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Book of Fermoy / The Book of Roche

RIA MS 23 E 29: Cat. No. 1134 Mainly 15th century, pp 1-16 14th century (?), and some 16th-century hands Vellum: 34.5cm x 26cm [238pp]

Written in Irish at Castletownroche, near Fermoy, Co. Cork, by several scribes including Domhnall Ó L(e)(ighin), Uilliam Ó hIcedha, Dáibith Ó Du(ib...) and Torna Uí M(h)aoil Chonaire. It contains a fragment of Lebor Gabála, a collection of poems and material relating to the Roche family, poems of Gearóid Iarla, lives of saints, historical tracts, genealogies, mythological tales and fragments of medical treatises.

The writing is in double columns and three hands of medical scribes of the 15th century are distinguishable, viz.: a coarse bookhand (pp 1-16), a distinct small neat upright hand (pp 147-51), and a cursive hand (pp 217-24). There are simple decorated capital letters and spaces left for decorations which were never inserted.

In 1858 the manuscript was purchased for £70 by Dr J.H. Todd, Lord Talbot de Malahide, General Sir Thomas A. Larcom and Charles Haliday at the sale of William Monck Mason’s books and deposited in the Academy.

In 1975 the rebinding done by Roger Powell, at a cost of £2,200Stg (£74.82 for case), replaced an earlier binding which was done after 1873. The cockled and shrunken leaves were flattened, encased in new, specially dyed vellum to match the colour tone, and tears were repaired with cellulose-free sausage skin stuck with parchment size. The leaves were resewn and rebound between English oak boards with an alum-tawed pigskin spine. To keep the vellum under slight pressure, it is kept in an African sapele case specially designed by Edward Barnsley.

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, 1940), Fasc. 25: 3091-125.
John Carey, ‘Compilations of lore and legend: Leabhar na Uidhre 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.
R.A.S. Macalister, ‘The ‘Fermoy’ copy of Lebor Gabhála’, Ériu 11 (1932), 172-3.
G. Mac Niocaill (ed.), ‘Duanaire Ghearóid Iarla from the Book of Fermoy’, Studia Hibernica 3 (1963), 7-59.
E. O’Curry, ‘Description of Book of Fermoy’, RIA MS 12 W 27 (1858).
J.H. Todd, Descriptive catalogue of the Book of Fermoy in the Royal Irish Academy, RIA Manuscripts Series 1 (Dublin, 1873).

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