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An Exceptional Medieval Irish Book Returns to Ireland

An Exceptional Medieval Irish Book Returns to Ireland

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An incredibly significant medieval book of manuscripts has been returned to Ireland. The Book of Lismore is a collection of hand-written texts that was donated by an aristocratic English family to the University College Cork. Ireland has a long scribal tradition and produced many remarkable medieval books and illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells. The Book of Lismore is one of the “great books of Ireland” according to the Irish Examiner . This special medieval book has a long history and will likely help scholars to better understand Irish history.

The Book of Lismore consists of almost 200 large vellum pages. It was probably written by professional scribes some of whom belonged to the Franciscan Order . The work was compiled in Kilbrittain, County Cork for the Lord of Carbery Fínghin Mac Carthaigh (1478-1505) and his wife. In the Late Medieval Period, many aristocratic Irish families commissioned scribes to write manuscripts.

A Medieval Book About Irish Myths And Saints And More!

The medieval book known as the Book of Lismore is written in Irish. It is a compendium of both Irish and European works. The first section is mainly concerned with the lives of Irish saints , “before passing on to material in translation: the History of the Lombards and the Conquests of Charlemagne,” reports RTE.  Also, this medieval book contains the Travels of Marco Polo in translation, which is the only example in existence.

A page from the Book of Lismore, the medieval book that was recently returned to Ireland by an English aristocratic family. (Public domain)

A page from the Book of Lismore, the medieval book that was recently returned to Ireland by an English aristocratic family. ( Public domain )

The Book of Lismore also contains “Fionn MacCumhaill and the Fianna, as told in the lengthy saga known as Agallamh na Seanórach,” reports RTE. These tales narrate the life and adventures of the mythical warrior and hunter Fionn, one of the most important figures in Irish mythology. Many landmarks on the island are associated with the heroic Fionn.

How The Book Of Lismore Left Ireland And Why

The history of the Book of Lismore in recent centuries is remarkable. It was given to the Earl of Cork, the father of the great scientist Richard Boyle, after the siege of Kilbritttain Castle in the 1640s. It was then walled up in Lismore Castle along with a priceless crozier, a bishop or abbot staff, for reasons unknown.  The medieval book was only uncovered during renovation works in the early 19 th century. It remained in Lismore Castle before it came into the possession of the Cavendish Family and was taken to Britain. The Cavendish family donated the book to the University College Cork.

The Book of Lismore was hidden away in Lismore Castle for a long time and then it was "taken" to England. Now, this exceptional Irish medieval book is back in Ireland again. (Bob / Adobe Stock)

The Book of Lismore was hidden away in Lismore Castle for a long time and then it was "taken" to England. Now, this exceptional Irish medieval book is back in Ireland again. (Bob / Adobe Stock )

The Lismore Medieval Book: Now Part Of An Irish Library

According to RTE, the Duke of Devonshire, a member of the Cavendish family, stated that “his family hopes the book will benefit many generations of students, scholars and visitors to the university.” Their donation will join over 200 precious manuscripts, texts and medieval book in the University College Cork’s collection.  The Book of Lismore was previously on display at the university in 2011 and since then negotiations have been ongoing concerning its return to Ireland.

The Prime Minister of Ireland, also known as the Taoiseach, Micheal Martin thanked the Duke of Devonshire and the Cavendish family for their donation. He welcomed the return of “one of the great books of Ireland,” according to the Extra.ie. The Irish Prime Minister is also quoted by the Irish Examiner as saying that the book had an “extraordinary journey during its lifetime and was read and studied by noblemen and women, scholars and scribes.”

Another famous Irish medieval book: The Book of Kells. (Warren Rosenberg / Adobe Stock)

Another famous Irish medieval book: The Book of Kells. (Warren Rosenberg / Adobe Stock )

The Lismore Book Will Help Scholars Understand Irish History

This exceptional medieval book can also help scholars to better understand the culture and history of Irish society in the Late Medieval Period. Professor Pádraig Ó Macháin, of University College Cork, told RTE that it “gives a ‘new angle’ on scholarly lives and what was considered as entertainment to a noble lord of the Gaelic tradition.” He also hopes that it will raise awareness of the rich Irish manuscript tradition.

The Book of Lismore was officially donated during a virtual event. The University College Cork intends to put the medieval book on display in the Treasures Gallery, which is part of the famous Boole Library. The library was named after the English mathematician George Boole (1815-1864), who taught at the university. Boole’s invention of Boolean algebra was essential in the development of the Computer Age.

Top image: The Book of Lismore, an exceptionally valuable medieval book, on display at the University College Cork, Ireland.        Source: University College Cork

By Ed Whelan

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