14 Strange Irish laws that will have you saying ‘huh?’

By Emma Grove / February 10, 2020
Strange Irish Laws

Most countries and regions have some pretty wacky historical laws. Last year VICE published a Youtube video poking fun at some of the UK’s most ridiculously archaic laws, but what about Ireland? From regulations leprechaun etiquette or enabling free booze, Ireland’s strange historical laws are sure to leave you saying, “huh? Why?” Curious? Read more to find out!

From 2003 to 2016, the Irish government enacted ‘The Statute Law Revision Bill,’ a bill in which lawmakers repealed or replaced over 60,000 archaic laws, many of which were remnants of British colonisation. For example, with the passage of this law, it was made illegal to punish an individual for perjury by putting them in the stocks for harassment and ridicule. That was only made illegal within this century! There are a whole bunch of strange Irish laws, so we at Babylon Radio have assembled a list of some of the oldest and weirdest ones! Enjoy!

Brehon Laws

The Brehon Laws were the native laws in Ireland that persisted until the 17th century when they were replaced by English Common Law. These laws were developed from the local customs which had been passed down orally for generations and were administered by the Brehons, meaning ‘judges’. While many of these laws are seen as very progressive for their time, there are many odd ones included in this ancient legislation. Here are a couple strange ancient Irish laws for you to ponder:

  1. If a pregnant woman craves a morsel of food and her husband withholds it through stinginess or neglect, he must pay a fine
  2. A cow must not be exposed to wild dogs or pirates.
  3. No fools, drunks, or female scolds are allowed in the doctor’s house when a patient is healing there. No bad news may be brought and there must be no talking across his bed. Also there must be no pigs grunting or dogs barking outside. 
  4. A layman may drink six pints with his dinner but a monk must only drink three pints. This was so he could return to prayer un-intoxicated. 
  5. A husband and wife may walk away from a marriage on the first of February. It is unknown why this date in particular was chosen, but at least they had some kind of divorce.
  6. When you become old your family must provide you with one oatcake a day plus a container of sour milk.

Trinity College’s Laws

Even the universities in Ireland have certain laws, and some of them are truly bizarre. Here are two of my favourite strange Irish laws from Trinity College Dublin:

It is illegal for a student to walk through Trinity College without their sword.

Not sure this one has ever been enforced through. It seems a tad dangerous.

Students of Trinity College have the right to demand a glass of wine during an exam.

You can demand it but you might not receive it, but why not exercise your right to demand wine! After all, how often do you get to do that?

Other strange Irish laws

The Tippling Act of 1735

Unfortunately this law has since been repealed, however back in its heyday, The Tippling Act made it so that landlord’s could not demand money owed for ale. It was initially enacted to stop servants stealing from their masters to pay off their tabs, but in true Irish fashion it resulted in peasants drinking for free. R.I.P. Tippling Act, I never knew you but I miss you.

The Freeman and Freewoman’s honour of allowing their sheep graze in the city of Dublin

In Dublin, those who are bestowed the award of the Freedom of the City, where the Lord mayor,  “acknowledges the contribution of certain people to the life of our city. It also bestows honour on important visitors in Dublin”. Those who are given this award are called a freeman/freewoman and they have the right to a number of benefits. One of these benefits is that they are allowed to let their sheep graze on common grounds within the city. This includes St. Stephen’s Green and College Green. In return however, freemen and freewomen are required to defend the city from attack. Bono and Edge from U2 are the most recent freemen to invoke this right back in 2000. I hope for their sake the city stays safe at least a little while longer.

Cinemas Order of 1991

You probably know this by now, but Northern Ireland has a history of religious influence in its laws. For example, in 1991 lawmakers enacted a law making it illegal to go to the cinema on Sundays in observation of the sabbath. Doing so could result in a £50 fine, plus you paid for the ticket so that money’s down the drain too.

The Proclamation of 1817 – potatoes and porridge for the poor

This law was written to help lessen the effects of the famine by making it so that porridge and potatoes were reserved for the ‘lower orders of society’ to consume. That law has been repealed since.

The punishment for suicide? Hanging.

Up until 1964, the punishment for attempting suicide was death by hanging. Just going to let that sit with you. 

Dinner Date with a leprechaun

If you ever feel the need to invoke this strange Irish law, please check yourself into a mental hospital. Please. Because if a leprechaun shows up at your door, old Irish law requires that you feed him a part of your dinner. It’s rather polite but also you might have a head injury.

There you have it guys! Some of the strangest laws in Ireland. Let’s all be thankful most of these have been repealed, replaced, or are unobserved. Do you know any strange Irish laws we forgot to mention? Put them in the comments below!

Featured image: Olympia law PC via Flickr

About the author

Emma Grove

Emma is a Californian-native, a food lover, and a Journalist for Babylon Radio. With a MA(Hons) from the University of Glasgow, Emma is interested in everything musical and cultural going on in Ireland!

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