Christmas Past

Feeling a stab of guilt in regard to my non- festive output of late I thought I should make some attempt at seasonality. I came across a rather nice terse description of seasonal feasting in early medieval Ireland placing it in a wider social context.

On a non festive more boring note I should perhaps mention that to describe the social organisation of this period as clan system (also known as a segmentary lineage system) is of course a matter of debate and argument.

“The basic social entity then was the clan not the tuath (1.). In essence it was a low- energy war-machine- what it did, as a group, was produce enough labour and food surplus to support its own warrior elite that rode on horseback to stand-up fights and cattle-raids. There was little prehistoric investment in military infrastructure: only about sixty hillforts have been noted…… The food surplus was directly consumed by the elite at seasonal feasts, especially during the winter months of coe, guesting and feasting Feasts were basic to the establishment of supra-local alliances, and in the literature are the scene of boasting, brawling, and competition, as well as covert surveillance of the strength of the host group and the availability of marriage partners .”


(1.) People or tribe ( tribe is a term subject to considerable ethnographic ‘thought’ and debate on the appropriateness of it’s usage at academic feasts and ritual occasions)


N.T. Pattersson: Clans are not primordial: pre Viking Irish society and the modelling of pre-Roman societies in northern Europe.  in, B. Arnold & B. Gibson (ed), Celtic chiefdom, Celtic State


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