The Book of Lismore at the Glucksman Gallery, UCC
“Those ancient warriors yonder do not relate more than a third of their tales, on account of oblivion and forgetfulness. And let them be written down on the tablets of poets, and in the words of masters; for listening to those tales will be entertainment for multitudes and for noble folk at the end of time”.
(Acallamm na Senórach; Carey, Herbert and Knowles 27)
The Book of Lismore, a fifteenth-century Irish manuscript, was on display for the autumn months in UCC’s Glucksman Gallery. The book is written in the Irish language and was compiled some time between 1478 and 1506. It was composed for reading by lay persons as opposed to for a religious organisation or for scholars. Similar manuscripts include the Book of Fermoy and Bodleian Laud Miscellany 610. Much of the material contained within the Book of Lismore would have been composed centuries earlier and its contemporary readers may have struggled with the content due to the elaborate diction and out-dated subject matter (Carey, Herbert and Knowles 13).
The book is attributed to two main scribes and consists of 198 folios, although much of the original manuscript has been lost. It contains nine saints’ lives (Patrick, Colum Cille, Brigit, Senán of Scattery, Finnian of Clonard, Finnchua of Brigown, Brendan of Clonfert, Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, Mochua of Balla); several religious texts; The Ever-new Tongue ( a cosmological work); three religious poems; an Irish translation of the History of Charlemagne; The History of the Lombards; an Irish version of the Travels of Marco Polo; a series of secular tales and poems; some historical accounts of Munster; and miscellaneous poems and tales, such as The Tale of the Pig’s Psalter, about an underwater monastery. The texts contained within the Book of Lismore, while not readily transparent to fifteenth century readers, would have been seen as important due to their context in a manuscript setting.
The Glucksman had folio 134-5 on display. It was interesting to note the differences in font between these two folios. F.134 had smaller, neater writing. The ink used on this folio was black, except for the first four to five lines which were reddish-brown in colour. F.135 contained all reddish-brown writing in a larger sized font. Illustrations in red and black ink could also be seen introducing the text on each page. These illustrations were added in the eighteenth century by Donnchadh Ó Flionn, a Cork scribe, who had a loan of the manuscript in the early eighteenth century. Also on display was an eighteenth-century manuscript containing a transcription of the contents of the Book of Lismore. It was most interesting to see that the fifteenth-century manuscript was in better condition than the eighteenth-century copy. The exhibition also held a newspaper clipping from 1817 on the importance of preserving manuscripts, evidence that this is not just a modern concern.
The exhibition also made an interesting point on different types of textual transmission. On one wall it displayed a letter from Lewis Boyle to his father Richard regarding the possession of the Book of Lismore. On a facing wall there was a portrait of Richard Boyle by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, the most recognised painter of the Caroline court. James Knowles makes a very interesting point regarding theses contrasting items: “These two very different objects, the seductively glamorous portrait by a renowned painter, and the everyday letter, themselves embody the range of possibilities and activities encompassed. They represent the two key media through which the Boyles operated, the visual signifiers of power – buildings, opulent clothes and material possessions, artistic works, especially pictures – and the textual world of documents and legal memoranda, letters, literary, philosophical and political texts” (38). The Book of Lismore itself also embodies both visual and textual representations, as do many historical manuscripts.
Carey, John, Máire Herbert, and James Knowles. Travelled Tales: Leabhar Scéalach Siúlach. Cork: UCC, 2011. Print.