Reconstructing a Late Medieval Irish Library
University of Southern Mississippi
Given at The Celtic Studies Association of North America Annual Meeting – The University of Toronto, April 18-21, 2013
“It is a tricky thing to discuss a library that has not existed for 350 years,” admits Lee Follett as he began his paper at the Annual meeting of the Celtic Studies Association of North America, but this medieval historian has been able to use evidence from two 15th century scribes to develop a partial list of works that existed in the library of a prominent late medieval Irish family.
Follett takes a look at the Mac Aodhagain family, who were a notable family in the Tipperary region from the 14th to 17th centuries. They operated a law school and residence at Ballymacegan, which held a library. An early 14th century copy of the Irish legal tract Senchas Marexisted at Ballymacegan, but Follett says that for this paper he is more interested in the non-legal content in the library.
Follett explains that his research is “somewhat speculative, but not hopeless.” Between 1408 and 1411, the scribe Murchadh Ó Cuindlis wrote much of his work Leabhar Breac, which consists almost entirely of religious writings in Latin and Middle Irish, while he was at Ballymacegan. His own marginal notes in the manuscript detail where he was when he was working on particular sections, allowing us to identify a number of texts which he made use of from its library.