Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
The physical manifestation of Irish boundary ferta
When, in 1976, Thomas Charles-Edwards published his paper ‘Boundaries in Irish Law’, based on evidence contained in early Irish law tracts, I doubt he envisaged that around thirty years later we would be in a position to corroborate that legal evidence by physically identifying and dating boundary ferta. In that paper, and in a subsequent publication, Professor Charles-Edwards describes how the boundary to a territory was marked by a fert (a grave mound) or ferta (a collection of grave mounds or a collection of burials in one mound). According to the legal procedure tellach (legal entry), which is described in the early law tract Din Techtugad, a specific process was pursued in order to make a claim to land.
This tract may be summarised as follows: the claimant entered the land in the presence of a witness, taking two yoked horses across the boundary fert, the ancestral grave mound. He did not unyoke his horses and only allowed them to graze on half of the land. He then withdrew and waited for five days for a response from the occupant of the land regarding arbitration. If nothing happened, then ten days later the claimant again entered the land, this time with four horses and two witnesses. On this occasion he unyoked the horses and allowed them to graze freely.