The Ancient Books of Ireland

The Ancient Books of Ireland

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Ancient Books of Ireland
    Book Description:

    The Ancient Books of Ireland describes precious manuscripts that have survived for centuries. Slavin reveals not only their fascinating contents but their intriguing histories. Among the most important manuscripts described are :

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7329-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-I)
    (pp. II-IV)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-V)
    (pp. VI-VII)
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
    Patrick Wallace

    I first met Michael Slavin fifteen years ago, and when he invited me to write a short piece to introduce his new venture,The Ancient Books of Ireland, I was delighted to accept.

    I can describe Michael’s new work in the same way as I did hisBook of Tara, which I launched in 1996, as ‘a spot in the middle ground between the world of academia and the purely popular …’ Once again Michael Slavin has achieved what he set out to do. With no stinting on research, much of which he carried out at his antiquarian bookshop on...

    (pp. IX-X)
    Michael Slavin

    We Irish like to hold fast to our past. Ancient legends and sagas, stories of heroes, both mythological and real, continue to inform both our picture of that past and the way we view ourselves in the present.

    Yet in a strange way, we are more familiar with the content of our legendary past than with the sources from which it is drawn. We know of Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill, of Maeve, Deirdre and Gráinne, but the ancient books from which these tales derive are little known. Great old volumes like theBook of the Dun Cow, theBook...

  7. CHAPTER I Our Oldest Book of Irish Legends LEBOR NA HUIDRE — BOOK of the DUN COW (COMPILED 1090–1106)
    (pp. 1-23)

    BUT ABOVE ALL else theBook of the Dun Cowis a window onto Ireland’s Celtic past, a transportation into a pre-Christian Otherworld and an introduction to mythical figures like Cúchulainn, Queen Maeve, Emer and Niamh, who remain so much a part of our folklore.

    While incomplete in itself through its lost pages, it fills important gaps in other later medieval manuscripts and has been an indispensable source book for early Irish history writers like the Four Masters and Geoffrey Keating. It has been a font of lore for compilers of ancient tales like Lady Gregory, P.W.Joyce and James Stephens,...

  8. CHAPTER II The Great Pre-Norman Codex BOOK of LEINSTER or LEBOR NA NUACHONGBALA (1152–1161)
    (pp. 24-43)

    This is a bulky compendium of 187 tall vellum sheets, generally measuring about 13 inches by 9 inches. According to Eugene O’Curry, the words crammed onto the front and back of its folia would fill 2000 pages in theAnnals of the Four Masters— four times his estimate for theBook of the Dun Cow.

    Just as with theDun Cow, this compilation of ancient lore, made in the mid-twelfth century, was intended as a library of then available material, but it goes far beyond its predecessor not only in size but in the scope of subject matter it...

  9. CHAPTER III Scribal Treasures From the West BOOK of BALLYMOTE (1400), GREAT BOOK of LECAN (1416), YELLOW BOOK of LECAN (1391) and BOOK of UI MHAINE (O’KELLYS) (1394)
    (pp. 44-67)

    These facts give some idea of the value placed upon these great fourteenth- and fifteenth-century compilations and family heirlooms from the west of Ireland. A more touching indication of the esteem in which they were held is to be found in a note added to theBook of the O’Kellys. Lamenting the state of this much-consulted volume, it reads: ‘Oh! Great book, it is not pleasant for you being handled by everyone.’ The energetic 30-year burst of literary activity between 1390 and 1420 which brought these mighty volumes into being happened within an area still at that time termed Gaelic...

  10. CHAPTER IV Finding Fionn Mac Cumhaill THE BOOK of LISMORE (1480)
    (pp. 68-85)

    Before looking at the history and contents of theBook of Lismore, let us concentrate for a time on the fame of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, whose exploits take up a full quarter of this fifteenth-century volume’s 197 folia.

    While always the most popular heroic figure in Irish saga literature, Fionn Mac Cumhaill is like the Pimpernel of our ancient lore. Unlike Cúchulainn, whose story is well told in books likeLebor na h Uidre, theBook of Leinsterand theBook of Lecan, one has to seek out Fionn here and there throughout the preserved Celtic writings not only here...

  11. CHAPTER V Saluting St Patrick THE BOOK of ARMAGH (ad807)
    (pp. 86-103)

    Despite a number of adventures and having many hands laid on it when used for the taking of oaths, theBook of Armaghhas survived for almost 1200 years in as good condition as when it was written. Just as it did when Brian Boru viewed it in 1005, it still brings us as close as we will ever get to the story of Christianity’s coming into Ireland.

    The books in our first four chapters dealt largely with material that has its origins and subject matter couched firmly in pre-Christian times. Now we come to the oldest version we have...

  12. CHAPTER VI Ireland’s Oldest Book The CATHACH (c.ad600)
    (pp. 104-119)

    Its Irish name isAn Cathach, ‘The Battler’, because of its use as a talisman of war by the O’Donnells of Donegal. It is the oldest extant Irish book and the world’s second most ancient copy of the Psalms.

    In legend, it is attributed to St Columcille himself, whose copying of a book of psalms sparked a deadly conflict between the northern and southern O’Neill kings in early medieval Ireland. However, there is no proof that this is the same book. But historians will admit that it could date back to very near Columcille’s time in the late sixth century....

  13. CHAPTER VII Divine Illuminations THE BOOK of DURROW (c. ad675) and THE BOOK of KELLS (c. ad790)
    (pp. 120-137)

    We do know that both of these works of art were created within the fold of Columcille’s monastic empire, which in the seventh and eighth centuries stretched from Derry to Durrow and from the island foundations of lona and Lindisfarne to Kells. The exact places of their writing has never been finally established but one thing is sure, the hands of Columcille’s Irish monks are upon them and no amount of learned debate can erase that.

    Both books are accorded the accolade of being the supreme example of scriptural illumination of their time —Durrow c.AD675 andKells c....

  14. CHAPTER VIII Recalling the Ancient Tradition BOOKS of THE BREHON LAWS
    (pp. 138-153)

    Oddly enough, that pungent sentence was written by the very man that Queen Elizabeth I and James I sent to Ireland with the express purpose of destroying the system of Brehon Laws that had made the Irish such ‘lovers’ of justice. It is from the pen of one John Davies, who eventually became Attorney General of Ireland under James I and who in 1612 wrote his treatiseThe True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Entirely Subdued. He was no great friend of our island and yet he had to admire the manner in which remote parts of our country still...

    (pp. 154-171)

    THESE TWO FASCINATING books are partisan to be sure, yet in them we can still pierce through to the man himself, a larger than life figure who accomplished what no one else has ever done the decisive defeat of the invaders of Ireland. In a time one thousand years ago, between 1002 until his death at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, he succeeded in uniting the disparate groups on this island in a manner never achieved before and which has viciously eluded us ever since. Through a combination of raw power and astute diplomacy, he strove to bring what...

    (pp. 172-191)

    Working as they did in most dangerous times but taking full advantage of what freedom remained in Ireland during the reign of Charles I (1625–1649), O’Cleary and Keating both skipped in and out of hiding to glean historical, topographical, regnal and hagiographic remains from the ancient books and annals still surviving in those years.

    The total destruction of the old Gaelic organisation of Irish society had been brilliantly effected by Queen Elizabeth. She wanted a ‘final solution’ to the problem that an Ireland unwilling to be dominated had posed to London for some 400 years. She and those who...

    (pp. 192-194)
    (pp. 195-198)
    (pp. 198-198)