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Túath (plural túatha) is the Old Irish term for the basic political and jurisdictional unit of Gaelic Ireland. Túath can refer to both a geographical territory as well the people who lived in that territory.[1]

Social structure[edit]

In ancient Irish terms, a household was reckoned at about 30 people per dwelling. A trícha cét ("thirty hundreds"), was an area comprising 100 dwellings or, roughly, 3,000 people. A túath consisted of a number of allied trícha céta, and therefore referred to no fewer than 6,000 people. Probably a more accurate number for a túath would be no fewer than 9,000 people.[2]

Each túath was a self-contained unit, with its own executive, assembly, courts system and defence force. Túatha were grouped together into confederations for mutual defence. There was a hierarchy of túatha statuses, depending on geographical position and connection to the ruling dynasties of the region.[3] The organisation of túatha is covered to a great extent within the Brehon laws, Irish laws written down in the 7th century, also known as the Fénechas.[4]

The old Irish political system was altered during and after the Elizabethan conquest, being gradually replaced by a system of baronies and counties under the new colonial system. Due to a loss of knowledge, there has been some confusion regarding old territorial units in Ireland, mainly between trícha céta and túatha, which in some cases seem to be overlapping units, and in others, different measurements altogether.[5] The trícha céta were primarily for reckoning military units; specifically, the number of fighting forces a particular population could rally.[2] Some scholars equate the túath with the modern parish, whereas others equate it with the barony. This partly depends on how the territory was first incorporated into the county system. In cases where surrender and regrant was the method, the match between the old túath and the modern barony is reasonably equivalent. Whereas in cases like Ulster, which involved large scale colonisation and confiscation of land, the shape of the original divisions is not always clear or recoverable.[5]

It has been suggested that the baronies are, for the most part, divided along the boundaries of the ancient túatha, as many bog bodies and offerings, such as bog butter, are primarily found along present-day baronial boundaries.[6] This implies that the territorial divisions of the petty kingdoms of Ireland have been more or less the same since at least the Iron Age.


Túath in Old Irish means both "the people", "country, territory", and "territory, petty kingdom, the political and jurisdictional unit of ancient Ireland".[1] The word possibly derives from Proto-Celtic *toutā ("tribe, tribal homeland"; cognate roots may be found in the Gaulish god name Toutatis), which is perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *tewtéh₂ ("tribesman, tribal citizen").[citation needed] In Modern Irish it is spelled tuath, without the fada accent, and is usually used to refer to "rural districts" or "the country" (as in "the countryside"); however the historical meaning is still understood and employed, as well.[7]

Historical examples[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Royal Irish Academy (1990). Dictionary of the Irish Language. Antrim, N.Ireland: Greystone Press. p. 612. ISBN 0-901714-29-1.
  2. ^ a b Dillon, Myles (1994). Early Irish Literature. Blackrock, Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press. xiv. ISBN 1-85182-177-5.
  3. ^ Ó Corráin, Donnchadh. "Nationality and Kingship in Pre-Norman Ireland". CELT. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  4. ^ Patterson, Nerys t. (1994). Cattle Lords and Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland. University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 978-0268161460.
  5. ^ a b "Medieval Irish political and economic divisions". 3 March 2013.
  6. ^ Kelly, Eamonn P. (2006). "Kingship and Sacrifice". Scéal na Móna. 13 (60): 57–59.
  7. ^ Ó Dónaill, Niall (1977). "Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla". teangleann.ie. Retrieved 28 September 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Colonisation under early kings of Tara, Eoin Mac Neill, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, volume 16, pp. 101–124, 1935
  • Corpus genealogiarum Hibernia, i, M.A. O'Brien, Dublin, 1962
  • Early Irish Society Francis John Byrne, in The Course of Irish History, ed. T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, pp. 43–60, Cork, 1967
  • Hui Failgi relations with the Ui Neill in the century after the loss of the plain of Mide, A. Smyth, Etudes Celtic 14:2, pp. 502–23
  • Tribes and Tribalism in early Ireland, Francis John Byrne, Eiru 22, 1971, pp. 128–166.
  • Origins of the Eóganachta, David Sproule, Eiru 35, pp. 31–37, 1974
  • Some Early Connacht Population-Groups, Nollaig O Muraile, in Seanchas:Studies in Early and Medieval Irish Archaeology, History and Literature in Honour of Francis John Byrne, pp. 161–177, ed. Alfred P. Smyth, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2000
  • The Airgialla Charter Poem:The Political Context, Edel Bhreathnach, in The Kingship and Landscape of Tara, ed. Edel Bhreathnach, pp. 95–100, 2005