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Conference: Lebor na hUidre

Lebor na hUidre is the oldest manuscript we have that is written entirely in the Irish language. The library held a conference to look at this important manuscript. The conference, organised jointly by the Library of the Academy and by NUI Maynooth, took place 22-3 November and proved to be an outstanding success with over 110 delegates in attendance. Several of those who attended travelled from institutes as far afield as Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany and Russia. The conference was opened by Academy President, Luke O’Connor Drury.

Date: 22-23 November, 2012
Venue: Academy House, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2

Lebor na hUidre (LU) is the oldest manuscript we have that is written entirely in the Irish language. It contains the earliest versions to have been transmitted to us of some of the most celebrated Old Irish sagas: Táin Bó Cuailnge, Togail Bruidne Da Derga, Fled Bricrenn, Mesca Ulad, Tochmarc Emere and several others, in addition to much material of a historical or religious nature. Included in the latter is Amra Choluim Chille, believed by many to have been written shortly after the saint’s death and therefore it would be the oldest continuous text we have in Irish.

Given LU’s unique position, it is not surprising that aspects of its content and composition have been the subject of research and discussion. One of the most important studies to be carried out was that of R.I. Best ‘Notes on the script of Lebor na hUidre’, which appeared in volume 6 of the Royal Irish Academy’s journal Ériu a hundred years ago. In this paper Best identified three separate scribal hands that were involved in writing the manuscript and his important findings were incorporated in the diplomatic edition of the text that he and O.J. Bergin published for the Academy in 1929.

As there have been few thorough studies of LU as a whole since that time, it was thought timely to look again at this important manuscript and it was felt that this would best be achieved through a conference.

Papers were read by 10 speakers representing 7 institutes of higher learning in Ireland and the UK: Cambridge, Edinburgh, UCC, NUIG, DIAS, QUB and NUI Maynooth, and they addressed issues such as the hands found in LU, the language of some of the texts, the background to its compilation and aspects of its later history. As a result of the conference, it can be stated with confidence that our thinking in relation to LU has undergone fundamental change – especially with regard to the hands identified in the MS, the objectives of its scribes, its date and its later history.

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