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Leabhar Breac / The Speckled Book / The Book of Mac Egans / Leabhar Mór Dúna Doighre

RIA MS 23 P 16: Cat. No. 1230
A.D. 1408-1411 Vellum: 40.5cm x 28cm 142 folios

Written in Irish by Murchadh Riabach Ó Cuindlis (a scribe of the Book of Lecan), at Cluain Lethan and Lothra (Lorrha) in Múscraige Tíre, in north Co. Tipperary. It is the largest Irish vellum manuscript by one scribe. The patron is not known and the scribe’s name does not appear in the manuscript but his personality is to some extent revealed in the marginalia, which also contain jottings on the place where it was written and on the weather.

It contains religious and biblical material derived from Latin, Irish literature and history, including the lives of St Patrick and St Brigid, the Litany of Our Lady, Félire Óengusso, Célí Dé, Aisling Meic Conglinne, a history of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great.

The writing is in double columns, the decoration of the capitals is simple and there are some fine interlaced letters of zoomorphic design, coloured in red, vermilion, yellow and blue. There is a graceful illustration of the Menorah on page 121 and a drawing of the Crucifixion on page 166.

In the 16th century the manuscript was held by the Mac Egans of Duniry, hereditary brehons to the O’Connors, whence it received the title of Leabhar Mór Dúna Doighre. It was known to Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and pages 272-7 were copied by him in the convent of Cenél Féichín, in the Province of Connacht, where the manuscript was for the greater part of the 17th century. It was in the possession of Eamon Ó Ceallaigh, Co. Roscommon, in 1732, of Dr John O’Brien before 1768 and ultimately of Cornelius O’Daly of Mitchelstown. The manuscript was originally in two volumes. Volume I was sold for three guineas by Cornelius O’Daly to General Vallancey for the Royal Irish Academy in 1789. Volume II (nine leaves) was acquired by George Smith from the collection of Chevalier O’Gorman and came to the Academy after 1844.

The earliest record of binding was a stamp on the boards ‘George Mullen, Dublin, 1831’ and it was later rebound according to Eugene O’Curry’s instructions. In 1973 Roger Powell replaced the 19th-century binding and repaired the manuscript at a cost of £775Stg. The cockled leaves of the manuscript were flattened and the fragile parts of the vellum with writing have been re-inforced with cellulose-free sausage skin stuck with parchment size. Other mends were made with specially toned vellum. The leaves were re-sewn in one volume and bound between mahogany boards with an alum-tawed pigskin spine. To keep the vellum under pressure the bound manuscript is kept in a mahogany case specially designed by David Powell.

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


Select Bibliography

  • Leabhar Breac .... Lithograph facsimile by J. O’Longan, J.J. Gilbert (ed.) (Dublin, 1876).

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1943), Fasc. 27: 3379-4404.

  • R. Atkinson, The Passions and homilies from Leabhar Breac: text, translations and glossary, RIA Todd Lectures, Series 11 (Dublin, 1887).

  • J.H. Bernard, ‘On the citations from scripture in the Leabhar Breac’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 30 (1893), 321-4.

  • B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Aon amharc ar Éirinn: Gaelic families and their manuscripts (Dublin, 2013), 28-9.

  • J.J. Egan and M.J. Egan, History of Clan Egan: the birds of the forest of wisdom (Ann Arbor, 1979), 59-67.

  • 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.

  • P.Y. Lambert, ‘La continuité des procédés de traduction dans le monde celtique’, Traduction et traducteurs au moyen âge (Paris, 1989), 63-76.

  • F. Mac Donncha, ‘Páis agus aiséirí Chríost in LB agus LS 10’, Éigse 21 (1986), 170-93.

  • T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘The scribe of the Leabhar Breac’, Ériu 24 (1973), 64-9.

  • Timothy O’Neill, The Irish hand (Cork, 2014), 52-3, 106, 112.

  • 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.

  • Whitley Stokes, ‘On the Calendar of Oengus’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Irish Manuscripts Series, I (Dublin, 1880).

  • Whitley Stokes (ed.), Three Middle-Irish homilies on the lives of Saints Patrick, Brigit and Columba (Calcutta, 1877).

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