Book of Lismore goes on display at University College Cork

Book of Lismore goes on display at University College Cork

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University College Cork (UCC) will be hosting an exhibit featuring a major medieval Irish manuscripts, the Book of Lismore. The fifteenth-century manuscript will be on public display from 22 July to 30 October at the Glucksman Gallery in an exhibition titled: Travelled Tales – Leabhar Siúlach, Scéalach: The Book of Lismore at University College Cork. The exhibition will also include ancillary material, including related Irish manuscripts and an important Van Dyck portrait. The manuscript has never before been displayed publicly.

The history of the Book of Lismore begins in the late fifteenth century, when it was compiled for noble patrons, Finghin Mac Cárthaigh (McCarthy) Riabhach, and his wife, Caitilín. The writing probably took place at the Franciscan house at Timoleague, in west Cork, which was associated with the family of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach since its foundation.

he manuscript contains a large number of important texts: many drawn from Irish narrative tradition, some also which are translations of contemporary European works, and reflect a lively curiosity about the wider world. Works such as Acallam na Senórach, in which St Patrick is represented in dialogue with survivors of the Fianna, are reckoned among the greatest masterpieces of medieval Irish literature, while works such as the Biblical apocryphon, The Evernew Tongue and the Irish translation of the Travels of Marco Polo provide unique insights into Irish reception of external literature, both ecclesiastical and secular.

The adventures of the Book are as note-worthy as its content. It was probably kept at Kilbrittain Castle in west Cork, the Mac Carthaigh Riabhach residence, until the early 1640s, when, after capture in a siege, it was given into the possession of the Earl of Cork at Lismore Castle, County Waterford. Walled up in the following century, possibly for safe keeping, it was rediscovered, along with an eleventh-century crozier, during renovation work on Lismore Castle in 1814. Soon after it was lent to a Cork antiquary, Donnchadh Ó Floinn, and was transcribed by numerous local scribes before being returned incomplete to Lismore. However, by the 1860s, the Book was restored to its present state and remained for the most part at Lismore until the late 1920s. It was thereafter transferred to its present home at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, ancestral seat of the Dukes of Devonshire.

The Book of Lismore occupies a unique position in the sometimes complex historical interactions between Ireland and Britain, moving as it has between these distinct but complementary cultures and societies, and reinforcing the significance, in both the medieval and modern ages, of the book as a powerfully symbolic artefact.

The manuscript’s owners have generously lent it for scholarly use since the nineteenth century, not only to Cork’s scribal circle, but to institutions such as the Royal Irish Academy and the British Museum. UCC is delighted that this generosity continues with this public exhibition.

UCC President, Dr Michael Murphy said the arrival of the Book of Lismore, Leabhar Meic Carthaigh Riabhaigh, in Cork in 2011, and its exhibition at UCC, constitute an important event in the cultural history of Munster. “I am indebted to the generosity of the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement Trust and the Duke of Devonshire in having consented to loan the Book (as well as an important Van Dyck portrait and other manuscript material) to the University. Were it not for the current Duke and his predecessors in England and Ireland, the Book might, like many other Gaelic manuscripts of its time, have been lost or remained undiscovered. I warmly acknowledge the generosity of the current Duke and Lord Burlington, and all of their colleagues at Chatsworth, particularly Matthew Hirst, Head of Arts and Historic Collections, who have facilitated the sometimes challenging arrangements required for a loan of this kind.”

The Book of Lismore encapsulates the cultural heritage of Cork, Munster and Ireland. Like other surviving manuscripts in Irish, it illustrates the multi-layered histories and traditions of our past. This exciting exhibition will cast new light on an iconic manuscript, and will be welcomed both by scholars and by the general public.

Source: University College Cork

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