Febas and the Housewife Part 2; Traits of a Good Wife

In the first post of this series, I talked about what the general traits of a good Woman were according to the Early Irish. But one implication in the sources was also the traits of a good Wife.

This is important because Irish Women were, like most cultures of the time, expected to be Homemakers- and in the context of the time period, this makes a lot of sense.

In a society that expected women to primarily be the carers and child-bearers, these were the qualities that defined her role in a positive sense; these qualities provided stability, giving assurance of a marriage without bickering, strife, and unfaithfulness- but instead a marriage with good communication, faithfulness, and an orderly home […] [They were] expected to become good housewives, be virtuous in order to protect inheritance rights, and so on. [Tairis]

But what does this mean in terms of Febas?

Given the time period, on a practical level the idea of “Being a good Housewife” likely meant several things. Predominantly this likely would have included being capable of managing a household and of performing those things considered basic “women’s labor”- such as sewing, cleaning, and cooking… But also performing basic hard maintenance labor for the home and farm, tending to the animals and flocks, harvesting their wares, procuring household necessities at market, and storing or selling the excess.

On a level that most would take more offense at, though, is the idea of “Being virtuous in order to protect inheritance rights”. However, knowing what I know about Early Irish concepts of Honor- and the fact that a person’s status predominantly relied on their heritage? I feel like this could likely mean avoiding actions or behaviors that would lead to the Woman, her family, or her Tuath “losing Honor”. After all, decreasing your family’s honor means a lower status for your offspring- something which ultimately means lesser inheritance and a lower social standing. Preserving or otherwise raising your family’s Honor becomes important, and doing things which would otherwise lower your honor (or: acting against Febas) should therefore be avoided.

Part of that, likely, is the idea that one should be a good Wife to her Husband and Mother to her Children. Traits such as Wisdom and even Control of one’s Temper can go a long way in helping this… One thing which isn’t clear, however, is the implications of Chastity and Loyalty in regards to your Spouse.

One would assume that it meant being loyal to and not sleeping with anyone but your Husband. However, this becomes more complex when you account for the fact that Early Irish society did not frown on Polyamory- and there certainly were cases where Women had more than one Husband. As a result, I feel like it then becomes less of an issue concerning whether or not you sleep with anyone else in general… And more about whether or not that person was legally recognized as a Spouse of yours- whether it was your First Husband or your Fifth (should you have that many).

But there are also other areas from which I think we can draw additional behaviors and virtues for the Housewife- and those are from Febas attributed to Warriors and Hospitalers.

Guest Laws and customs in Early Ireland dictated that people had to give hospitality to anyone who requested it in the appropriate manners. No one was exempt from this, though certain people (Hospitalers) made it their living. It would make sense, then, that Febas for a Housewife would also include some aspects of a Hospitaler’s duties- though, granted, not to the extent of an actual Briugu**.

The Bretha Nemed toísech (Judgments Concerning Privileged Persons) lists the following as requirements for Hospitalers as such:

“a never-dry cauldron, a dwelling on a public road, and a welcome to every face

Likewise, Tairis states similar requirements:

Generous and welcoming at all times […] to be wealthy, generous and hospitable, and skilled in property management.

From this, we could plausibly gather that Febas for a Housewife would include being capable in Financial and other Property Management on top of managing one’s Household itself- as well as being generous and having a Willingness to offer Hospitality at all times… It could also go so far as include ensuring that you manage your household and property in such a way that you are always able to provide the basic requirements of hospitality to others, and are able to do so at a moment’s notice.

For a Warrior, Tairis has listed the following qualities which I find relevant here:

Bearing arms and showing great strength and force […] both physical and moral strength.

Where a Hospitaler’s Febas is easy for most to see applications for… The Warrior’s Febas may not be so clear in all cases. However, with Husbands often off on Cattle Raids, their communities would be far more susceptible to raids from others… And it often left the Women and Children (or Disabled, etc) alone to tend the farms and community themselves. It makes sense, then, that the Women were taught how to fight and defend their homes- and indeed, Early Irish Women were often described as being capable of fighting, and of being well trained in specific styles especially.

Not only that, but having Moral strength goes hand in hand with their role as the teacher and guide of their family. Likewise, physical strength is required for the more practical aspects of tending to the herds and general labor they no doubt would have had to participate in.

Additionally, I feel that based on Brighid’s position often being considered that of a Hearth Goddess of sorts, we can draw some additional conclusions there as well… This ads things such as defending, maintaining, and preserving the traditions, history, (and probably even wealth) of the family- as well as potentially even having a skill or profession outside of the Home.


**Appropriate writing of terminology in this context is unknown. For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.

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