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Book of Fenagh / Leabar Chaillín / Leabar Fidhnacha

RIA MS 23 P 26: Cat. No. 479 A.D. 1516 Vellum: 30cm x 23cm 41 folios

Written in Irish in 1516 for Tadhg Ó Rodaighe, hereditary comharb of St Caillín in Fenagh. The scribe was Muirgheas Mac Phaidín Uí Mhaoil Chonaire (d.1543). It is mainly a revision of an older Book of St Caillín, which no longer survives. The original manuscript from which it derived is stated to have consisted of the poems only and it was considerably added to. The manuscript also contains historical lore relating to the two territories of Breifne, now Counties Leitrim and Cavan.

It is quite a lavish manuscript, on good quality vellum, and contains both prose and verse. The writing is in double columns and the capital letters are filled in red but some are blank. It is the work of a particularly skilled scribe. The manuscript is in good condition, the outer folios only having suffered from exposure.

A transcript with lists of contents in English was made by Seán Ó Donnabháin in 1828 for Maolmhordha Mac Dubhghoill Uí Raghailligh (MS 23 P 8, Cat. Irish Mss in RIA, Fasc. 10, p. 1288). The Book of Fenagh remained in the hands of the O’Roddys, hereditary comharbs of Fenagh, County Leitrim until the min-nineteenth century. It was in the possession of Dr Conroy, Bishop of Ardagh, at the time of publication in 1875 of a full transcript with English translation, prepared by W.M. Hennessy and D. H. Kelly. The manuscript was purchased in 1888 by the Royal Irish Academy from Reverend D. Murphy for £10.

It is bound in leather, gilt lettered on back ‘Book of Fenagh’ with slip cover of black cloth. In 2017, a cumdach (book shrine) - a drop-back box - was constructed by conservator John Gillis and covered in full goatskin leather with a silver Celtic cross inset. The cross wrought by Michael Rafter, Kilkenny, emulates the cross of Muirechtach (Clonmacoise; Macalister  Corpus inscriptionum [1949], no. 658). The work was funded by Dr Robert J. Roddy in memory of his father Roibeard Ó Rodaigh (1926-88) and a vellum inscription to this effect was penned by Tim O'Neill.

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

Select Bibliography

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1933), Fasc. 10: 1284-6.
  • Bernadette Cunningham & Raymond Gillespie, ‘Muirgheas Ó Maoilchonaire of Cluain Plocáin: an early sixteenth-century Connacht scribe at work’, Studia Hibernica 35 (2008-9), 17-43.
  • Raymond ​Gillespie, Salvador Ryan & Brendan Scott (eds) (2016). Making the Book of Fenagh: context and text (Cavan: Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne) [6 essays].
  • W.M. Hennessy & D.H. Kelly, The Book of Fenagh in Irish and English, originally compiled by St Caillín (Dublin, 1875).
  • Máire Herbert, ‘Medieval collections of ecclesiastical and devotional materials: Leabhar Breac, Liber Flavus Fergusiorum and The Book of Fenagh’ in Bernadette Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009), 33-43.
  • John Hynes, ‘St Caillín’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 61 (1931), 39-54:43-6.
  • R.A.S. Macalister (ed.), Book of Fenagh: supplementary volume (Dublin, 1939).
  • Paul Walsh, The Book of Fenagh (Dublin, 1940).

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