SIR – The recent acquisition by University College Cork of the ‘Leabhar Meic Carthaigh Riabhaigh, Cill Briotáin’ and its return to its native Cork has been a great boon to the people of Kilbrittain and the surrounding area.
This is one of the great manuscript books of Ireland, which gives an insight into the literary tastes and interests of the Gaelic elites in autonomous Ireland of the mid 15th century.
Historians agree that the book was composed at Kilbrittain Castle around 1480 by Aonghus Ó Callanáin, and at least two other anonymous scribes, for Fínghin Mac Carthaigh Riabach (d. 1505) and his wife Caitlín, daughter of Thomas, Earl of Desmond. It is likely that some of the religious material found in the book was contributed by the scholars of the Franciscan Friary of nearby Timoleague Abbey.
The codex was kept at Kilbrittain Castle and came into the possession of Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork during the Irish Civil War in June 1642. From then to the year 1814 it entirely disappeared from circulation.
According to the antiquarian scholar Eugene O’Curry (1794-1862) who, along with the great historian and linguist John O’Donovan (1806-1861), studied and copied the book in 1839, the book was rediscovered during building works at Lismore Castle in 1814. The manuscript had at that stage been badly damaged by damp and vermin, and some parts were completely missing.
The Codex was passed to Dennis O’Flinn of Cork for conservation work, but O’Curry regretted to report that O’Flinn disfigured the book and bound it with parts missing, and in a fashion that ‘mutilated’ it. As O’Curry notes in 1861, ‘It was O’Flinn who gave it the name of ‘The Book of Lismore’ merely because it was found at that place’ (O’Curry, ‘Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History’, Lecture IX, 196-200).
In 1914 the book was transferred to Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, who has now in 2020 kindly returned this hugely-important work to the people of Ireland, under the care of University College Cork.
The Committee of the Kilbrittain Historical Society would like to express their deep gratitude to the authorities of UCC and in particular Dr. Pádraig O Macháin for securing the return of the ‘Leabhar Meic Carthaigh Riabhaigh, Cill Briotáin’ for the people of Ireland. This initiative will contribute to the preservation of our past and the future scholarly study of a Gaelic literary tradition, which, in O’Curry’s words, was written in a period ‘when the ancient customs of the people were unbroken and undisturbed.’
Kilbrittain Historical Society,