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15th-century Irish manuscript returned after being in British hands


UCCIreland | YouTube | Fair Use

John Burger - published on 11/03/20

Book of Lismore contains accounts of the lives of Irish saints and other medieval stories.

A manuscript containing a number of rare medieval Irish texts and accounts of the lives of Irish saints has been returned to Ireland after being in British hands.

The Book of Lismore has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) by the trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement in Derbyshire.

The manuscript contains almost 200 vellum folios and is considered one of Ireland’s “Great Books.” It was created for the Irish Lord of Carbery, Fínghin Mac Carthaigh Riabhach, and his wife, Caitilín, in the late 15th century. It contains translations of European stories, as well as the only surviving Irish translation of the travels of Marco Polo. It also includes secular tales such as “Agallamh na Seanórach,” a lengthy medieval Irish poem that centers on the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and his Fianna warriors.

The book was captured in a siege of Kilbrittain Castle in west Cork in the 1640s and later passed into the hands of the Earl of Cork at Lismore Castle, where it was stored until its rediscovery in 1814 during renovation work, according to The Art Newspaper. “Soon after, it was lent to a Cork antiquary, Donnchadh Ó Floinn, and was later returned to Lismore Castle where it remained until 1914,” the website said. 

The Chatsworth Settlement said in a statement, “It was thereafter transferred to Devonshire House, London and from there to its present home at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Devonshire. The manuscript has been the property of the trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement since its establishment in 1946.”  

John O’Halloran, interim president of University College Cork, commented, “This extraordinary act of generosity by the Duke of Devonshire reaffirms the shared understanding between our respective countries and cultures, an understanding that is based on enlightenment, civility and common purpose.”

UCC plans to develop a Treasures Gallery to display the book to the public. Pádraig Ó Macháin, an expert on Modern Irish at UCC, wrote at RTÉthat staff also hope to work with students to transcribe the Irish text and make it openly accessible through the university’s online portal. Both undergraduate and graduate students will have opportunities to study the text firsthand, he said.

Catholic historyIreland
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