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Once again Skene argues, “By the law of Tanistic succession in Ireland, the right of hereditary succession was not in the individual, but in the family to which he belonged. That is, it was hereditary in the family, elective in the individual.”

When a Saint founds a Monastery the two tribes involved are in the Brehon Laws termed respectively the Fine Grin, or Tribe of the Land, that is the tribe to whom the land belonged; and the Fine Erluma, or Tribe of the Saint, that is the tribe to whom the patron saint, or founder, belonged.

Church of the Tribe of the Saint and of the Land.

When the founder of the monastery belonged to the same tribe, or family, as the owner of the land which had been granted to him, the abbacy remained with this family, who provided from among the members of it a person duly qualified to fulfill the functions of abbot.

There was thus connected with each monastery, to use the words of Dr. Reeves, a 'Plebilis progenies,' or lay family, in whom the tenancy of the lands was vested, possessing a regular succession, and furnishing from its members certain Coarbs, or successors, to the first abbot,' who formed the 'Ecclesiastica progenies,' and who, being unmarried, exhibit no lineal succession. In fact, the rule was, on each avoidance of the abbacy, to fill up the situation from founders' kin, and, failing a qualified person in the direct line, to choose a successor from a collateral branch.' 

The monastery of Derry is an instance of this. Aedh, son of Ainmire, the king of Ireland who granted the land, and Columba, the saint who founded the monastery, both 'belonged to the same tribe-that of the Cinel Conaill. 

The rule is thus stated in the Brehon Laws: ‘When it is a Church of the Tribe of the Land and the Church of the Tribe of the Saint- and of the Land at the same time. That is, the tribe of the land succeeds to the church- that is, the tribe of the saint and the tribe of the land are one tribe in this case, and the saint is on his own land.’

Church of the Tribe of the Saint and Not of the Land.

When, however, the saint who founded the monastery belonged to a different tribe from that of the chief from whom the grant was obtained and in whose tribe it was founded, the succession to the abbacy was often retained by the family to whom the saint belonged, from the members of which the abbot was in the same manner supplied. 

The monastery of Drumcliffe is an instance of this. It was founded by Columba in a district which belonged to a stranger tribe, and in the old Irish Life it is said that 'he gave the authority, and the clergy and the succession to the Cinel Conaill for ever’ --that is, to his own tribe. When this was the case, instead of the same tribe forming a lay and ecclesiastical ‘progenies’, or family, the two families connected with the succession-the tribe of the land and the tribe of the saint- were different, and the following is the rule in the Brehon Laws:-

‘The Church of the Tribe of the Saint. That is, the tribe of the Saint shall succeed in the Church as long as there shall be a person fit to be an abbot (Damna Apaidh, or materies of an abbot), of the tribe of the saint, even though there should be but a psalm-singer of these, it is he that will obtain the abbacy. Where this is not the case it is to be given to, the tribe of the land until a person fit to be an abbot, of the tribe of the saint, shall be found; and when he is, it is to be given to him if he be better than the abbot of the tribe of the land who has taken it. If he be not better, he shall take it only in his turn. If a person fit to be an abbot has not come of the tribe of the saint or of the tribe of the land, the abbacy is to 'be given to the tribe of the monks (Fine Manach), until a person fit to be an abbot, of the tribe of the saint or of the tribe of the land, shall be found; and where there is such, he is preferable.” WS Skene Vol 2 Church and Culture p67ff

 

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