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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. In October 1719 it was lent by the College library to Anthony Raymond, vicar of Trim. While Raymond had it from 1719-26 he allowed other scholars some access to it. After Raymond's sudden death in 1726 the manuscript came into the hands of Tadhg Ó Neachtain and other Dublin scribes who copied material from it. It was in Drogheda in the 1770s. 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. In 2015 with generous funding from donors, including Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge, UCC and the Sligo Field Club, the library raised sufficient funding for the construction of a customised box to hold the manuscript. This was made by John Gillis the conservator. Timothy O'Neill inscribed the donors' names on vellum for placing with the manuscript as a permanent reminder of their generosity and the continuing connection of the present generation with the book. The Library, in partnership with Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge, Maynooth University, held a major conference on the Book of Ballymote. The papers will be published in 2017 as Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 2. Podcasts of the presentations will be accessible online in autumn 2015. You may view our online exhibition on our Exhibitions and Events page.

Digital images of the manuscript can be viewed on Irish Script on Screen.

Select Bibliography

  • 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.
  • B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Aon amharc ar Éirinn … Dublin, 2013), 6-7, 38-9.
  • A. Harrison, ‘Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta ag tús an 18ú aois’, Éigse 23 (1989), 147-50.
  • A. Harrison, The Dean's friend: Anthony Raymond 1675-1726, Jonathan Swift and the Irish language
    (Dublin, 1999).
  • Copies of 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. (Cork, 2014), 48-9, 102-4.The Irish handTimothy O’Neill,
  • Timothy O’Neill, ‘Quills, inks and vellums’ in Bernadette Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the RIA Library (Dublin, 2009), 45-9.

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