the size of the dog, and more specifically the size of his turds.
In earlier posts I’ve broached the subject of Ireland’s Brehon Laws. Although they were considered more codes than laws, these guidelines for living together in community were not imported from England nor based on either Greek or Roman law. Rather they emerged from the tribes, changed and shaped as necessary to respond to needs and situations. While there were judges to arbitrate in the most difficult of cases, generally it was up to the community to sort thing out, including matters of compensation. Left to this system of community arbitration the codes became both complex and incredibly detailed.
I am making my way through a book about the Brehon Laws written in 1879. Over 600 pages and it only covers some of the laws. The author writes, “The most extraordinary discussion is reserved for the case of dogs, the authors of which were certainly devoid of any sense of the ridiculous.” So that there is no question of any exaggeration on my part, I will quote directly. This deals with dog trespass and specifically the trespass involved in his depositing his ordure on the land of an adjoining owner.
What is required by law is to remove the dog’s ordure out of the ground as far as its juice is found, and it (the ground) is to be pressed and stamped upon with the heel, and fine clay of the same nature is to be put there as compensation. This is the test of reparation: that two horses of a chariot in yoke come there and graze there, and if no part of the sod of grass stick to their teeth in grazing on it the reparation is complete. And three times the size of the ordure is due for compensation, and its size of butter and its size of dough and its size of curds.
At 113 pounds our dog Ema, pictured above, is a large dog. I can only imagine the quantity of curds we would need to have on hand.
Yes, I find this humorous and more than a bit bizarre. At the same time what I find intriguing is that this seemly absurd level of detail became and stayed part of the code. Back in the age of Brehon Law, Ireland’s tribes would gather every three years to compare notes and update the codes. I can only wonder that every three years would have been sufficient. Fascinating that we humans, railing against the complexities of modern day law as we do, when left to a process of natural evolution would evolve as much or more complexity.