Medieval Book of Lismore returns home to Cork after 'eventful' 500-year journey

Medieval Book of Lismore returns home to Cork after 'eventful' 500-year journey

The Book of Lismore, created in the late 15th century, has been donated by the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement to University College Cork (UCC). Picture: Clare Keogh

One of the great books of Ireland has returned home to Cork, its county of origin, almost five centuries after it was first created. 

The Book of Lismore, which contains some of the greatest masterpieces of medieval Irish literature, is to return to Cork where it was first penned in the late 15th century.

Developed in Kilbrittain, during a golden age of Irish literature, it is considered one of the 'Great Books of Ireland'.

The major medieval manuscript has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) where it will eventually go on permanent public display in a ‘Treasures Gallery’ the university plans to develop.

Consisting of 198 large vellum folios, the manuscript contains the only surviving translation in Irish of the travels of Marco Polo, as well as both religious and secular texts.

Crónán Ó Doibhlin, Head of Research Collections at UCC Library with the Book of Lismore which is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland. Picture: Clare Keogh
Crónán Ó Doibhlin, Head of Research Collections at UCC Library with the Book of Lismore which is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland. Picture: Clare Keogh

The Book concludes with the exploits of the mythological hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna, as told in the lengthy tale known as Agallamh na Seanórach. 

The unique donation comes to the university courtesy of the trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement, and of the Cavendish family whose ancestors have had possession of the book since the 1640s. 

The history of the Book of Lismore begins in the late 15th century when it was compiled for its noble patrons Fínghin Mac Carthaigh Riabhach, and his wife, Caitilín. 

With the writing believed probably to have taken place at Kilbrittain Castle, the book also has connections to the Franciscan house at nearby Timoleague.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin welcomed the manuscript's return to where it has its ancestral beginnings. 

It has experienced an "extraordinary journey during its lifetime" and was read and studied by noblemen and women, scholars and scribes, he added. 

"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." 

The donation of the manuscript marks a very historic moment for UCC, according to Professor John O’Halloran, interim president. 

UCC Professor of Modern Irish Pádraig Ó Macháin pictured with The Book of Lismore which contains the only surviving translation in Irish of the travels of Marco Polo. Picture: Clare Keogh
UCC Professor of Modern Irish Pádraig Ó Macháin pictured with The Book of Lismore which contains the only surviving translation in Irish of the travels of Marco Polo. Picture: Clare Keogh

"The Book of Lismore is a vital symbol of our cultural heritage. The donation of the Book of Lismore to UCC Library emphasises the central connection between Cork and Gaelic learning through the ages." 

Since the Book of Lismore was loaned to UCC for an exhibition in 2011, the Cavendish family has been considering ways to return it there permanently, according to the Duke of Devonshire. 

"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.”

UCC will welcome the book back to Cork today with a special virtual event on its website at 11am. The Book of Lismore will eventually be displayed at a ‘Treasures Gallery’ that UCC plans to develop in its Boole Library.

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