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Book of Uí Mhaine / The Book of Hy Many / The Book of the O’Kellys / Book of Ó Dubhagáin

RIA MS D ii 1: Cat. no. 1225. c. A.D. 1394. Vellum: 44cm x 27cm. 157 folios (4 additional folios are in British Library, MS Egerton 90, ff 17 – 20)

The manuscript now known as the Book of Uí Mhaine was written in Irish in the late fourteenth century, probably in the ancient territory of Uí Mhaine (east Galway, south Roscommon, part of Clare, part of Offaly). It is a large vellum book, and was probably planned as a prestige manuscript, designed to impress those who saw it.

The contents of the Book of Uí Mhaine are described in a marginal note as 'bolg an tsolathair' (bag of mixed content/miscellany). Contents include genealogical tracts, historical and religious matter, poetry, a metrical dinnshenchas (lore of places), a copy of the banshenchas or chronicle of famous women, Leabhar na gCeart, a tract on the privileges of provincial kings, Cóir Anmann (a treatise on personal names), and part of Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary).

Many folios that were once part of this manuscript have been lost over the centuries. There may have been 368 folios in the manuscript in the fifteenth century. Just 157 folios now survive in RIA, MS D ii 1. A further 4 folios that once belongs with this manuscript became separated from it in the nineteenth century, and are now in British Library, MS Egerton 90, fols 17–20, a section that contains historical poems. Among the texts that were still part of the book in the seventeenth century but are now lost are the Irish origin legend, Leabhar Gabhála (Book of Invasions) and the lengthy Finn Cycle tale, Acallam na Senórach.

Scribes

The portion of the manuscript that survives was the work of ten scribes of which the two principal ones were Ádhamh Cúisín (Adam Cusin) and Faolán Mac an Ghabhann na Scéal (d.1423). Other later scribes made minor additions. The writing is normally in double columns and there are some fine decorated capitals with interlaced designs coloured in red and yellow. Some sections are less well executed. The penmanship of Ádhamh Cúisín has been described as mediocre whereas Faolán Mac an Ghabhann was a more meticulous and skilled scribe (O’Sullivan, 1989). The learned family of Mac an Ghabhann were hereditary historians to the Uí Chinnéide in Ormond (north Tipperary).

Owners

The Book of Uí Mhaine was written over a period of several years for Muircheartach Ó Ceallaigh, who served as Bishop of Clonfert (1378–93) and later became archbishop of Tuam (1393–1407). At the end of fol. 55v, the scribe, Faolán, added a note saying he had written it for his lord, friend and companion, the bishop, and advised against giving the book away to his friends. Much of its content was related in some way to the cultural interests of the O’Kellys in the fourteenth century, or comprised standard texts that were well known to the medieval professional historians employed by them.

The manuscript remained in County Galway until 1757. It was sometimes in the possession of the earls of Clanricard and sometimes in the custody of the Kelly family. The manuscript was in Galway city in the mid-seventeenth century when several scholars had access to it, notably Revd John Lynch, Dubhaltach Mac Fhir Bhisigh and Roderick O’Flaherty (Ó Muraíle, 1989). These seventeenth-century scholars in Galway referred to it as the Book of Ó Dubhagáin. The Ó Dubhagáin family had been hereditary historians to the O’Kellys of Uí Mhaine.

The current name, Book of Uí Mhaine / Book of Hy Many / Leabhar Uí Mhaine, was first used in the early nineteenth century by antiquarian scholars and collectors such as Edward O’Reilly (d.1830) and Sir William Betham (d.1853). Edward O’Reilly had referred to it in 1820 as the ‘Book of the O’Kellys’. William O’Sullivan has suggested that the change of name may have been a deliberate tactic because the ownership of the codex was unclear (O’Sullivan 1989, note 1). By 1814 the manuscript had been acquired by Sir William Betham, and he sold it to the Duke of Buckingham for £150 in 1823. It was later acquired by the Duke of Ashburnham in 1849. The Book of Uí Mhaine thus came to be part of the collection of manuscripts of Irish interest in the Stowe-Ashburnham collection that was purchased by the British government in 1883 and deposited in the library of the Royal Irish Academy for the Irish nation.

Publication and conservation

A facsimile edition of the Book of Uí Mhaine, edited by R.A.S. Macalister, was published by the Royal Irish Academy in 1941. As part of the preparatory work for that edition, the nineteenth-century binding in green velvet with gilt to the edges was removed for photography by the Ordnance Survey in 1941. A generation later, in 1985–7 the manuscript was cleaned, repaired and rebound by Anthony Cains (TCD Conservation Laboratory) at a cost of £4,000. Old patches of vellum were removed, the leaves were hydrated and flattened, any small tears in the vellum were repaired with goldbeater’s skin. The leaves were re-sewn on four double linen cords, laced into quarter sawn Irish oak with an alum-tawed pigskin spine. To prevent cockling, the manuscript is kept under slight pressure in an oak case made by Eric Pearse.

New research

An international conference on the Book of Uí Mhaine was held in the Royal Irish Academy Library on 2-3 March 2017. Podcasts of the lectures presented at that conference are available. The conference proceedings are being edited for publication in print in the Academy’s series: Codices Hibernenses Eximii.

Digital images of the original fourteenth-century manuscript have been published in association with the Irish Script on Screen project of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, where a detailed catalogue description of its contents can also be found.

Further reading

  • The Book of Uí Maine, with introduction and indexes by R.A.S. Macalister, collotype facsimile (Dublin, 1941).
  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1943), Fasc. 26, pp 3314–35 (A detailed description, by Kathleen Mulchrone, of the contents of the manuscript).
  • Digitised images of Book of Uí Mhaine [RIA, MS D ii 1]:  isos.dias.ie
  • R.A. Breatnach, ‘The Book of Uí Mhaine’ in Great books of Ireland. Thomas Davis Lectures (Dublin, 1967), pp 77–89.
  • 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.
  • Kuno Meyer, ‘Neue mitteilunger aus irischen Handschriften: das Buch der Húi  Maine’, Archiv für celtische Lexikographie, 2 (1904), 138–146 (archive.org).
  • Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Clavis litterarum Hibernensium (3 vols, Turnhout: Brepols, 2017), vol. ii, item 819.
  • Nollaig Ó Muráile, ‘Leabhar Ua Maine alias Leabhar Uí Dhubhagáin’, Éigse 23 (1989), 167–95.
  • Timothy O’Neill, The Irish hand (Cork, 2014).
  • Timothy O’Neill, ‘Quills, inks and vellums’ in Bernadette Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds),Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009), 45–9.
  • William O’Sullivan, ‘The Book of Uí Maine formerly the Book of Ó Dubhagáin: scripts & structure’, Éigse 23 (1989), 151–66.
  • Podcasts of 2017 Book of Uí Mhaine conference: ria.ie/library/library-audio-collections

 

Updated June 2020

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