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Lebor na hUidre or the Book of the Dun Cow (MS 23 E 25) is an Irish vellum manuscript dating to the 12th century. It is the oldest extant manuscript in Irish. It is held in the Royal Irish Academy and is badly damaged: only 67 leaves remain and many of the texts are incomplete. It is named after an anachronistic legend that it was made from the hide of a cow by Saint Ciar√°n of Clonmacnoise.


The manuscript is thought to be the work of three scribes, whose handwriting was distinguished by R. I. Best in 1912 and identified with the letters A, M and H. A and M are believed to be contemporary. A began the manuscript and wrote the opening pages of several of the texts, which were continued by M, who Best identified as Máel Muire mac Céilechair meic Cuinn na mBocht, based on matching the handwriting with two marginal probationes pennae or pen tests, in which the scribe wrote his name. A much later note elsewhere in the manuscript names Máel Muire as the person who "wrote and compiled this book from divers[e] books". His death in a Viking raid on Clonmacnoisemarker is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1106, giving us a latest possible date and location for the main body of the manuscript. Some time later, H (named for his addition of two homilies) added a number of new texts and passages, sometimes over erased portions of the original, sometimes on new leaves. Based on orthography and an English loanword, Gearóid Mac Eoin concludes that H wrote in the late 12th or early 13th century.

After the monastery of Clonmacnoise was broken up, the manuscript came into the possession of the O'Donnell clan of Donegalmarker who held it until 1359, when it and the lost Leabhar Gearr were used to ransom members of the clan who had been taken prisoner by Cathal √ďg O'Connor. √Āed Ruad O'Donnell recovered the manuscript in 1470, and it remained in Donegal at least until 1631, when the compilation of the Annals of the Four Masters was completed. Its location is unknown until 1837, when it was part of a collection owned by Messrs. Hodges & Smith of College Green, Dublin, and was cited by George Petrie in an essay on the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill. The Hodges & Smith collection, 227 manuscripts in all, was purchased by the Royal Irish Academy in 1844.

Joseph O'Longan's lithographic facsimile of the manuscript was published by the RIA in 1870. A diplomatic edition by R. I. Best and Osborn Bergin, with the three hands distinguished by different typefaces, was published in 1929. Digital scans of the pages have been published on the web by ISOS (Irish Script on Screen).


The remaining leaves of the manuscript contain the following texts, in various states of preservation:

Texts from the original manuscript

  • Sex aetates mundi ("The Six Ages of the World", incomplete)
  • Lebor Bretnach ("The British Book": an Irish translation of the Historia Brittonum, incomplete)
  • Amra Coluim Chille ("The Eulogy of Colm Cille": a heavily annotated version of the 7th century poem by Dall√°n Forgaill)
  • Sc√©l Tuain meic Cairill do Finnen Maige Bile ("The Story Tuan mac Cairill told to Finnian of Moville": in which the history of the invasions of Ireland is related by a survivor of the first invasion, incomplete)
  • D√° br√≥n flatha nime ("The Two Sorrows of the Kingdom of Heaven", incomplete)
  • Mesca Ulad ("The Intoxication of the Ulstermen", incomplete)
  • T√°in b√≥ Dartada ("The Driving of Dartaid's Cattle", opening four lines only)
  • T√°in b√≥ Flidais ("the Driving of Flidais' Cattle, incomplete)
  • Immram curaig Mail D√ļin ("Voyage of M√°el D√ļin's currach", incomplete)
  • F√≠s Adomn√°n ("The Vision of Adomn√°n": a tale of the 7th century Irish saint)
  • Tucait innarba na nDessi i mMumain ocus aided Chormaic ("The Cause of the Expulsion of the D√©isi into Munster and the Death of Cormac mac Airt")
  • T√°in B√≥ C√ļailnge ("The Cattle Raid of Cooley": the oldest version of the central epic of the Ulster Cycle, incomplete, contains passages interpolated by H)
  • Togail bruidne D√° Derga ("The Destruction of D√° Derga's Hostel": a tale of the 1st century king Conaire M√≥r, incomplete, contains passages interpolated by H)
  • Fled Bricrenn ("Bricriu's Feast", incomplete, contains passages interpolated by H)
  • Siaburchapat Con Culaind ("C√ļchulainn's Phantom Chariot": a tale of Saint Patrick, who raises C√ļchulainn from hell to convince king L√≥egaire to convert to Christianity, contains passages interpolated by H)
  • F√°stini Airt meic Cuind ocus a chretem ("The prophesy of Art mac Cuinn and his faith": in which the second century king is said to have foreseen the coming of Christianity)
  • Echtra Condla Chaim meic Cuind Chetchathaig ("The adventure of Connla the Beautiful, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles": in which the 2nd century prince is lured to the otherworld by a fairy woman)
  • Cethri Arda in Domain ("The Four Quarters of the World", incomplete)
  • Imram Brain mac Febail ("The Voyage of Bran son of Febal": a fantastic voyage tale, incomplete)
  • Tochmarc Emire ("The Wooing of Emer", contains passages interpolated by H)
  • Compert Con Culainn ("The conception of C√ļchulainn", copied from the lost Book of Druimm Snechta, contains passages interpolated by H)
  • Tochmarc √Čta√≠ne ("The wooing of √Čta√≠n": a mythological tale featuring Aengus and Midir of the Tuatha D√© Danann, incomplete)
  • Compert Mong√°in ("The conception of Mong√°n": a tale of a legendary prince, incomplete)
  • Scel asa mberar combad h√© Find mac Cumaill Mong√°in ocus an√≠ d√≠a fil aided Fothaid Airgdig ("The story by which it is inferred that Mong√°n was Fionn mac Cumhaill, and the reason for the death of Fothad Airgthech")
  • Sc√©l Mong√°in ("The story of Mong√°n")
  • Tucait baile Mong√°in ("The Cause of the Vision of Mong√°n")
  • Inna hinada hi filet cind erred Ulad ("The places where the heads of the heroes of Ulster are": a poem)

Texts added by scribe H

  • Sc√©la la√≠ br√°tha ("Tidings of the Day of Judgement")
  • Sc√©la na esergi ("Tidings of the Resurrection")
  • Aided Nath √ć ocus a adnacol ("The Death of Nath √ć and his burial", a tale of the 5th century king)
  • Aided Echach meic Ma√≠reda ("The Death of Eochaid mac Ma√≠reda": a mythological tale of the origin of Lough Neaghmarker)
  • Fotha catha Cnucha ("The Cause of the Battle of Knockmarker": a tale concerning the birth of Fionn mac Cumhaill)
  • Serglige Con Culainn ("The Wasting Sickness of C√ļchulainn": copied from the lost Yellow Book of Slane)
  • Senchas na relec ("The History of the Burial Places": an account of the resting places of a number of Irish kings)
  • Genemain √Āeda Sl√°ne ("The Birth of √Āed Sl√°ine": a tale of the 6th century king)
  • De genelogia Con Culaind ("The Genealogy of C√ļchulainn")
  • Cath Cairnd Chonaill ria Diarmait mac Aeda Sl√°ni for Guari Adni ("The Battle of Carn Conaill between Diarmait son of √Āed Sl√°ine and Guaire Aidne", a tale from the Cycle of the Kings)
  • Comthoth L√≥egairi co cretim ocus a aided ("The conversion of L√≥egaire to the faith and his death", a tale of Saint Patrick)

See also


  1. R. I. Best, "Notes on the Script of Lebor na hUidre", √Čriu 6, 1912, pp. 161-174
  2. Annals of the Four Masters M1106.7
  3. Gearóid Mac Eoin, "The Interpolator H in Lebor na hUidre", Ulidia, December Publications, 1994, pp. 39-46.
  4. R. I Best and Osborn Bergin (eds.), Lebor na hUidre, Royal Irish Academy, 1929, p. ix; Lebor na hUidre, Royal Irish Academy Library and Catalogue
  5. School of Celtic Studies: Lebor na hUidre
  6. Lebor na hUidre at ISOS

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