Historic medieval book returns to Ireland

One of Ireland’s greatest medieval manuscripts has returned to County Cork, Ireland, the land of its birth, after a century spent at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, seat of the Dukes of Devonshire. The Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement have donated the 15th century Book of Lismore to University College Cork (UCC) where it will go on display in a planned Treasures Gallery in the university’s Boole Library.

Today the book contains 198 large vellum folios (42 have gone missing over the centuries). It starts with the lives of Irish saints and other religious texts from Europe, and then moves on to Irish translations of Paul the Deacon’s 8th century History of the Lombards and The Conquests of Charlemagne, a 12th century forgery purported to have been written in the 8th century by Archbishop Turpin of Reims. It also includes the only known Irish translation of The Travels of Marco Polo. The translated texts make up about half of the book. The rest contains native Irish texts, including tales of Irish kings and heroes and a topographical text describing of the lands of Fermoy, County Cork.

The Book was written around 1480 for the 10th Prince of Carbery, Fínghin Mac Carthaigh Riabhaigh of Kilbrittain Castle in County Cork. It was kept there until the 1640s when the castle was besieged. Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, took the book to his seat of Lismore Castle. Lismore Castle came into the Cavendish family by marriage in the 18th century and became the Irish seat of the Dukes of Devonshire. During renovations in 1814, the manuscript was discovered in a walled-up doorway along with the Lismore Crozier, an early medieval bishop’s staff now in the National Museum of Ireland.

The Dukes of Devonshire have lent the manuscript to scholars since its discovery, but it never went on public view until 2011 when they lent it to UCC for an exhibition.

The Duke of Devonshire stated “Ever since the Book of Lismore was loaned to University College Cork for an exhibition in 2011, we have been considering ways for it to return there permanently. 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.” […]

With over 200 Gaelic manuscripts in its collection, UCC is Ireland’s leading centre for the study of the materiality of the literary artefacts of Gaelic Ireland. The Book will now be the centerpiece of this large collection at UCC’s Library, and the donation of the manuscript to UCC marks a further stage in the commitment of the Cavendish Family to the scholarship of The Book of Lismore.

These Gaelic manuscripts already form the basis for extensive teaching and research, and The Book of Lismore, written on vellum and being at least 150 years older than any other manuscript volume in the collection, offers a rare field of study.