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Lebor na hUidre / The Book of the Dun Cow

RIA MS 23 E 25: Cat. No. 1229 Before A.D. 1106 Vellum: 32cm x 24cm 67 folios, a fragment of original manuscript

Written in Irish at Clonmacnoise. The two principal scribes were Mael Muire Mac Célechair and an unnamed scribe (A). It was revised at a later date by an interpolator (H) using different sources. It is named after a 6th-century sacred relic of Clonmacnois, the hide of the dun cow that belonged to St Ciarán. The earliest surviving manuscript with literature written in Irish, it contains the oldest version of the Táin Bó Cuailgne, the Voyage of Bran, the Feast of Bricriú, and other religious, mythical and historical material.

The writing is mostly in two columns, in a regular, fairly legible Irish miniscule, with delicately drawn initials of the wire and ribbon type, coloured in yellow, purple and red.

After the break-up of the old Irish monastery at Clonmacnois, the manuscript was in the possession of the O’Donnells of Donegal. In 1359, when a number of the family were taken prisoner by Cathal Óg O’Connor, of the O’Connor family in Sligo, they were ransomed with Lebor na hUidre and Leabhar Gearr, now lost. Lebor na hUidre was recovered by Aedh Ruadh O’Donnell in 1470, and was in Donegal when the Annals of the Four Masters was completed in 1631. It then disappeared but was used by George Petrie in 1837 and turned up in the Hodges Smith Collection of 227 manuscripts which was purchased by the Academy for 1,200 guineas in 1844.

In 1881 the manuscript was repaired and the leaves were framed in brown parchment. In 1967 it was cleaned, repaired and rebound by Roger Powell at a cost of £528Stg. The cockled leaves were separated from the parchment frames, flattened, and interleaved with new parchment. They were resewn and bound in English oak and the spine was covered with an alum-tawed pigskin. To prevent cockling of the vellum leaves, the rebound manuscript is kept under slight pressure in a teak case, specially designed by Edward Barnsley.

Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge, Maynooth University and the Library held a major conference on Lebor na hUidre, 22-23 November 2012. Podcasts of the presentations are available here. The Proceedings of the conference have been published and are available to buy via our Publications department Codices Hibernenses Eximii, ed. Ruairí Ó hUiginn, MRIA. 

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

Select Bibliography

  • Leabhar na H-Uidhri: Book of the Dun Cow. Lithograph facsimile by J. O'Longan, J.J. Gilbert (ed.) (Dublin, 1870).

  • Lebor na Huidre: Book of the Dun Cow. Diplomatic edition by R.I. Best and O. Bergin (Dublin, 1929: reprinted 1972).

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1943), Fasc. 27: 3367-79.

  • R.I. Best, ‘Notes on the script of Lebor na hUidre’, Ériu, 6 (1912), 161-74.

  • R.I. Best, ‘Palaeographical notes, II: Lebor na hUidre’, Ériu, 8 (1916), 117-19.

  • E. Boyle, ‘Eschatological themes in Lebor na hUidre’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 115-30.

  • L. Breatnach, ‘Lebor na hUidre: some linguistic aspects’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 53-77.

  • J. Carey, ‘H and his world’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 101-13.

  • J. Carey, ‘Compilations of lore and legend: Leabhar na hUidhre and the Books of Uí Mhaine, Ballymote, Lecan and Fermoy’, in B. Cunningham and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009), 17-31.

  • J. Carey, ‘The LU copy of Lebor Gabála’, in J. Carey (ed.), Lebor Gabála Érenn: textual history and pseudo history (ITS subsidiary series, 20 (London, 2009), 21-32.

  • E. Duncan, ‘Lebor an hUidre and a copy of Boethius’s De Re Arithmetica: a palaeographical note’, Ériu, 62 (2012), 1-23.

  • E. Duncan, ‘The palaeography of H in Lebor na hUidre’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 29-52.

  • D. Greene, ‘Leabhar na Huidhre’, in Great books of Ireland (Thomas Davis Lectures) (Dublin, 1967), 64-76.

  • F. Henry and G.L. Marsh-Micheli, ‘A century of Irish illumination (1070-1170)’, Proc. RIA, 62 C 5 (1962), 114-16.

  • M. Herbert, ‘Three texts from Lebor na hUidre, and their testimony’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 79-99.

  • G. Mac Eoin, ‘The interpolator H in Lebor na hUidre,’ in J.P. Mallory and G. Stockman (eds), Ulidia: proceedings of the first international conference on the Ulster Cycle of tales (Belfast, 1994), 39-46.

  • McKenna, C. ‘Angels and demons in the pages of Lebor na hUidre’, in J.F. Eska (ed.), Narrative in Celtic tradition: essays in honour of Edgar M Slotkin (CSANA Yearbook, 8-9) (New York, 2011), 157-80.

  • T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘Aided Nath Í and the scribes of Leabhar na hUidhre’, Éigse 16 (1975), 146-62;

  • T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘The Reviser of Leabhar na hUidhre’, Éigse, 15 (1973-4), 277-88;

  • T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘LL and the date of the reviser of LU’, Éigse, 20 (1984), 212-25.

  • T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘A Connacht medieval literary heritage: texts derived from Cin Dromma Snechtaí through Leabhar na hUidhre’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, 16 (1988), 1-40.

  • T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘Textual and historical associations of Leabhar na hUidhre’, Éigse, 29 (1996), 65-120.

  • T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘Leabhar na hUidhre: further textual associations’, Éigse, 30 (1997), 27-91.

  • D. Ó Corráin, ‘Máel Muire, the scribe: family and background’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 1-28.

  • R. Ó hUiginn, ‘Lebor na hUidre; from Clonmacnoise to Kilbarron’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 155-82.

  • B. O’Looney, ‘Translation into English of texts from Lebor na h-Uidre 19th century’ (RIA MS 3 A 15).

  • N. Ó Muraíle, ‘Notes on Lebor na hUidre’s later history, including its Connacht sojourn, 1359-1470’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 183-206.

  • Timothy O’Neill, The Irish hand (Cork, 2014), 38-9, 91-2, 98.

  • 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.

  • H.P.A. Oskamp, ‘Mael Muire: compiler or reviser?’, Éigse, 16 (1975), 176-82;

  • H.P.A. Oskamp, ‘Notes on the history of Lebor na hUidre’, Proc. RIA, 65 C 6 (1967), 117-38;

  • H.P.A. Oskamp, ‘On the collation of Lebor na hUidre’, Ériu, 25 (1974), 147-56.

  • R. Powell, ‘Further notes on Lebor na Huidre’, Ériu, 21 (1967), 99-102.

  • G. Toner, ‘History and salvation in Lebor na hUidre’, in R. Ó hUiginn (ed.), Lebor na hUidre (Codices Hibernenses Eximii, 1) (Dublin, 2015), 131-53.

  • G. Toner, Scribe and text in Lebor na hUidre: H’s intentions and methodology’, in R. Ó hUiginn and B. Ó Catháin (eds), Ulidia 2: proceedings of the second international conference on the Ulster Cycle of tales (Maynooth, 2009), 106-20.

  • Paul Walsh, ‘The Book of the Dun Cow’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 34 (1929), 449-64. [Review of Best & Bergin edition, 1929] (reprinted in Irish men of learning (Dublin, 1947)).

  • Paul Walsh, ‘Restoration of LU, 1380’, Catholic Bulletin, 29 (1939), 733-6 (reprinted in Irish men of learning (Dublin, 1947)).

  • M. West, ‘Leabhar na hUidhre's position in the manuscript history of “Togail Bruidne Da Derga” and “Orgain Brudne Uí Dergae”’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, 20 (1990), 61-98.


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