As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, it’s only natural to reflect on the many gifts of Irish culture: the words of literary giants such as James Joyce, the lilting music of The Chieftains, the stirring spectacle of “Riverdance” and — of course — the liquid wonder that is Guinness. But while quaffing green beer amidst a sea of “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” T-shirts, it’s important to stop to ponder how the Irish shaped the American legal system.

Ireland has had a sophisticated body of law in place for about 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest in the world. In his 1875 book, “An Early History of Institutions,” English jurist Sir Henry Maine described the Irish system as “a very remarkable body of archaic law unusually pure from its origin.” Imagine a system of jurisprudence that recognized the equality of the genders, gave priority to the protection of the environment, revered the sanctity of a contract and respected individual rights over property rights. Even more amazingly, the Irish legal system was held in such regard by its people that it required no courts, police or jails to aid in enforcement, according to the Web site of the Irish Courts Service.

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