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Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 502

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Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 502

This article is about a manuscript identified by some as the Book of Glendalough. For another manuscript also known as the Book of Glendalough, see Book of Leinster.
Rawlinson B 502
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 502
Also known as The Book of Glendalough, but see below; Saltair na Rann by Óengus Céile Dé (pt 2)
Type codex, two miscellanies
Date c. 1100 (pt 1); mid-12th century (pt 2)
Place of origin Leinster monastery
Language(s) mainly Irish and Latin
Scribe(s) two scribes (pt 1); one scribe (pt 2)
Material vellum
Size 175 folios on vellum and paper, including the binder's leaves[1]
Format double columns
Script minuscule
Additions glosses; additions by Ware

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson B 502 is a medieval Irish manuscript which presently resides in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It ranks as one of the three major surviving Irish manuscripts to have been produced in pre-Norman Ireland, the two other works being the Lebor na hUidre and the Book of Leinster. Some scholars have also called it the Book of Glendalough, in Irish Lebar Glinne Dá Locha, after several allusions in medieval and early modern sources to a manuscript of this name. However, there is currently no agreement as to whether Rawlinson B 502, more precisely its second part, is to be identified as the manuscript referred to by that title.

It was described by Brian Ó Cuív as one of the "most important and most beautiful ... undoubtedly the most magnificent" of the surviving medieval Irish manuscripts.[2] Pádraig Ó Riain states ".. a rich, as yet largely unworked, source of information on the concerns of the community at Glendaloughin or about the year 1131, and a magnificent witness, as yet barely interrogated, to the high standard of scholarship attained by this monastic centre."[3]

History and structure

The manuscript as it exists today consists of two vellum codices which were originally separate works but were bound together sometime before 1648.[4] This was done at the request of their new owner, Irish antiquarian Sir James Ware (d. 1666), who thanks to Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh (d. 1671) had been able to assemble a fine collection of Irish manuscripts.[4] Several leaves of paper with a (mainly) Latin commentary by Ware on aspects of Irish history (fos. 13–18) were inserted between the two manuscripts, possibly to preserve the appearance of two distinct works.[4] Further paper folios were added at the end of the second manuscript (fos. 90–103), containing notes and transcripts of documents, part of which was written in Latin.[4]

The first manuscript, which covers folios 1-12v (six bifolia), was compiled and written in the late 11th century or possibly at the beginning of the 12th.[4][5][6] The fine minuscule script suggests the work of two professional scribes, and glosses were added by later hands. One of these glossators has been identified as the scribe "H" who was also responsible for adding glosses to the Lebor na hUidre. Like the latter work, this part of Rawlinson B 502 may therefore have been a product of the monastic scriptorium of Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly.[4]

The greater part of Rawlinson B 502, covering fos. 19–89, is taken up by a manuscript the text of which was written by a single scribe in the mid-12th century.[4] The last king of Connacht listed is Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (r. 1106–1156).[6]

Every leaf has two columns of text written in regular minuscule.[7] The calligraphy, with some decoration, is of a high standard. The parchment was well prepared, though the manuscript has been subject to wear and tear and several folios are now lost.[4] The contents of the manuscript point towards a monastic milieu in Leinster as the source of its origin. It has been proposed that Killeshin in Co. Laois was the house responsible for its production.[4]

James Ware's collection of manuscripts passed on to his son, who sold it to the Earl of Clarendon. It was later transferred to James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, who sold some of the manuscripts, including that known now as Rawlinson B 502, to Dr Richard Rawlinson (d. 1755). Rawlinson's collection of manuscripts was bequeathed to St John's College, Oxford, whence in 1756 it finally found its way into the Bodleian Library.[4]

In 1909, Kuno Meyer published a collotype facsimile edition of the vellum pages, with an introduction and indices, published by Clarendon Press.[8] By 2000, the Early Manuscripts at Oxford University project was launched, now entrusted to the Oxford Digital Library, which published digital reproductions of the manuscript. The scanned images include both vellum and paper leaves, with the exception of the 17th-century paper leaves found on fos. 105–171.[9] Critical editions and translations of the individual texts, insofar as these have been undertaken, have been published separately in books and academic journals.


The first manuscript contains an acephalous copy of the Annals of Tigernach, preserving a fragment of the so-called Chronicle of Ireland, a world history in Latin and Irish based on Latin historians such as Eusebius and Orosius.[1] The text is incomplete at both its beginning and end, which suggests that the twelve folios may represent only a portion of the original manuscript.[1]

The second manuscript opens with a series of Middle Irish religious poems entitled Saltair na Rann ("The Psalter of the Verses"), followed by a recension of the Irish Sex Aetates Mundi ("The Six Ages of the World") and the poem Amra Coluimb Chille ("Song for Columba"). The manuscript contains many Leinster narratives belonging to the Cycles of the Kings, some of which are grouped in a section which is headed Scélshenchas Laigen, beginning with Orgain Denna Ríg. Among these is Tairired na n'Déssi, the best preserved copy of the "A" version of the work known as The Expulsion of the Déisi.[10] Another secular group of Leinster texts, but written in verse, is the selection of poems collectively referred to as the Laídshenchas Laigen. Other verse texts include the wisdom poems Immacallam in Dá Thuarad ("The Colloquy of the Two Sages") and Gúbretha Caratniad ("The Judgments of Caratnia"). The manuscript is also one of two pre-Norman sources for Irish genealogical texts, the other being the Book of Leinster. These genealogies, which come at the end in a sizeable section of some 30 folios, are mainly associated with Leinster, but others are integrated. Importantly, some material of Early Irish law is preserved, such as the tract Cóic Conara Fugill ("The Five Paths of Judgment"). For a select but more detailed list of the contents of the manuscript, expand the following table:

Disputed identity

The identity of the second part of the manuscript, more especially its name and provenance, in sources long before it passed into the hands of Rawlinson has been a matter of some controversy.

Saltair na Rann

Sir James Ware himself referred to the second part as the Saltair na Rann by Óengus Céile Dé, after the metrical religious work of this name beginning on the first folio (fo. 19): "Oengus Celide, Author antiquus, qui in libro dicto Psalter-narran"[15] and elsewhere, "vulgo Psalter Narran appellatur" ("commonly called Psalter Narran").[16] Ware’s contemporaries John Colgan (d. 1658) and Geoffrey Keating (d. 1644) also appear to have used this name for the manuscript as a whole.[15] Keating refers to this title three times throughout his Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, citing it as his source for the poem beginning Uí Néill uile ar cúl Choluim in Book III.[17] Complicating matters, this poem is not be found in Rawlinson B 502, though Breatnach draws attention to the loss of folios and the trimming of pages which may account for the poem's absence.[18]

It is unknown whether in using the name "the Saltair na Rann by Óengus Céile Dé", these three writers were following a convention which significantly predated the 17th century. Caoimhín Breatnach assumes that they did, but Pádraig Ó Riain has expressed serious reservations, suggesting instead that the title may have been a convenient shorthand introduced by Ware in the 1630s and adopted by some of his contemporaries.[3]

Lebar Glinne Dá Locha or Book of Glendalough

A case has been made for identifying Rawlinson B 502 (second part) as the manuscript referred to in some sources as the Lebar Glinne Dá Locha or Book of Glendalough. (To make confusion worse confounded, the latter title was once mistakenly used for the Book of Leinster, too, but see there). References to this title in the manuscripts include:

  • Excerpts from Sex Aetates Mundi, in NLI G 3 (fos. 22va and 23r), which twice cite the Book of Glendalough as its source.[19]
  • The Irish poem Cia lín don rígraid ráin ruaid as preserved in RIA MS 23 D 17[20]
  • A scribal note to a genealogical text in the 14th-century Great Book of Lecan, which indicates that the pedigree has been following the Book of Glendalough up that point and will be proceed with the version known from the Book of Nuachongbháil, i.e. the Book of Leinster.[19]
  • In Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, a list of Irish manuscripts said to have survived into his own time.[21]

The case for identification was made by scholars like Eugene O'Curry (1861) and James Carney (1964), but it has been argued most forcefully and elaborately by Pádraig Ó Riain.[22] He observed close textual affinities between copies of texts which acknowledge their source as being the Book of Glendalough, such as the first two items above, and versions of these texts in Rawlinson B 502. Caoimhín Breatnach, however, criticises his methodology in establishing textual relationships and concludes that Lebar Glinne Dá Locha and Rawlinson B 502 are two separate manuscripts.

An important item of evidence is the poem Cia lín don rígraid ráin ruaid, which survives in three manuscripts: Rawlinson B 502, RIA MS 23 D 17 (which attributes its copy to the Book of Glendalough) and National Library of Ireland MS G 3. In Rawlinson B 502, the poem is embedded in a section on pious kings and accompanied by a short prose introduction as well as some marginal notes.[20] In the versions of the poem given by MS G 3 and MS 23 D 17, the scribe explicitly cites the Lebar Glinne Dá Locha as his source, but the thematic context and the accompanying texts of the Rawlinson B 502 version are found in neither of them.[20] Breatnach suggests that these shared differences are unlikely to have occurred independent of one another, but probably derive from a common source known to both scribes as the Lebar Glinne Dá Locha.[20]

Breatnach also points out that Geoffrey Keating, in a list of extant manuscripts known to him, distinguishes between the Saltair na Rann by Óengus Céile Dé, i.e. Rawlinson B 502 (second part), and the Book of Glendalough.[18] Ó Riain objects, however, that Keating does not claim to have witnessed all these manuscripts in person and so might not have been aware that the manuscript he used, at least by the time he wrote Book III, was formerly known as the Book of Glendalough.



Diplomatic edition and digital reproduction

Further reading

External links

  • Bodleian Library: MS. Rawl. B. 502, at Early Manuscripts at Oxford University.

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