A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

MS. Ir. d. 5


Summary of Contents: Two fragments of a single leaf, with on one side a verse dialogue between the prehistoric Irish king, Cormac (mac Airt), and his poet-judge, Fítheal; and on the other, a (?) religious poem. The fragments derive from a single leaf written in two columns. Fragment A is a vertical strip from the centre of the leaf, preserving the inter-columnar space, and strips of varying widths from each column to left and right of it, on each side; fragment B contains a broader strip of text from only one column, on each side. It is by no means certain which side of the reconstructed leaf was recto, and which verso. The fragments were arranged and numbered in 1997 following the reconstruction by Prof. Brian Ó Cuív, which makes the flesh side the recto, with both fragments deriving from the outer part of the leaf. Under this reconstruction, on the recto there survive one thin strip from the extreme right of col. I (Fragm. Ar, col. I) and two broader but separated strips from col. II (Fragm. Ar, col. II, and Fragm. Br), whilst on the verso are two broad, separated strips of col. I (Fragm. Bv, and Fragm. Av, col. I) and one thin strip from the left edge of its col. II (Fragm. Av, col. II). The following identifications of texts are based on Prof. Ó Cuiv's work.

Language(s): Irish

(Fragm. Ar, col. I, lines 1-18/19)

Unidentified text(s?): only a few characters, at most, survive at the end of each line.

Language(s): Irish
(Fragm. Ar and Br, col. I, line 21 - Fragm. Ar and Br, col. II, line 15)
Poetic dialogue between Cormac mac Airt and his poet-judge Fíthal

In nine quatrains, with the name of each of the participants ('Fíthal', 'Cormac') written alternately, superscript and in smaller style, next to the start of their respective quatrains; the first surviving large initial (col. II, line 2) is the start of the 5th quatrain of the pr. edn.: the text is also found in Dublin, Trinity College, MS. 1339 (H. 2. 18), which begins 'Niba me ...' (ed. R. I. Best and M. A. O'Brien (vol. 6 by Anne O'Sullivan), The Book of Leinster formerly Lebar na Núachongbála, 6 vols. (Dublin, 1954-83), vol. 3 (1957), 623-4); a less close version is found in Bodleian, MS. Rawl. B. 512, fol. 116v, col. II.

Language(s): Irish
(Fragm. Br, col. II, lines 16-28)
Poem (unidentified)

In four quatrains, addressed to Jesus, using many diminutive forms

Rubric: [heading:] [?...]or mc inso (the first letter, half cut away, is a curved form, probably 'o' or 'c')
Incipit: [text:] A hÍssu[can ...]diucan cid da[...] ... [...]sucan. [followed by the repetition of the first word, the closure, or 'dúnadh':] aihisuc[an.]
Language(s): Irish
(Fragm. Bv and Av, col. I, lines 1-27)
Religious poem (unidentified),

with parts of nine quatrains surviving, mentioning parts of the body

Rubric: [two-line heading:] Aircetal de[...]so _ ise | a hainm lamc[...]
Incipit: (text)Minib tuar [...]bab. | ...
Language(s): Irish
(Fragm. Bv and Av, col. I, line 28 - Fragm. Av, col. II, line 28)

Unidentified text(s?): apparently not written in verse, since there are no capital letters at the starts of the first 20 lines of col. II, though there are two (minor) capitals at the starts of lines 21 and 27; line 29 has been cut away.

Language(s): Irish

The primary argument about the priority of the sides depends on the relationship between Texts 3 and 4: Text 3 occupies the end of the second column of its page, whilst Text 4 starts at the top of the first column of the other. If Text 3 ends incomplete, it must have fallen at the bottom of a verso, to continue on the following leaf, now missing; if however it is complete in its present four quatrains, Text 4 could have followed it, but still need not certainly have done so. The fact that the last surviving letters of Text 3 fall on the 28th line of its column, with the 29th line apparently blank, suggests that that poem is indeed complete.

A secondary argument in support of this arrangement depends on the activities of the binder who cut up the leaf into narrow vertical strips. Each surviving strip is c.33-9 mm. wide, and the gap between them is also approximately the same: such uniformity suggests that the whole leaf was cut up into vertical strips of approximately equal width. On that hypothesis, at least one further strip would have been cut away at the left-hand side of Fragm. Bv, which preserves most of the starts of its text-lines. A left-hand blank margin of c.33-9 mm. would probably be too wide for the inner margin of a recto, but perfectably acceptable for the outer margin of a verso.

Physical Description

Form: fragments
Support: Parchment, apparently of fairly thick and good quality, the hair side (present verso) dark and slightly rough in the 'insular' manner, the flesh side (recto) smoother and paler.
Extent: Two vertical strips cut from a single leaf; a further strip of similar width is missing between them, and more are missing on at least one side.
Dimensions (leaf): 275-7 × 34-9 mm.
(Fragm. A)
Dimensions (leaf): 275-6 × 33-9 mm.
(Fragm. B)
Dimensions (leaf): 285 × 192 mm.
Correct alignment of the fragments, the width of the inter-columnar space, and an estimate derived from one of the columns of writing, suggest that the whole leaf would have measured at least 285 x 192 mm., allowing no more at the three outer margins.
Dimensions (written): 265 × 170 mm.
The written space of each column approx. 265 x 80-5 mm. (based on Ó Cuív's calculations of the line-length): this suggests a total written space of approx. 265 x 170 mm.;
Foliation: The fragments numbered 'A' and 'B' in pencil, 1997.


Undeterminable; no catchwords, quire signatures, or leaf signatures visible.


Ruled very faintly in drypoint, scored on the present verso, for at least 29 lines of text per page, in two columns; a pair of prickings survive in the top margin of Fragm. A, delimiting an intercolumnar space of 16 mm.; a single pricking at the top edge of Fragm. B delimits the ruling of the right hand side of the right hand column on the recto, and the left hand side of the left hand column on the verso.


Written in dark brown ink in a fairly large and formal Irish hand.


Headings (as surviving for Texts 3, 4, and 5(?)) in plain ink, that of Text 4 in perhaps slightly smaller script. The possible identification of lines 28 and ?29 of Fragm. Bv, col. I, as the heading for Text 5, depends on the presence of a horizontal line of red below line 27, for which the easiest explanation would be as a division-marker of some sort between two texts. Capitals at the starts of texts (as surviving for Texts 3 and 4) are plain ink capitals by the scribe, but written somewhat larger and more boldly (Text 3's 'A' approx. 2 lines high, Text 4's 'M' approx. 1½ lines); smaller ink capitals, perhaps slightly larger than one line, survive at the starts of quatrains (Texts 2-4) and at two points of Text(s?) 5 (i.e. in col. II on the recto, and in both cols. on the verso), and are stressed by being written to the left of the main written space of each column. Both larger and smaller capitals are partly infilled with touches of colour, those on the recto (col. II surviving only) with a pale brownish yellow, those on the verso (both columns) with a purplish red; run-over marks somewhat like a pair of reversed 'S's or back-slashes ('\\') occur on Fragm. Br, col. II, lines 1, 6, 9, and 12, and are perhaps touched with a very faint stroke of pale colour.


Mounted in a modern fascicle. The brown staining and traces of brown leather at the top and bottom of the recto side of each fragment, caused undoubtedly by the turn-ins of the tanned leather cover of the binding into which the strips were previously bound; in conjunction with the sewing-fold and seven sewing-stations (1+2+2+2+2+2+1 holes) in each fragment; and traces of glue and paper; suggest that at one time the fragments were used as reinforcing-strips at the front and back of a binding of large quarto or small folio size, covered perhaps in calf, with five spine-bands and kettle-stitching at head and tail. The strips were most likely used to fold around the flyleaves or the outer quire at each end.


Origin: Irish ; 12th century (?)

Provenance and Acquisition

Written in Ireland; attributed to the Middle Irish period, that is, between c.900 and c.1200, by Prof. Brian Ó Cuív, who believes a date in the 12th century to be 'quite possible'.

Unidentified owner/reader: a possible addition by a later reader could be the two converging strokes in hardpoint, to the left of the last line of Text 2, apparently marking it (though alternatively they could be accidental marks from the period of the fragments' secondary use).

Cut up at an unknown date, most likely in the 16th or 17th century, for use as binding strips in an unidentified printed book which probably still survives (unidentified) in the collections of the Bodleian.

Unidentified owner/reader: Fragm. A verso was inscribed in ink 'Psa'(??) in a post-medieval hand, sideways along the secondary binding fold near the present top, and probably after the secondary use.

Found in 1996 amongst the Bodleian papers of the late Dr. David Rogers (1917-95), a member of the Bodleian's Department of Printed Books, 1947-84; and transferred to the Department of Western Manuscripts.

Record Sources

Draft description by Peter Kidd, late 1990s.


    Brian Ó Cuiv, Catalogue of Irish Language Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and Oxford College Libraries, 2 vols (Dublin, 2001-3), I.21-3