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Leabhar Mór Leacain / The Book of Lecan

RIA MS 23 P 2: Cat. No. 535 Late 14th century - early 15th century (A.D. 1397-A.D. 1418) Vellum: 32cm x 22cm 311 folios (9 in MS 1319 [formerly H.2.17] in the Sebright Collection in Trinity College, Dublin)

Written in Irish mainly by Giolla Íosa Mac Firbisigh, assisted by Adam Ó Cuirnín and Murchad Riabach Ó Cuindlis, at Lecan (Castleforbes), Co. Sligo, under the patronage of the O’Dowds. It contains a large amount of genealogical material, especially relating to the families with which the Mac Firbisigh were associated, as well as historical, biblical and hagiographical material. Included are a Dindshenchas, Bansenchas, and versions of Lebor Gabála, Uraicept an nÉces, Cóir Anmann, and Book of Rights.

The writing is in double columns and the main and minor headings and hundreds of capital letters are decorated and coloured in vivid vermilion and yellow.

In 1612 the manuscript was in the hands of Henry Perse, who numbered the leaves, and in 1636 it was seen by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh. It was part of Archbishop James Ussher’s library and was in Trinity College, Dublin in 1686 but was appropriated by Sir John Fitzgerald during James II’s occupation of Dublin in 1698. It was removed to France and through the efforts of General Charles Vallancey the manuscript was presented in 1787 to the Royal Irish Academy by Abbé Kearney, Superior of the Irish College at Paris.

In 1968 cleaning, repair and rebinding were done by Roger Powell, at a cost of £475Stg. The 19th-century, dark green, tooled-leather cover with the stamp ‘Geo. Mullen Dublin 1831’ was removed. The leaves were relaxed with water and flattened, unnecessary patches removed and mends made with parchment and transparent vellum. It was resewn in a zig-zag of hand-made paper on seven double cords and bound in English oak. The spine was covered with alum-tawed pigskin and it is kept under slight pressure in an oak case, specially designed by Edward Barnsley.

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

Select Bibliography

  • The Book of Lecan: Leabhar Mór Mhic Fhir Bhisigh Leacáin, with descriptive introduction and indexes by Kathleen Mulchrone, collotype facsimile (Dublin, 1937).
  • 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.
  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1943), Fasc. 13: 1551-1610.
  • B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Aon amharc ar Éirinn Dublin, 2013), 7-9
  • J. Hardiman, ‘Extracts from Book of Lecan’, Translation, 19th century (RIA MS 12 F 23).
  • M.E. Dobbs, ‘The history of the descendants of Ir’, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 13 (1921), 308-59.
  • Proinsias Mac Cana, Collège des Irlandais Paris and Irish studies (Dublin, 2001).
  • P. MacSwiney, ‘Notes on the history of the Book of Lecan’, Proc. RIA 38 C 3 (1928), 31-50.
  • Tomás Ó Concheanainn, ‘Gilla Ísa Mac Fir Bhisigh and a scribe of his school’, Ériu 25 (1974), 166-71.
  • Tomás Ó Concheanainn, ‘Scríobhaithe Leacáin Mhic Fhir Bhisigh’, Celtica 19 (1987), 141-75.
  • Tomás Ó Concheanainn, ‘A medieval Irish historiographer: Giolla Íosa Mac Fhir Bhisigh’, in Alfred P. Smyth (ed.), Seanchas: Studies in early and medieval Irish archaeology, history and literature in honour of Francis J. Byrne (Dublin, 2000), 387-95.
  • Tomás Ó Concheanainn, ‘Lebor Gabála in the Book of Lecan’ in Toby Barnard, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, and Katharine Simms (eds), A Miracle of learning: studies in manuscripts and Irish learning. Essays in honour of William O’Sullivan (Aldershot, 1998), 68-90.
  • Nollaig Ó Muráile, The celebrated antiquary: Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh (c. 1600-1671), his lineage, life and learning (Maynooth, 1996).
  • Timothy O’Neill, The Irish hand (Cork, 2014), 50-1, 105
  • Timothy O’Neill, ‘Quills, inks and vellums’ in Bernadette Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures … (Dublin, 2009), 45-9.
  • Paul Walsh, Irish men of learning: studies by Father Paul Walsh, edited by Colm Ó Lochlainn (Dublin, 1947), 102-18.

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