An Leabhar Breac

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An Leabhar Breac
Royal Irish Academy
Also known asSpeckled Book, Great Book of Dun Doighre
TypeCompilation of Irish legends
Place of origin Duniry
Language(s) Middle Irish and Latin
Scribe(s) Murchadh Ó Cuindlis
Material Vellum
Size40.5 cm × 28 cm (16 in × 11 in)
Format Folio
Script Irish minuscule
Island of Ireland relief location map.png
Red pog.svg
Location of Duniry (Dún Doighre) in Ireland

An Leabhar Breac ("The Speckled Book"; Middle Irish: An Lebar Brec [1] [2] ), now less commonly Leabhar Mór Dúna Doighre (The Great Book of Dun Doighre") or possibly erroneously, Leabhar Breac Mic Aodhagáin ("The Speckled Book of the MacEgans"), [3] is a medieval Irish vellum manuscript containing Middle Irish and Hiberno-Latin writings. The manuscript is held in the library of the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, where it is catalogued as RIA MS 23 P 16 or 1230.


It was most probably compiled by Murchadh (Riabhach) Ó Cuindlis of Ballaghdacker, at Duniry between the years 1408 and 1411. Duniry — Dún Daighre, Dún Doighre — in eastern Clanricarde (now east County Galway) is situated south-east of the town of Loughrea, and in the medieval era was home to a branch of the bardic Clann Mac Aodhagáin (the MacEgans), who served as brehons for the O'Connors of Clanricarde.


In the 16th century, the manuscript was in the possession of the Mac Egans of Duniry, hence the older title Leabhar Mór Dúna Doighre. In 1629, the manuscript was held in the convent of Kinalehin, County Galway.

It was consulted by Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, brother of the Four Masters, who copied pp. 272–7. The book passed into the possession of Éamon Ó Ceallaigh (Co. Roscommon) in 1732, then of Dr. John O'Brien by 1768 and finally of Cornelius O'Daly (Mitchelstown, Co. Cork). The Royal Irish Academy acquired the first volume in 1789, when General Charles Vallancey purchased it for the academy for 3 guineas from Cornelius O'Daly. O'Daly also owned the second volume, which comprises nine leaves, but was unaware that it belonged to the larger volume. In 1789, this volume was acquired by Chevalier O'Gorman, by George Smith of College Green in the next century and by the academy sometime after 1844. The manuscript is held in the academy's library in Dublin to this day. [4]


The manuscript is of a large size, measuring 40.5 cm x 28 cm, which makes it the largest Irish vellum manuscript to have been written by a single scribe. [5] It contains 40 folios, which are written in double columns. Capitals are decorated in a simple style, with some letters having been interwoven with zoomorphic patterns and coloured in red, vermilion, yellow and blue. There are two drawings, a flower-like diagram on p. 121 and a drawing of the Crucifixion on p. 166. [6]


The manuscript consists almost entirely of religious writings in Latin and Middle Irish. It includes homiletic Lives of Saint Patrick, Saint Columba, Saint Brigid, Saint Cellach, and Saint Martin, the earliest version of Félire Óengusso ("Martyrology of Óengus"), the Rule of the Céli Dé, Aislinge Meic Con Glinne ("The Vision of Mac Conglinne"), a version of Fís Adamnáin ("The Vision of Adamnán"), Saltair na Rann , Stair Nicomeid ("Gospel of Nicodemus"), Amra Choluim Chille, a Marian litany, and various ecclesiastical legends, hymns, catecheses and homilies. Exceptions to the predominantly religious contents are Sanas Cormaic ("Cormac's Glossary") and a history of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great. [7]

Glosses and notes

The numerous notes which Murchadh Ó Cuindlis jotted into the margins afford us a unique glimpse of the circumstances of the writing process. These range from everyday details like a cat straying about or a robin singing in a beautiful voice to a nearby pillage in Lorrha by a certain Murchad Ua Madagáin. A persistent object of complaint for the writer is the weather, in particular the cold. [8] Based on the notes, Tomás Ó Concheanainn has been able to reconstruct the time span in which certain sections had been written. For instance, it took the scribe about 6 weeks to write 35 pages (pp. 141–75), while some parts proved more challenging, such as a column for a poem with interlinear glosses, which cost him a day. [8]


  1. "Mac Carthy 1892a/Toc01 • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies".
  2. Doležalová, Lucie (2009-11-17). The Making of Memory in the Middle Ages. ISBN   9789047441601.
  3. The Leabhar Breac Mic Aodhagáin is the title of a book cited by Geoffrey Keating in Book III of Foras Feasa ar Éirinn , described as an "old book of annals" (seinleabhar annálach) and probably now lost. Irish Script on Screen.
  4. Irish Script on Screen.
  5. Royal Irish Academy, "Leabhar Breac" Archived November 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  6. See the images at ISOS.
  7. Peters, E. (ed. and tr.). "Die irische Alexandersage." ZCP 30 (1967): 71–264.
  8. 1 2 O'Neill, "Leabhar Breac."

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Further reading

  1. "Leabhar Breac, the Speckled Book ; otherwise styled Leabhar Mór Dúna Doighre, the Great Book of Dún Doighre : A collection of pieces in Irish and Latin, compiled from ancient sources about the close of the fourteenth century: Now for the first time published from the original manuscript in the library of the Royal Irish Academy". Dublin : Royal Irish Academy. 1872.