Voices of Irish scribes

It was not uncommon for Irish scribes to take a break from the copying of texts to make comments on their materials, excuse the poor quality of their work, or make reference to the events going on around them. These ‘marginalia’, usually written in the vernacular Irish give us an insight into their lives.

The bitter wind is high tonight, it lifts the white locks of the sea; in such wild winter storm no fright of savage Vikings troubles me.

St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p. 112. Ninth-century copy of Institutiones grammaticae by Priscian by Irish scribes.

‘the vellum is defective, and the writing’

St Gallen Priscian St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p.195. Ninth-century copy of Institutiones grammaticae by Priscian by Irish scribes.

‘This page has not been written very slowly’

St Gallen Priscian St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p.195. Ninth-century copy of Institutiones grammaticae by Priscian by Irish scribes.

‘Of Patrick and Brigit on Máel Brigte, that he may not be angry with me for writing that has been written at this time’

St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p. 202. Ninth-century copy of Institutiones grammaticae by Priscian by Irish scribes.

‘A hedge of trees surrounds me: a blackbird’s lay sings to me – praise which I will not hide – above my booklet the lined one the trilling of the birds sings to me. In the grey mantle of the beautiful chant sings to me from the top of the bushes: may the Lord protect me from Doom. I write under the greenwood’.

St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p. 203. Ninth-century copy of Institutiones grammaticae by Priscian by Irish scribes.

‘massive hangover’

St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p. 204. Ninth-century copy of Institutiones grammaticae by Priscian by Irish scribes.

Figure 1, a section of Ogham script

Fig 1. Marginal note in ogham script that reads Ale [Lait] + killed [ort], i.e. an ale-induced hangover. St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p. 204. CC-BY-NC

‘New parchment, bad ink, O I say nothing more’

St Gallen Priscian St Gall, Cod. Sang. 904, p. 214.

‘The last column of writing was completed with three dips of the pen’

Book of Armagh, Dublin TCD MS 52, fol. 78r. Ninth-century New Testament and saints lives, Armagh.

‘God bless my hands today’

Cassiodorus in Psalmos, Laon MS 26, f18v. Early ninth-century by an Irish scribe.

‘Pray for Maelbrigte, who wrote this book in his 28th year’

British Library, Harley 1802, fol. 127v. Written in Armagh, 1138AD.

‘Had I wished, I could have written the whole commentary like this’

Written in tiny letters on a slip of vellum between two folios. British Library, Harley 1802. Written in Armagh, 1138AD.

‘the cat has gone astray’

Leabar Breac, RIA MS p. 164. Historical miscellany.

‘May God forgive Edmund the putting of colour on this book on the eve of Sunday’

Oxford, Bodleian, MS Laud. 610, fol. 116r. Historical miscellany, late fifteenth century, Counties Kilkenny and Tipperary.

‘the phlegm is upon me like a mighty river, and my breathing is laboured.’

Egerton 88 fol. 26, Law tract by Law tract Domhnall O Duibhdabhoirenn, c. 1564, Co. Clare.

‘blood from the finger of Maelaghlin’

Note beside a blood stain, Dublin, Kings Inns MS 16, fol 5v. 16th century Irish medical text.

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The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece

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