For centuries, Ireland was under a system of law called Brehon Law.
While Brehon Law was vast in scope, one area that caught our attention was the laws related to hospitality.
In ancient Ireland, every territory land owner was required to provide free room and board to any traveler that required it.
That’s right. They were mandated by law to provide a free bed and breakfast to anyone who walked through their doors!
While this may sound a bit draconian to us today, there were sufficient reasons for these laws. In a lot of ways, these laws are why Ireland has an enduring culture of hospitality.
This article is going to explore the impact that these hospitality laws have had, and the health benefits of being hospitable.
Céad Míle Fáilte
This common Irish greeting translated means “a hundred thousand welcomes”.
While this is a catchy phrase that can be used by the Irish tourism industry, it is a hallmark of the ancient law that required hosts to show hospitality to strangers who were travelling.
Failure to show hospitality to strangers could result in a damaged reputation and a financial penalty.
In our current cultural context, one can’t help but wonder why hospitality would be such an issue that it would have to be mandated by law.
While there is speculation as to why these hospitality laws were in place, the generally recognized reason is a result of their infrastructure. In ancient Ireland, there were no major roadways or towns in which one could safely travel. Leaving your immediate surroundings posed a risk. The conditions in which a traveler had to traverse were extreme, and would often deter someone from taking such a risk.
By requiring land owners to show hospitality, travelers were encouraged to venture throughout the land. Consequently, as travel increased, so did trade and the exchange of ideas, art and culture (1).
Today, while the Brehon Laws may have faded away with the passing of history, the effects of the laws have endured to the culture that many have come to know and appreciate about Ireland.
The Health Effects of Hospitality
You may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with health?”
When we discovered these ancient laws, it got us interested to look at the impact hospitality can have on one’s health. Afterall, one of our 7 Resolutions of Health is to “Live Relationally”.
Because hospitality requires at least two parties (one showing hospitality and one receiving hospitality), there are unique benefits to the giver and also to the recipient.
For example, the recipient reaps the direct benefit of the one showing hospitality. This could be a warm meal, a place to relax or a friendly conversation.
Here are a few mutual benefits for both parties:
New relationships are formed
When you go out of your way to practice hospitality, you are going to create new relationships.
Trust is established when one person is the recipient of another’s kindness and good deed, and the one displaying hospitality will feel a connection with the one to whom they are showing hospitality.
Both parties are showing that there is value displayed in the other.
Ideas are transferred
Just like the ancient Irish experienced, an exchange of ideas takes place as new relationships are formed.
Each individual has their own unique context and worldview, which can be shared in the forging of the new relationship.
While some ideas are better than others, there is no doubt that the spread of information can make us more discerning, knowledgeable and informed.
Provides an opportunity to display gratitude
As previous posts have discussed, there is compelling evidence that practicing gratitude improves your personal health, as well as the health of your relationships.
By offering hospitality to someone, it not only provides the recipient the chance to express gratitude, but also serves as a reminder for the giver of their position of privilege to be able to display hospitality.
As you establish relationships with new people, your network increases, and therefore, your community expands.
This web of relationships contributes to a sense of belonging that is intrinsic in each one of us. Humans are relational, and for millenia, have thrived in communal cooperation.
What Can We Learn from Brehon Hospitality Laws?
While the world has shrunk and the exchange of ideas has increased at a rapid pace, the value of hospitality today is the same as that of the ancient Irish.
You don’t need to bring in a stranger off the street and provide them room and board until they are able to get back on their way.
Hospitality can be looking a stranger in the eye and asking them how they are doing. Or, it could be taking the earbuds out of your ear while in public to be more inviting. Maybe it means reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken with in a while.
When you bring being hospitable to the forefront, it will enable you to engage with others and will help you grow your relationships.
This St. Patrick’s Day, make an effort to put the ancient Irish Brehon laws of hospitality into practice.