The Oxford History of the Irish Book is a major series of books that charts one of the most venerable book cultures in Europe, from the earliest manuscript compilations to the flourishing book industries of the late twentieth century. A digital copy of the manuscript was produced by Trinity College in 2006 and made available for purchase through Trinity College on DVD-ROM. It included the ability to leaf through each page, view two pages at a time, or look at a single page in a magnified setting. There were also commentary tracks about the specific pages as well as the history of the book. Users were given the option to search by specific illuminated categories including animals, capitols and angels. It retailed for approximately €30 but has since been discontinued. The Faksimile-Verlag images are now online at Trinity College’s Digital Collections portal.
The extant folios of the manuscript start with the fragment of the glossary of Hebrew names. A miniature of the four evangelist symbols, now much abraded, make up the right-hand column. The miniature is oriented so that the volume must be turned ninety degrees to view it properly. The four evangelist symbols are a visual theme that runs throughout the book. They are almost always shown together to emphasise the doctrine of the four Gospels’ unity of message. Originally, the folios were of no standard size, but they were cropped to the current size during a 19th-century rebinding. The manuscript is in remarkably good condition considering its age, though many pages have suffered some damage to the delicate artwork due to rubbing.
Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by Vikings many times in the beginning of the 9th century, and how the book survived is not known. The earliest historical reference to the book, and indeed to the book’s presence at Kells, can be found in a 1007 entry in the Annals of Ulster. This entry records that “the great Gospel of Columkille, the chief relic of the Western World, was wickedly stolen during the night from the western sacristy of the great stone church at Cenannas on account of its wrought shrine”. The manuscript was recovered a few months later—minus its golden and bejewelled cover—”under a sod”. It is generally assumed that the “great Gospel of Columkille” is the Book of Kells.
She has won numerous awards for her books, including the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize and the Kate Greenway Medal. The third and longest section explores the impact of the rise of print. Others explore the impact that print had on the history of science and the production of foreign language books.
If this is correct, then the book was in Kells by 1007 and had been there long enough for thieves to learn of its presence. The force of ripping the manuscript free from its cover may account for the folios missing from the beginning and end of the Book of Kells. The description in the Annals of the book as “of Columkille”—that is, having belonged to, and perhaps being made by Columba—suggests that the book was believed at that time to have been made on Iona. The Oxford History of the Irish Book is a major new series that charts one of the most venerable book cultures in Europe, from the earliest manuscript compilations to the flourishing book industries of the late twentieth century. Over the centuries, the book has been rebound several times. During a 19th-century rebinding, the pages were badly cropped, with small parts of some illustrations being lost.
The book was also rebound in 1895, but that rebinding broke down quickly. By the late 1920s, several folios had detached completely and were kept separate from the main volume. In 1953, bookbinder Roger Powell rebound the manuscript in four volumes and stretched several pages that had developed bulges. Two volumes can normally be seen displayed at Trinity, one opened at a major decorated page, and one opened to show two text pages with smaller decorations. James Joyce’s collection of short stories, describing the lives of Dubliners from childhood to maturity. was surrounded by controversy when it was first published in 1914.
The book must have been the product of a major scriptorium over several years, yet was apparently never finished, the projected decoration of some pages appearing only in outline. It is believed that some 30 folios of the original manuscript have been lost over the centuries. Ussher counted 344 folios in 1621, but several leaves had already been lost by then. The overall estimate is based on gaps in the text and the absence of certain key illustrations. The manuscript’s rise to worldwide fame began in the 19th century. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were invited to sign the book in 1849.
The London House of Grant Richard’s had initially agreed to publish it in 1905 but then burnt copies of the book in response to backlash about Joyce’s representation of Irish figures, particularly that of the priest in the first story ‘Two Sisters’. Joyce described the collection as his ‘nicely polished looking glass’, looking in through the windows of the lives of real people in the city and piecing them together to create a kind of map of 20th century Dublin. Joyce thus invites his reader on a geographical journey around the city whilst simultaneously taking us through the different stages of life of his characters. Tatyana grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and spent much of her early childhood going to the library and listening to stories. She is now based in County Meath, Ireland where she spends a lot of time working on illustrations and new story ideas.
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