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Beyond the Book of Kells

The stories of eight other medieval manuscripts from the library of Trinity College Dublin

To over 600,000 visitors a year, Trinity is synonymous with the Book of Kells. But that ninth-century manuscript is only part of the story. Ranging in date from the fifth century to the sixteenth and in origin from across Western Europe, Trinity’s six hundred medieval manuscripts contain languages from Latin and Greek to Old Irish, Old English, Welsh, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Provencal and Vaudois, embodying in microcosm the entire gamut of medieval thought. This series of lectures from manuscript experts Irish and international will offer the public a privileged opportunity to meet eight other extraordinary books from Trinity’s collections, from the ninth-century Book of Armagh to a key manuscript of one of the great medieval English poets, William Langland.

If this has whetted your appetite, an initial taste of the manuscripts appears below. These eight manuscripts have been digitised in full to coincide with the series and links to the complete manuscripts will appear below shortly before each lecture, so keep your eyes peeled!


All lectures take place at 6:30pm in the Neill Lecture Theatre in the Trinity Long Room Hub.

An Illuminated Psalter and Hours: TCD MS 92

Complete digitised version of the manuscript.

3 October 2017
Dr Laura Cleaver (Dept of History of Art, TCD)

All that remains of an exceptionally fine psalter-cum-Book of Hours made for the Wingfield family in the fourteenth century, TCD MS 92 is a lavish manuscript that offers a window into complex religiosity of the late medieval English aristocracy, the margins that surround the pious prayers teeming with dragons, monkeys and grotesque beasts.

Piers Plowman: TCD MS 212

Complete digitised version of the manuscript.

7 November 2017
Prof. Simon Horobin (University of Oxford)

TCD MS 212 contains what is perhaps the great medieval English poem, William Langland’s Piers Plowman, an astonishingly rich and searching exploration of what it takes to live rightly in a society corrupt and corrupting. As befits a work of its quality, the poem survives in over fifty manuscripts; this, one of two in Trinity’s collection, is especially significant for containing early biographical information about the poet himself.

A Hiberno-English translation of Gerald of Wales’ On the Conquest of Ireland: TCD MS 592

Complete digitised version of the manuscript.

5 December 2017
Dr Caoimhe Whelan (Dept of History, TCD)

Gerald of Wales was perhaps the principal propagandist of the twelfth-century English invasion of Ireland and his work was to have a lasting impact on both colonisers and colonised. TCD MS 592 presents a fifteenth-century English translation of Gerald’s work, apparently written for an Anglo-Irish audience, complete with marginal notes highlighting the English claim to Ireland and offering warnings against Irish treachery.

A Twelfth-Century Bede from Bury: MS 492

Complete digitised version of the manuscript.

16 January 2018
Dr Mark Faulkner (School of English, TCD)

TCD MS 492 typifies the large, imposing copies of major Latin works with which monasteries filled their libraries after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Its texts – Bede’s eighth-century Ecclesiastical History of the English People and an eleventh-century treatise on the resting places of English saints – were central to the Norman invaders’ interactions with the religious history of their new territory, providing nothing less than a holy geography of England.

A Wycliffite Psalter: TCD MS 70

6 February 2018
Dr Niamh Patwell (UCD)

The rejection of Latin as the language of religion in the 1960s in favour of vernaculars is well known; attempts to convey the word of God in English in the fourteenth century will be less familiar. TCD MS 70, with its basic instructional works introducing the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith and text of the Psalms in English, represents just such an early attempt to democratise access to Scripture, at a time when there was the danger such activity would be condemned as heretical.

A Fifteenth-Century Irish Antiphoner: TCD MS 78

6 March 2018
Dr Ann Buckley (Dept of History, TCD)

Almost half a metre tall, TCD MS 78 is a fine example of a late medieval choir book, one of the few to survive from Ireland. Beside music for services for saints Patrick, Canice and Bridget, it records the commemorations of numerous other all but forgotten Irish saints, including Magnan of Kilmainham. Though produced for use in Kilkenny Cathedral, it was in the hands of local Clondalkin families in the sixteenth century.

The Book of Leinster: TCD MS 1339

3 April 2018
Prof. Pádraig Ó Macháin (University College Cork)

The Book of Leinster contains the largest collections of Irish myth and history from before the twelfth century, including one of three surviving copies of the Táin and the earliest personal letter in Irish. Copied in Terryglass, co. Tipperary, by Áed Ua Crimthainn, a scribe acknowledged by his contemporaries as primsenchaid Laigen, Leinster’s premier historian, the manuscript is an unparalleled witness to Irish learning before the arrival of the English.

The Book of Armagh: TCD MS 52

1 May 2018
Dr Immo Warntjes (Dept of History, TCD)

As probably Trinity’s most important manuscript after the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh provides a fitting subject with which to end the lecture series. Copied at the behest of Torbach, abbot of Armagh, in the early ninth century by the scribe Ferdomnach, TCD MS 52 contains not only the earliest text of the New Testament from Ireland, but also a suite of works without which Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick, would be almost unknown.