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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 Clonmacnois. 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 will be published in autumn 2015 as 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.
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.
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.
Gearóid Mac Eoin, ‘The interpolator H in Lebor na hUidre’ in J.P. Mallory and G. Stockman (eds), Ulidia (Belfast, 1994), 39-46.
T. Ó Concheanainn, ‘Aided Nath Í and the scribes of Leabhar na hUidhre’, Éigse 16 (1975), 146-62; ‘The Reviser of Leabhar na hUidhre’, Éigse 15 (1973-4), 277-88; ‘LL and the date of the reviser of LU’, Éigse 20 (1984), 212-25.
B. O’Looney, ‘Translation into English of texts from Lebor na h-Uidre 19th century’ (RIA MS 3 A 15).

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 … (Dublin, 2009), 45-9.
H.P.A. Oskamp, ‘Mael Muire: compiler or reviser?’, Éigse 16 (1975), 176-82; ‘Notes on the history of Lebor na hUidre’, Proc. RIA 65 C 6 (1967), 117-38; ‘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.
Rev. P. Walsh, ‘The Book of the Dun Cow’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record 34 (1929), 449-64.
M. West, ‘A Connacht medieval literary heritage: texts derived from Cin Dronma Snechtaí through Leabhar na hUidhre’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 16 (1988), 1-40; ‘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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