Historic 15th Century Book of Lismore has been donated to UCC

Róisín Cullen

A text known as one of the “great books of Ireland” has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) by the Trustees of the Chatsworth settlement and the Duke of Devonshire.

It is planned to store the book, also known as Leabhar Mhic Cártaigh Riabhaigh, in a ‘Treasures Gallery’ that will be developed for UCC’s Boole Library.

Taoiseach Micháel Martin, spoke of the significance of the book’s return to the county it was written in.

“This eventful journey across the centuries, along with the fascinating nature of the book’s content has created a cultural resource that deserves to be cherished and studied at Cork,” he said, on the 28th of October.

He thanked the Duke of Devonshire for bringing the book home, an invaluable asset for generations of scholars to come.

“Were it not for the Duke and his predecessors in England and Ireland, the Book of Lismore might, like many other Gaelic manuscripts of its time, have been lost or remained undiscovered.”

The book had been on loan to UCC since 2011 as the Cavendish family tried to have it returned to Ireland on a permanent basis.

UCC and the Cavendish family have had “a very long and fruitful partnership” since the university’s foundation, the Duke stated at an event broadcast on UCC’s website.

“My family and I are delighted this has been possible, and hope that it will benefit many generations of students, scholars and visitors to the university,” explained the Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish.

The book boasts religious and secular content ranging from the lives of Irish saints, to stories of Finn Mac Cumhail and the Fianna.

The only surviving Irish translation of the travels of Marco Polo also lies within its 198 large vellum folios.

Professor of Modern Irish, Pádraig Ó Macháin, explained the significance of this landmark event to The College View.

“Due to the extraordinary generosity of the Duke of Devonshire, there is a great and very real sense that the Book of Lismore has now come home.”

It is likely that countless postgraduate students at UCC will base their studies on The Book of Lismore. Ó Macháin has been carrying out forensic and spectroscopic analysis of vellum and ink in Medieval Gaeilic Manuscripts as part of his ‘Inks and Skins’ project.

“In our undergraduate teaching, for big vellum manuscripts from the medieval period, we have been relying on digital images and photos to explain what such manuscripts look like and how they were made. Now we will be in a position to introduce the students to the physical artefact itself, making the teaching and learning more immediate and instantly understandable,” Ó Macháin said.

“Nothing beats seeing it in the flesh,” he joked.

Written for Fínghin Mac Carthaigh Riabach and his wife Caitlín, the 15th century text was comprised from the “lost book of Monasterboice” and other manuscripts.

It was re-discovered in a wall in 1814 when renovation work was being completed on Lismore Castle.

Ó Macháin believes that the Book of Lismore’s primary role in its new home should be as an educational service to Irish people.

“UCC values its identity as a community university, and therefore while the Book, when on display, might be of course become a tourist attraction over time, the primary purpose of putting it on display would not be to earn money,” he said.

“We see the book as something that needs to be displayed properly, with its context(s) explained and that this should be done in the first place as an informative and educational service to the Irish public who might wish to view it.”

Róisín Cullen

Image credit: UCC