Book of Ballymote
BOOK OF BALLYMOTE / Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta
RIA MS 23 P 12: Cat. No. 536
c. A.D. 1391
Vellum: 40cm x 26cm
251 folios (imperfect)
Written mostly in Irish at Ballymote Castle, Co. Sligo, the former seat of the Mac Donnchaid of Corann ‘under whose patronage the book would appear to have been written’. The principal scribes were Solam Ó Droma, Robertus Mac Sithigh and Magnus Ó Duibgennain, all of whom were pupils of the great brehon McEgan family.
It contains genealogical, topographical, biblical and hagiographical material, including Lebor Gabála (Book of the Invasions), Lebor na gCeart (Book of Rights), Dindshenchas and a key to the Ogham alphabet. It also has versions from Latin of the Destruction of Troy and the History of Philip and Alexander of Macedonia.
The writing is in two columns. There are decorated capital letters and the colours used in colouring the interlaced designs on the capitals are vermilion, chrome, red, black, green and blue. Inside the cover is a diagram of Noah’s Ark with five figures, one with an Irish crown. The manuscript is bound in leather with oak sides. It has been re-backed and on the spine in gilt lettering is the title ‘Leabhar Bhaile an Mhuta’. It is in good condition except that the initial folios are slightly affected by worm which has spread from the worm-eaten sides of the cover.
The manuscript would appear to have belonged to Mac Donnchaid (McDonagh) and in 1522 it was purchased by Aed Óg O’Donnell, prince of Tír Conaill, for 140 milch cows. It turned up in Trinity College, Dublin in 1686, probably as part of the Ussher library, as did the Book of Lecan. It is reported missing in 1702, having been lent without security to Anthony Raymond who had it from 1719-26 and it was subsequently in the hands of Tadhg Ó Neachtain and others. In 1785 the manuscript was presented to the Royal Irish Academy by Chevalier O’Gorman who, it is alleged, purchased it from a millwright’s widow in Drogheda for £20.
- Digitised version: www.isos.dias.ie
- The Book of Ballymote: Photographic facsimile with introduction by R. Atkinson (Dublin, 1887).
- Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1943), Fasc. 13: 1610-35.
- John Carey, ‘Compilations of lore and legend: Leabhar na hUidhre and the Books of Uí Mhaine, Ballymote, Lecan and Fermoy’ in Bernadette Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009), 17-31.
- A. Harrison, ‘Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta ag tús an 18ú aois’, Éigse 23 (1989), 147-50.
- Letters about Book of Ballymote 1761-90 and Notes (RIA MS Ordnance Survey 14 B 1).
- H. Meroney, ‘A Druidic liturgy in Ogam Bricrend’, Modern Language Notes 62 (1947), 187-9.
- T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘The Book of Ballymote’, Celtica 14 (1981), 15-25.
- Timothy O’Neill, ‘Quills, inks and vellums’ in Bernadette Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures … (Dublin, 2009), 45-9.