About EYE OF THE LAW
The Burren on the Atlantic coast in the south-west Ireland
is an ancient kingdom, mentioned in the earliest annals of the
Gaels as the stony place.
Ten miles out to sea, the three islands of Aran have been
part of that kingdom from time immemorial. Inisheer, Inismaan
and Inishmore, flat lands of rugged stone pavements, of
crumbling fissured rocks and cliffs towering over the stormy
ocean, all three have been formed by the same seas and the
same glaciers as the Burren; their people spoke the same
language, worshipped the same gods, and paid tribute to the
same king, first the O’Lochlainns and later the O’Briens.
At Bealtaine in the year 1410 Turlough Donn O’Brien,
then tánaiste (heir) to the king of Thomond, Corcomroe
and Burren, travelled to the Aran Islands to receive their
tribute in the name of his uncle, Conor na Srona. He was
accompanied by his cousin Teige O’Brien and by young Ardal
O’Lochlainn, tánaiste to the O’Lochlainn clan on the
The weather was fine and the three young men enjoyed the
feasting and dancing and the attention paid to them by the
island women. Ardal and Teige vied with each other for the
favours of the redheaded daughter of the blacksmith.
Twenty years later her son, Iarla, arrived in the kingdom
of the Burren and claimed Ardal O’Lochlainn for his father.
The time he chose for the announcement was inauspicious. It
was St Patrick’s Day, on the seventeenth day of March, the day
of the marriage between Teige O’Brien’s son, Donal and Maeve
MacNamara. A hundred people had gathered to celebrate the
event. The day was blustery, but the enormous fire lit in the
shelter of the walled courtyard of Lemeanah Castle gave warmth
enough to keep most of the huge crowd out-of-doors, some
singing, some dancing to the music of the fiddle, some
listening to the story told by a wandering bard.
Mara, wife of King Turlough Donn O’Brien and Brehon of his
kingdom of the Burren, now five months pregnant and hoping for
an easy few months ahead and the safe delivery of her child in
mid-July, was also present at the festivities. She had been
listening to the newly arrived bard telling the story of
Balor, smiling to herself at how cleverly he had worked in the
connection with the Fear Bréige (the deceitful man)
boulder and its nearby cave. And then the storyteller had
faltered. All eyes had left him and had gone to the dramatic
meeting between Ardal and the young man.
Mara spoke with Ardal afterwards. Everything had been done
according to the law. The blacksmith’s daughter, now the wife
of another blacksmith, had confessed her sin on her deathbed;
a priest had been there and his written testimony was brought
by young Iarla. Ardal had been named as the father; Brehon law
gave this right of naming to a woman and there was a rule that
a woman when her life was in danger had to be taken a true
There would be problems, Mara knew.
But she did not expect the discovery of a dead body, two
weeks later, in Balor’s cave.
There had been trouble during those two weeks, doubts had
been cast, fears expressed and hot words exchanged. Iarla
himself had been surly, unpleasant and his behaviour with some
of the young women, particularly the attractive young daughter
of Teige O’Brien, had stirred up ill-feeling among many.
But whose hand had battered the young man to death? Who had
dragged the body into the cave? And who had robbed the body of
In 1510 Ireland, Mara, Brehon (a kind of magistrate) of the
Burren, is not only pregnant and still teaching law students
at her school but must also solve the murder of a young man
who claimed the wealthy Ardal O’Lochlainn to be his father.
Ardal is the prime suspect, but a number of small details are
not quite right in this scenario. Mara draws on her students’
abilities to discover the real motive behind this murder and
VERDICT Harrison uses the 16th-century Irish legal
system as a springboard for her finely constructed historical
mysteries featuring a clear-thinking and sympathetic sleuth.
Her fifth series entry (after Writ in Stone) is outstanding
both for its attention to detail and historical correctness.
Historical mystery fans won’t want to miss this one.
review in Publishers Weekly 4/19/2010
Set in 1510,
Harrison’s excellent fifth Irish historical (after 2009’s
Writ in Stone) finds series heroine Mara, the brehon
of the kingdom of the Burren who serves both as an
investigating magistrate and law school professor, married to
King Turlough Donn and expecting his child.
When two strangers
arrive from the Aran Islands to announce that one of them,
20-year-old Iarla, is the previously unknown son of local
noble Ardal O’Lochlainn, they cite as evidence the dying
confession of Iarla’s mother.
That statement, under
existing law, is considered the most sacred of deathbed oaths.
Since Iarla and Ardal don’t resemble each other, Mara decides
to wait two weeks before rendering her verdict on their
someone kills Iarla by poking a knife or stick into one of his
eyes, leaving the body outside a cave reputed to be the home
of a malevolent one-eyed god.
integrates the legal system of 16th-century Ireland into the