Book of Lismore

Last updated

Book of Lismore
Lives of saints, from the Book of Lismore (Stokes, 1890) frontispiece (cropped).jpg
Specimen page from the Book of Lismore, fo. 30 a. 1 [1]
Also known asThe Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach
Datec. 1480
Place of originKilbrittain, Co. Cork, Ireland
Language(s) Early Modern Irish
PatronFínghean Mac Carthaigh Riabhach
Material Vellum
Size37cm x 25cm
ConditionIncomplete (missing at least 46 folios)
Script Irish minuscule

The Book of Lismore, also known as the Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach, is a late fifteenth-century Gaelic manuscript that was created at Kilbrittain in County Cork, Ireland, for Fínghean Mac Carthaigh, Lord of Carbery (1478–1505). [2] Defective at beginning and end, 198 leaves survive today, containing a miscellany of religious and secular texts written entirely in Irish.


The main scribe of the manuscript did not sign his name. A second scribe, who wrote eleven leaves, signed himself Aonghus Ó Callanáin, [3] and was probably a member of a well-known family of medical scholars from West Cork. Other relief scribes contribute short stints throughout the book.

The book also contains a reference (f. 158v) to a second manuscript, a duanaire or anthology of poetry dedicated to Mac Carthaigh, but this manuscript is now lost.


While poetry is well represented throughout the manuscript, the dominant form is prose, dating linguistically from the high through late Middle Ages.

The contents display thoughtful organisation, beginning with religious material mostly relating to the saints of Ireland (lives and anecdotes), including Patrick, Brigid, Colum Cille, Ciarán and Brendan, [4] but also incorporating the early medieval Teanga Bhiothnua ('Evernew tongue'). [5] Texts translated to Irish, broadly related to the religious theme, are found in this section also, and feature the Conquests of Charlemagne, [6] the History of the Lombards (a chapter from the Golden Legend), [7] and The Travels of Marco Polo. [8] [9] It is probable that access by the Kilbrittain scribes to some of the religiously-themed literature was facilitated by the Franciscan community at nearby Timoleague. Between them, the religious works and the translated texts account for approximately half of the contents.

The rest of the manuscript features native, secular texts. These include material relating to kingship, some of which centres on Diarmaid mac Cearbhaill, a sixth-century king of Ireland; [10] tales such as Caithréim Cheallacháin Chaisil, [11] Eachtra Thaidhg Mhic Céin and Cath Crionna; [12] the satire Tromdhámh Ghuaire; [13] and traditions concerning Fionn mac Cumhaill as related in the late-twelfth century prosimetrum, Agallamh na Seanórach. [14] These Fionn traditions occupy approximately one quarter of the manuscript.

The book also contains Crichad an Chaoilli , a topographical document, possibly from the 13th Century, describing the district between Mallow and Fermoy in terms of townlands, the names of many of which are still recognizable in the form of their present-day counterparts. [15]

The texts in the Book of Lismore are comprehensive in their representation of religious and secular learning in the Irish language as preserved and promoted by the elite learned classes of late-medieval Ireland. In its design and execution, and in its combination of native and European tradition, the book is a library of literature that makes a self-assured statement about aristocratic literary taste in autonomous Gaelic Ireland in the late 15th century.

Later history

After the fifteenth century, one gets only sporadic glimpses of the book during the next 300 years. In June 1629 it was deposited in the nearby Franciscan Timoleague Friary, where the renowned scribe, author and historian, Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh copied material from it. [16] It is thought to be identical to a book confiscated by Lewis, 1st Viscount Boyle of Kinalmeaky, then aged 23, at the siege of Kilbrittain Castle in 1642 during the Irish Confederate Wars, and sent by him to his father, The 1st Earl of Cork. [17] Lord Boyle of Kinalmeaky (whose younger brother was the chemist Robert Boyle) died not long after, at the Battle of Liscarroll in September 1642. [18] [19]

The Lismore Crozier, c. 1100, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin Lismore Crozier, c. 1100.jpg
The Lismore Crozier, c.1100, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin

It is uncertain when the book was brought to Lismore Castle in the west of County Waterford, a castle which Lord Cork had purchased from Sir Walter Raleigh in 1602. [20] In the eighteenth century, the castle passed by marriage from the Boyle family to the Cavendishes, Dukes of Devonshire. In 1814, during renovations to the castle and town of Lismore by The 6th Duke of Devonshire, the manuscript was rediscovered, having apparently been walled up in the Castle with the Lismore Crozier, which is now in the National Museum of Ireland. [21]

Upon its discovery, the book was soon loaned to the Cork scribe and scholar Donnchadh Ó Floinn (who named the book 'Leabhar Leasa Móire', the Book of Lismore), whose friend, Micheál Óg Ó Longáin, transcribed nearly all of the manuscript in 1817, under the sponsorship of Bishop John Murphy. The title 'Book of Lismore' or 'Leabhar Leasa Móir' dates from this time. [22] From this and other transcripts by Mícheál Óg, many further copies of sections and individual texts were made, and this contributed to a temporary revival of manuscript-making in Cork during the first half of the nineteenth century. [23]

The book was returned to Lismore around 1821-2, but sixty-six leaves remained in Cork, and were subsequently sold to the Duke of Devonshire in 1860. [24] Further transcripts were made by Eugene O'Curry and by Mícheál Og's youngest son, Seosamh, who was by that time employed by the Royal Irish Academy. [25] In 1907, the book went on public display at the Irish International Exhibition held in Herbert Park, Dublin. In 1930, the manuscript was transferred permanently from Lismore to Chatsworth House in England, where it remained until 2020, except for the years 1939–48 when it was removed to safe storage during the Second World War and also made available for the creation of the facsimile published in 1950.

In 1879, a photographic reproduction of pages from the manuscript appeared, for the first time, in the third fascicle of John Gilbert's Facsimiles of national manuscripts of Ireland. A printed photographic facsimile, in black and white, of the entire manuscript was made under the direction of R.A.S. Macalister and published in 1950. In 2010, the entire manuscript was digitised by Irish Script on Screen in advance of the public exhibition of the book at University College, Cork (UCC), in 2011.

In 2020, the Book of Lismore was donated to University College, Cork, by the Chatsworth Settlement Trust. The university plans to display it in their Boole Library. [26] [27]

Further reading


Texts from the Book of Lismore edited or consulted for editions

Commentary and analysis

Related Research Articles

Shanballymore Village in Munster, Ireland

Shanballymore is a small village in north County Cork, Ireland. It neighbours the towns of Doneraile, Kildorrery and Castletownroche, and is off the main route from Mallow to Mitchelstown. Shanballymore is part of the Cork East Dáil constituency.

Lismore, County Waterford Town in Munster, Ireland

Lismore is a historic town in County Waterford, in the province of Munster, Ireland.

Mícheál Ó Cléirigh

Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, sometimes known as Michael O'Clery, was an Irish chronicler, scribe and antiquary and chief author of the Annals of the Four Masters, assisted by Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire, and Peregrinus Ó Duibhgeannain. He was a member of the O'Cleric Bardic family and compiled with others the Annála Ríoghachta Éireann at Bundrowse in County Leitrim on 10 August 1636. He also wrote the Martyrology of Donegal in the 17th Century.

Munster Irish Dialect of the Irish language spoken in the province of Munster

Munster Irish is the dialect of the Irish language spoken in the province of Munster. Gaeltacht regions in Munster are found in the Gaeltachtaí of the Dingle Peninsula in west County Kerry, in the Iveragh Peninsula in south Kerry, in Cape Clear Island off the coast of west County Cork, in Muskerry West; Cúil Aodha, Ballingeary, Ballyvourney, Kilnamartyra, and Renaree of central County Cork; and in an Rinn and an Sean Phobal in Gaeltacht na nDéise in west County Waterford.

Togail Bruidne Dá Derga is an Irish tale belonging to the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. It survives in three Old and Middle Irish recensions, it is part of the Book of Dun Cow. It recounts the birth, life, and death of Conaire Mór son of Eterscél Mór, a legendary High King of Ireland, who is killed at Da Derga's hostel by his enemies when he breaks his geasa. It is considered one of the finest Irish sagas of the early period, comparable to the better-known Táin Bó Cúailnge.

<i>Acallam na Senórach</i>

Acallam na Senórach, is an important prosimetric Middle Irish narrative dating to c.1200. It is the most important text of the Finn Cycle and at about 8,000 lines is the longest surviving work of medieval Irish literature. It contains many Finn Cycle narratives framed by a story in which the fianna warriors and Caílte mac Rónáin have survived long enough to relate the tales to Saint Patrick. The work has been seen as a defence of the Irish literary establishment when it came under the scrutiny of Church reformers during the 12th to 13th centuries.

Classical Gaelic or Classical Irish was a shared literary form of Gaelic that was in use by poets in Scotland and Ireland from the 13th century to the 18th century.

Nollaig Ó Muraíle is an Irish scholar. He published an acclaimed edition of Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh's Leabhar na nGenealach in 2004. He was admitted to the Royal Irish Academy in 2009.

Kilbrittain Village in Munster, Ireland

Kilbrittain or Killbrittain is the name of a village, townland and parish in County Cork, Ireland. The village lies about 5 miles (8.0 km) southwest of Bandon, and near Courtmacsherry and Timoleague. The coastal route around the edge of the parish is the R600 road. The village itself is around 1 mile (1.6 km) inland from the coast.

Peadar Ua Laoghaire

Father Peadar Ua Laoghaire or Peadar Ó Laoghaire, also anglicized as Peter O'Leary, was an Irish writer and Catholic priest, who is regarded today as one of the founders of modern literature in Irish.

Leabhar na nGenealach is a massive genealogical collection written mainly in the years 1649 to 1650, at the college-house of St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church, Galway, by Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh. He continued to add material until at least 1666, five years before he was murdered in 1671. The original 17th century manuscript was bequeathed to University College Dublin (UCD), by Dublin solicitor Arthur Cox in 1929, and can be consulted in UCD Library Special Collections. The manuscript can be viewed online at Irish Script on Screen, which is available in English, and in Irish. Leabhar na nGenealach, was reprinted, and published in a five volume edition in Dublin in 2004 as The Great Book of Irish Genealogies.

An Leabhar Breac, now less commonly Leabhar Mór Dúna Doighre or possibly erroneously, Leabhar Breac Mic Aodhagáin, 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.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson B 502 is a medieval Irish manuscript which presently resides in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It ranks as one of the three major surviving Irish manuscripts to have been produced in pre-Norman Ireland, the two other works being the Lebor na hUidre and the Book of Leinster. Some scholars have also called it the Book of Glendalough, in Irish Lebar Glinne Dá Locha, after several allusions in medieval and early modern sources to a manuscript of that name. However, there is currently no agreement as to whether Rawlinson B 502, more precisely its second part, is to be identified as the manuscript referred to by that title.

Tomás Ó hÍcí, aka Tomás Ó Iceadha and Thomas Hickey (1775–1856), was an Irish scribe.

Mac Carthaigh Riabhach

The Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach dynasty are a branch of the MacCarthy dynasty, Kings of Desmond, deriving from the Eóganacht Chaisil sept.

Irish genealogy is the study of individuals and/or families who originated on the island of Ireland.

Leabhar Ua Maine is an Irish genealogical compilation, created c. 1392–94.

Caithréim Chellacháin Chaisil is an Irish pseudo-historical tract from the first part of the 12th century. It is most likely written some time between 1127 and 1134, commissioned by Cormac Mac Carthaigh, king of Munster and claimant to the title High King of Ireland. The tale is ostensibly a biography of Cormac's 10th century ancestor Cellachán Caisil, but in reality a propaganda tract.

Críchad an Chaoilli is a medieval Irish text.

Meidhbhín Ní Úrdail is an Irish academic. She is Associate Professor in, and Head of, Modern Irish at University College Dublin. Ní Úrdail's areas of research include the Irish manuscript tradition; Ireland's vernacular written tradition from medieval times to the nineteenth century; narrative discourse and historical representation; the complementary relationship between script and print in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland; and contemporary Irish writing and its heritage. On 16 March 2021, she was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy and was admitted on 21 May 2021.


  1. Stokes, Whitley (1890). Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Frontispiece.
  2. Ó Corráin, Clavis, 1101: 'The likely origin is the Mac Carthaigh house at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork'.
  3. Book of Lismore, f. 134rb; Palandri, 'An Marco Polo Gaeilge', 194.
  4. Stokes, Lives of the saints.
  5. Carey, Tenga Bithnua.
  6. Hyde, Gabháltais.
  7. Mac Niocaill, 'Sdair'.
  8. Stokes, 'The Gaelic abridgement'
  9. Palandri, 'An Marco Polo Gaeilge'.
  10. Ó Macháin, 'Aonghus Ó Callanáin', 145–52.
  11. Bugge, Caithréim.
  12. O'Grady, Silva Gadelica .
  13. Joynt, Tromdámh.
  14. Stokes, 'Acallamh na Senórach'.
  15. O'Keeffe, J.G., ed. (1926–28). "The ancient territory of Fermoy". Ériu (10): 170–89. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  16. Macalister, The Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach, xii.
  17. Ó Cuív, 'Observations', 271-2.
  18. Cashell, Louise (3 March 2016). "Confederate bloodbaths". Cork Independent.
  19. "The Battle for Liscarroll Castle". Cork Independent. 25 February 2016.
  20. Ó Conchúir, review, 258.
  21. Ó Macháin, 'Leabhar Leasa Móir agus lucht léinn', 233–4.
  22. Ó Macháin, 'Leabhar Leasa Móir agus lucht léinn', 236.
  23. Ó Conchúir, Scríobhaithe, 233–6; Ó Macháin, 'Ealaín na Lámhscríbhinní', 186.
  24. Ó Macháin, 'Leabhar Leasa Móir agus lucht léinn', 242–6.
  25. Ó Macháin, 'Ealaín na Lámhscríbhinní', 211–16.
  26. Crowley, Sinéad (28 October 2020). "Ancient Irish book about saints and sagas returns home to Cork". RTÉ .
  27. Flood, Alison (28 October 2020). "Historic Book of Lismore returning to Ireland after centuries in British hands". The Guardian . London.