Book of Leinster © Trinitiy College Dublin

Rare Glimpse of Early Medieval Ireland

This summer, the Library of the Trinity College in Dublin, exhibits its collection of more than 200 precious medieval and early modern manuscripts written in Irish.

The Long Room in the Library of the Tinity College in Dublin ©TCD
The Long Room in the Library of the Trinity College in Dublin ©TCD

Trinity College houses an invaluable collection of 200 manuscripts written in Irish (Gaeilge). Some of these manuscripts are on permanent display, like for instance the Book of Kells and the and Book of Arnagh. Both are singularly important witnesses to the early history of the green island. This summer a huge part of the library’s less famous collection will be on show in Dublin.

One example of this is the exhibition of the Book of Leinster (Leabhar na Núachongbhála), one of the most important manuscripts of the Early Irish period and the earliest manuscript in the Library’s collection written entirely in Irish. An anthology of prose, verse and genealogy, it provides a precious glimpse of the worldview and mode of life of the Old Irish People. Other significant manuscripts are later, but still, important witnesses to for instance the laws of the land as they were laid down in the 7thand 8thcenturies.

This is an exciting exhibition and well worth a visit if you are visiting Ireland and Dublin this summer.

However, Irish is not – as claimed on the official website – the oldest vernacular language in Europe, in which a formidable literature is preserved. This prize goes to Gothic and the writings from the 4thcentury as well as early Runic inscriptions in Germanic from the 1stcentury and onwards. In fact, the first significant texts in Irish are preserved in the Liber Ardmachanus (Book of Armagh) from the 9thcentury. Visitors would thus be well advised to take some of the nationalistic pride with a pinch of salt. The illuminated manuscripts, however, are astounding.

The exhibition, drawn from the world’s largest and most important collection of medieval Irish manuscripts, is being held to mark two decades of the college’s collaboration on a digitisation project with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies on the Irish Script on Screen (ISOS) – Irish Script on Screen  – In connection with this anniversary, Trinity College Dublin is hosting a conference and exhibition to celebrate its collection of 200 precious medieval and early modern manuscripts written in Irish. The collection ranks as one of the most important in the world.

The Irish Manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College exhibition at the Old Library (the Long Room) will run from May 17 until the end of June. The online exhibition with an introduction is well worth a visit.