US Ambassador Views Conservation in Action at Trinity Library

Posted on: 29 January 2016

The painstaking conservation of one of the oldest surviving Irish manuscripts was viewed by US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, during a behind-the-scenes visit to Trinity College Library’s conservation laboratory.

Ambassador O’Malley visited Trinity to review progress of a major project which will see four of the Library’s most important early medieval Irish manuscripts conserved, digitised and made available online to the public and world of scholarship for the first time.

Marco di Bella, Manuscript Conservator, US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley

The four manuscripts – the Codex Usserianius Primus, the Garland of Howth, the Book of Dimma, and the Book of Mulling – make up the preeminent collection of early Christian book art in the Library, along with the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Book of Armagh. The Early Irish Manuscripts Project at Trinity, funded by Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Art Conservation Project, is undertaking the treatment, technical examination and art historical study of these four priceless manuscripts.

Once complete the manuscripts will be fully digitised and made freely accessible online this August, allowing researchers around the world to answer important questions about the unique features of manuscripts produced in Ireland during the dark ages. The original manuscripts will also be exhibited alongside the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Book of Armagh at Trinity Library.

  • The treatment of The Codex Usserianius Primus, one of the earliest known surviving Irish manuscripts, dating back to the fifth century, is now in progress. An incomplete copy of the four Gospels on parchment, the manuscript is in a fragmentary state.
  • Imaging of The Garland of Howth, a ninth century parchment manuscript, is now complete. Associated with St Nessan’s monastery on Ireland’s Eye, off the coast of Howth, the manuscript contains a copy of the four gospels. Despite being one of only a handful of surviving early Irish illuminated gospel texts, it is practically unknown.
  • Work on The Book of Mulling is now at the halfway point. An eighth century pocket-gospel, with ninth century additions, it is associated with the monastery of St Mullins in Co. Carlow. It contains a copy of the four Gospels, and features portraits of the evangelists Matthew, Mark and John, together with illuminated initials.
  • Work on The Book of Dimma, a late eighth century manuscript on parchment, possibly produced at Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, will commence shortly. It contains a copy of the four Gospels along with later tenth or eleventh century additions.

Ambassador O’Malley was joined at the conservation lab by Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist, Susie Bioletti, Head of Conservation and Peter Keegan, Country Executive for Ireland at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Peter Keegan, Bank of America; Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist; Kevin O'Malley, US Ambassador and Susie Bioletti, Head of Conservation

Susie Bioletti, Head of Conservation at Trinity Library said: “The conservation and digitisation of these four manuscripts is hugely significant to the world of scholarship. Due to their vulnerability all four manuscripts have never been fully imaged and access for researchers has been very limited. By placing them online as part of the Library’s digital collections we are opening up these treasures to the public and the world of scholarship on a global scale for the first time. Some of the manuscripts, such as the of Garland Howth, are almost unknown to art historians.”

Ambassador O’Malley commented: “The US Embassy congratulates Trinity on this important project to make these beautiful manuscripts available not only to scholars in Ireland, but also to researchers and interested members of the public in the United States and beyond. Making these precious holdings freely accessible online is an important step in preserving cultural heritage, and also inspiring new research collaborations as scholars are enabled to study these iconic Irish works for the first time.”

Peter Keegan, Country Executive for Ireland at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, added: “We are proud to support Trinity College Dublin by helping to conserve these important pieces of Irish history, and to enable greater access and learning for future generations of students, historians and visitors. Our global Art Conservation Project is designed not only to conserve artworks and educate communities, but also to facilitate understanding and respect for the varied cultures and traditions throughout the world; so we feel particularly honoured to be involved in this project during such an important centenary year for Ireland.”

Read more about the Early Irish Manuscripts Project here:

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