The Early Irish Manuscripts Project

The Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century, TCD MS 60, f. 81v © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The Library of Trinity College Dublin is launching an extensive conservation, research and digitisation campaign focused on four of the Library’s most important early medieval insular Gospel Books:

  • Codex Usserianus Primus, 5th or 7th century (?) (TCD MS 55)
  • the Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century (TCD MS 60)
  • the Book of Dimma, late 8th century (TCD MS 59)
  • the Garland of Howth, 8th-9th century (TCD MS 56)

These, along with the Book of Kells (TCD MS 58), the Book of Durrow (TCD MS 57) and the Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52), make up the pre-eminent collection of early Christian book art in the Library. Yet they have not quite received the attention they deserve.

The project  will cover many different aspects. While  their textual content has been the subject of scholarly study in the past, they have been relatively overlooked from a codicological and art historical perspective. The Garland of Howth in particular is almost unknown to art historians. We are therefore aiming at re-assessing these manuscripts from an art historical point of view.

Conservation treatment will be carried out on all four manuscripts , as well as pigment analysis using non-destructive techniques. This will aim to build on recent important results achieved for the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Book of Armagh, using micro-Raman spectroscopy (click on the image below to read more about this).

Fig. from S. Bioletti, R. Leahy, J. Fields, B. Meehan and W, Blaub, 'The examination of the Book of Kells using micro-Raman spectroscopy', in Journal of Raman Spectroscopy (March 2009).
Fig. from S. Bioletti, R. Leahy, J. Fields, B. Meehan and W. Blau, ‘The examination of the Book of Kells using micro-Raman spectroscopy’, in Journal of Raman Spectroscopy (March 2009).

The manuscripts will be fully digitised and made freely accessible online, facilitating further research into the text, images and production of this distinctive group of early Irish manuscripts. The project will enable researchers to re-address questions around features that distinguish Insular manuscripts in general, and Gospel Books in particular.

The results of the technical and art historical analyses have potential to provide considerable new information on the materials used during the early medieval period and on the iconographical sources of the manuscripts’ creators. Research findings will inform new exhibitions of the manuscripts, both virtual and physical, and will be shared widely and inform teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the  Department of History of Art and Architecture.

The Early Irish Manuscripts Project is made possible thanks to a grant from Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Project