Book of Lismore

The Book of Lismore, also known as the Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach, is a late fifteenth-century Gaelic manuscript that was created at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork, Ireland, for Fínghean Mac Carthaigh, Lord of Carbery (1478–1505).[2] Defective at beginning and end, 198 leaves survive today, containing a miscellany of religious and secular texts written entirely in Irish.

Book of Lismore
Lives of saints, from the Book of Lismore (Stokes, 1890) frontispiece.pdf (cropped).jpg
Specimen page from the Book of Lismore, fo. 30 a. 1[1]
Also known asThe Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach
Datec. 1480
Place of originKilbrittain, Co. Cork, Ireland
Language(s)Early Modern Irish
PatronFínghean Mac Carthaigh Riabhach
Size37cm x 25cm
ConditionIncomplete (missing at least 46 folios)
ScriptIrish minuscule

The main scribe of the manuscript did not sign his name. A second scribe, who wrote eleven leaves, signed himself Aonghus Ó Callanáin,[3] and was probably a member of a well-known family of medical scholars from West Cork. Other relief scribes contribute short stints throughout the book.

The book also contains a reference (f. 158v) to a second manuscript, a duanaire or anthology of poetry dedicated to Mac Carthaigh, but this manuscript is now lost.


While poetry is well represented throughout the manuscript, the dominant form is prose, dating linguistically from the medieval (pre-1200) period to the fifteenth century.

The contents display thoughtful organisation, beginning with religious material mostly relating to the saints of Ireland (lives and anecdotes), including Patrick, Brigid, Colum Cille, Kieran and Brendan,[4] but also incorporating the early medieval Teanga Bhiothnua ('Evernew tongue').[5] Texts translated to Irish, broadly related to the religious theme, are found in this section also, and feature the Conquests of Charlemagne,[6] the History of the Lombards (a chapter from the Golden Legend),[7] and The Travels of Marco Polo.[8][9] It is probable that access by the Kilbrittain scribes to some of the religiously-themed literature was facilitated by the Franciscan community at nearby Timoleague. Between them, the religious works and the translated texts account for approximately half of the contents.

The rest of the manuscript features native, secular texts. These include material relating to kingship, some of which centres on Diarmaid mac Cearbhaill, a sixth-century king of Ireland;[10] tales such as Caithréim Cheallacháin Chaisil,[11] Eachtra Thaidhg Mhic Céin and Cath Crionna;[12] the satire Tromdhámh Ghuaire;[13] and traditions concerning Fionn mac Cumhaill as related in the late-twelfth century prosimetrum, Agallamh na Seanórach.[14] These Fionn traditions occupy approximately one quarter of the manuscript.

The book also contains Crichad an Chaoilli, a topographical document, possibly from the 13th Century, describing the district between Mallow and Fermoy in terms of townlands, the names of many of which are still recognizable in the form of their present-day counterparts.[15]

The texts in the Book of Lismore are comprehensive in their representation of religious and secular learning in the Irish language as preserved and promoted by the elite learned classes of late-medieval Ireland. In its design and execution, and in its combination of native and European tradition, the book is a library of literature that makes a self-assured statement about aristocratic literary taste in autonomous Gaelic Ireland in the late 15th century.

Later historyEdit

After the fifteenth century, one gets only sporadic glimpses of the book during the next 300 years. In June 1629 it was deposited in the nearby Franciscan Timoleague Friary, where the renowned scribe, author and historian, Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh copied material from it.[16] It is thought to be identical to a book confiscated by the 23-year old Lewis Boyle, Viscount Kinalmeaky at the siege of Kilbrittain Castle in 1642 during the Irish Confederate Wars, and sent by him to his father, Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork.[17] Lewis Boyle (whose younger brother was the chemist Robert Boyle) died not long after, at the Battle of Liscarroll in September 1642.[18][19]

It is uncertain when the book was brought to Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford, which Richard Boyle had purchased from Walter Raleigh in 1602.[20] In the eighteenth century the castle passed by marriage from the Boyle family to the Cavendishes, Dukes of Devonshire. In 1814, during renovations to the Castle and town of Lismore by the sixth Duke, the manuscript was rediscovered, having apparently been walled up in the Castle with the Lismore Crozier, which is now in the National Museum of Ireland.[21]

Upon its discovery the book was soon loaned to the Cork scribe and scholar Donnchadh Ó Floinn (who named the book 'Leabhar Leasa Móire', the Book of Lismore), whose friend, Micheál Óg Ó Longáin, transcribed nearly all of the manuscript in 1817, under the sponsorship of Bishop John Murphy. The title 'Book of Lismore' or 'Leabhar Leasa Móir' dates from this time.[22] From this and other transcripts by Mícheál Óg many further copies of sections and individual texts were made, and this contributed to a temporary revival of manuscript-making in Cork during the first half of the nineteenth century.[23]

The book was returned to Lismore around 1821-2, but sixty-six leaves remained in Cork, and were subsequently sold to the Duke of Devonshire in 1860.[24] Further transcripts were made by Eugene O'Curry and by Mícheál Og's youngest son, Seosamh, who was by that time employed by the Royal Irish Academy.[25] In 1907 The book went on public display at the Irish International Exhibition held in Herbert Park, Dublin. In 1930 the manuscript was transferred permanently from Lismore to Chatsworth House in England, where it remained until 2020, except for the years 1939–48 when it was removed to safe storage during the Second World War and also made available for the creation of the facsimile published in 1950.

In 1879 a photographic reproduction of pages from the manuscript appeared, for the first time, in the third fascicle of John Gilbert's Facsimiles of national manuscripts of Ireland. A printed photographic facsimile, in black and white, of the entire manuscript was made under the direction of R.A.S. Macalister and published in 1950. In 2010 the entire manuscript was digitized by Irish Script on Screen in advance of the public exhibition of the book at University College Cork in 2011.

In 2020 the Book of Lismore was donated to University College Cork by the Chatsworth Settlement Trust. The college plans to display it in their Boole Library.[26][27]

Further readingEdit


Texts from the Book of Lismore edited or consulted for editionsEdit

  • Alexander Bugge, Caithréim Cellacháin Caisil (Christiana 1905)
  • R. I. Best, 'The settling of the Manor of Tara', Ériu 4 (1908–10) 121–72
  • John Carey, In Tenga Bithnua: the Ever-New Tongue (Turnhout 2009)
  • Owen Connellan, Imtheacht na Tromdháimhe; or, the proceedings of the great bardic institution (Dublin 1860)
  • Douglas Hyde, Gabháltais Shearluis Mhóir: the Conquests of Charlemagne (London 1917)
  • Douglas Hyde, 'An Agallamh Bheag', Lia Fáil 1 (1924) 79–107
  • Kenneth Jackson, 'The Adventure of Laeghaire mac Crimthainn', Speculum 17 (1942) 377–89
  • Maud Joynt, Tromdámh Guaire (Dublin 1931)
  • Gearóid Mac Niocaill, 'Sdair na Lumbardach', Studia Hibernica 1 (1961) 89–118
  • Brian Ó Cuív, 'A poem for Fínghin Mac Carthaigh Riabhach', Celtica 15 (1983) 96–110
  • Standish H. O'Grady, Silva Gadelica (London 1892)
  • J. G. O'Keeffe, 'The ancient territory of Fermoy', Ériu 10 (1928) 170–89
  • Patrick Power, Críchad an chaoilli: being the topography of ancient Fermoy (Cork 1932)
  • Marie Louise Sjoestedt-Jonval, 'Forbuis Droma Damhghaire', Revue Celtique 43 (1926) 1–123 , 44 (1927) 157–86 and Ó Duinn, Seán [tr.], Forbhais Droma Dámhgháire: The siege of Knocklong, (Cork, 1992)
  • Whitley Stokes, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1890)
  • Whitley Stokes, 'The Gaelic abridgement of the Book of Ser Marco Polo', Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 1 (1896–7) 245–73, 362–438
  • Whitley Stokes, 'Acallamh na Senórach', Irische Texte 4/1 (Leipzig 1900)
  • Whitley Stokes, 'The Evernew Tongue', Ériu 2 (1905) 96-162
  • Joseph Vendryes, Airne Fíngein (Dublin 1953)

Commentary and analysisEdit

  • Máire Herbert (et al.), Travelled tales - leabhar scéalach siúlach (Cork, 2011)
  • Breandán Ó Conchúir, Scríobhaithe Chorcaí 1700–1850 (Dublin 1982) 233–6
  • Breandán Ó Conchúir, review of Ó Cuív, 'Observations', Éigse 21 (1986) 255–8
  • Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Clavis litterarum Hibernensium (Turnhout 2017) 1101-4
  • Brian Ó Cuív, 'Observations on the Book of Lismore', Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 83 C (1983) 269–92
  • Pádraig Ó Macháin, 'Leabhar Leasa Móir agus lucht léinn sa naoú haois déag', An Linn Bhuí, 18 (2014) 233–49
  • Pádraig Ó Macháin, 'Aonghus Ó Callanáin, Leabhar Leasa Móir agus an Agallamh Bheag', in Aidan Doyle and Kevin Murray, In dialogue with the Agallamh: essays in honour of Seán Ó Coileáin (Dublin 2014) 144–63
  • Pádraig Ó Macháin, 'Ealaín na Lámhscríbhinní: Leabhar Leasa Móir agus muintir Longáin', in Ó Macháin and Sorcha Nic Lochlainn, Leabhar na Longánach: the Ó Longáin family and their manuscripts (Cork 2018) 175–216
  • Pádraig Ó Macháin, 'The Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach commonly called the The Book of Lismore', Kibrittain Historical Society Journal 6 (2021) 13-41
  • Andrea Palandri, 'An Marco Polo Gaeilge agus Fínghean Mac Carthaigh Riabhach', Celtica 31 (2019) 191–212
  • Andrea Palandri, 'The Irish adaptation of Marco Polo's Travels: mapping the route to Ireland', Ériu 69 (2019) 127-154


  1. ^ Stokes, Whitley (1890). Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Frontispiece.
  2. ^ Ó Corráin, Clavis, 1101: 'The likely origin is the Mac Carthaigh house at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork'.
  3. ^ Book of Lismore, f. 134rb; Palandri, 'An Marco Polo Gaeilge', 194.
  4. ^ Stokes, Lives of the saints.
  5. ^ Carey, Tenga Bithnua.
  6. ^ Hyde, Gabháltais.
  7. ^ Mac Niocaill, 'Sdair'.
  8. ^ Stokes, 'The Gaelic abridgement'
  9. ^ Palandri, 'An Marco Polo Gaeilge'.
  10. ^ Ó Macháin, 'Aonghus Ó Callanáin', 145–52.
  11. ^ Bugge, Caithréim.
  12. ^ O'Grady, Silva Gadelica.
  13. ^ Joynt, Tromdámh.
  14. ^ Stokes, 'Acallamh na Senórach'.
  15. ^ O'Keeffe (ed.), J.G. (1926–28). "The ancient territory of Fermoy". Ériu (10): 170–89. Retrieved 2020-10-30.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Macalister, The Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach, xii.
  17. ^ Ó Cuív, 'Observations', 271-2.
  18. ^ Cashell, Louise (3 March 2016). "Confederate bloodbaths". Cork Independent.
  19. ^ "The Battle for Liscarroll Castle". Cork Independent. 25 February 2016.
  20. ^ Ó Conchúir, review, 258.
  21. ^ Ó Macháin, 'Leabhar Leasa Móir agus lucht léinn', 233–4.
  22. ^ Ó Macháin, 'Leabhar Leasa Móir agus lucht léinn', 236.
  23. ^ Ó Conchúir, Scríobhaithe, 233–6; Ó Macháin, 'Ealaín na Lámhscríbhinní', 186.
  24. ^ Ó Macháin, 'Leabhar Leasa Móir agus lucht léinn', 242–6.
  25. ^ Ó Macháin, 'Ealaín na Lámhscríbhinní', 211–16.
  26. ^ Crowley, Sinéad (28 October 2020). "Ancient Irish book about saints and sagas returns home to Cork". RTÉ.
  27. ^ Flood, Alison (28 October 2020). "Historic Book of Lismore returning to Ireland after centuries in British hands". The Guardian. London.

External linksEdit