Trinity College Dublin Library
Book of Armagh - Liber Ardmachanus (L.A.)
ca. 807 A.D., Armagh
Facsimiles available: 2r - 24v [Confessio: 22r-24v]
© Board of Trinity College Dublin
For full transcription see the edition by John Gwynn as part of the HyperStack.
Here also included a digital reproduction of the facsimile print containing the Patrician Texts of the Book of Armagh by Edward Gwynn.
The Book of Armagh contains the earliest copy of Saint Patrick's Confessio known to exist. However, significant passages are omitted - deliberately, as it seems, in order to promote St Patrick as a most successful missionary and glorious founder of monasteries in Ireland without failure. For the same reason the Epistola is entirely suppressed1. The promotion of the Patrician texts and their conjunction with the New Testament both served to potentiate Armagh's claims to ecclesiastical primacy in Ireland in the Middle Ages.
Physical description: ^
Vellum. 217 foll. (of originally 222 foll. [?]); ca. 195 x 145 mm; double columns; 34-40 lines; quires numbered. Irish minuscle.
Five leaves are missing: the opening folio (fol. 1) and two bifolia from the second quire of St Matthew's Gospel (foll. 42-45). 3 The original binding boards survive, uniquely among the many such early Irish bindings which must once have existed. The boards are of oak, lined with vellum, covered with pink stained goatskin decorated with delicate blind lines and stamps, and laced to the manuscript in a technically sophisticated manner. Now kept separately, the boards were rediscovered in 1961 inside the late medieval leather satchel associated with the manuscript, one of only three such medieval Irish book satchels surviving. The present binding in modern vellum was the work of Roger Powell in 1957.
The manuscript was once reputed to have belonged to St Patrick and, at least in part, to be a product of his hand. Research has determined, however, that the earliest part of the manuscript was the work of a scribe named Ferdomnach of Armagh, 'a scholar and an excellent scribe', as the annals of Ulster termed him in noting his death in 846. Two other scribes are known to have assisted him. Ferdomnach, who signed the book on five pages, wrote the first part of the book in 807 or 808, for Patrick's heir (comharba) Abbot Torbach of Armagh, according to an inscription on fol. 53va, which was deciphered by Charles Graves in 1846. The inscriptions were erased at an early date, as they served to weaken the association of the book with St Patrick. That the Torbach inscription is now almost entirely illegible is due to this process of erasure and to the damage caused by Graves's use of 'a weak solution of gallic acid in spirits of wine' by which he 'revived the traces of the original writing' 4. The Book of Armagh was enshrined in the year 937 by Donnchadh, son of Flan, king of Ireland, though the shrine has not survived. In 1005, king Brían Bóramha visited Armagh, left twenty ounces of gold on the altar of the church, and caused an entry to be made in the Book of Armagh which acknowledged Armagh's supreme position in the affections of St Patrick. By the twelfth century, the manuscript was in the care of a hereditary keeper (maor). Around 1680, it passed from the last of this line, Florence MacMoyre, into the hands of the Brownlow family of Lurgan, one of whom, Arthur Brownlow, was responsible for the present foliation. Early in the nineteenth century, it came to the attention of Sir William Betham. On 26 May 1831 it was put up for public auction in the sale room of Edward Maguire of Suffolk Street, Dublin, but it was bought in for £390, despite efforts by the auctioneer to raise the price by declaring, 'It's a scandal that it should leave the country! Rely on it, it will leave the country unless an advance be made'5. In 1846 the Revd Francis Brownlow deposited it in the Royal Irish Academy. In 1852, it was offered to the voracious English collector Sir Thomas Phillipps, but he was short of funds at the time, as a result, he said, of the effects of free trade. Displayed in the Dublin Exhibition of 1853, with a notice declaring that it was 'to be sold', it was bought for £300 by the antiquary William Reeves, Bishop of Down (despite impecunious circumstances and nine children to feed), who sold it on to Lord John George Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh, for the same amount, on the understanding that ownership should pass to Trinity College on Reeves's death. This occured in 18926.