Yellow Book of Lecan

Yellow Book of Lecan

The Yellow Book of Lecan ("Leabhar Buidhe Lecain") is an medieval Irish manuscript written no later than the dawn of the 15th century. It is currently housed at Trinity College, Dublin and should not be confused with the Great Book of Lecan. [ [ Jone's Celtic Encyclopedia] ]

The manuscript is written on vellum and contains 344 columns of text. The first 289 were written by 1391; the remainder were written by 1401. It is written in Middle Irish. [ [ Jone's Celtic Encyclopedia] ]

The book contains nearly the whole of the Ulster Cycle, including a partial version of the "Táin Bó Cúailnge" which is a compilation of two or more earlier versions, indicated by the number of duplicated episodes and references to other versions in the text. [Reference is made to the fragmented nature of the story in a related tale, "Dofallsigud Tána Bó Cuailnge" ("The rediscovery of the "Táin Bó Cuailnge"), in the Book of Leinster, which begins: "The poets of Ireland one day were gathered around Senchán Torpéist, to see if they could recall the "Táin Bó Cuailnge" in its entirety. But they all said they knew only parts of it." Thomas Kinsella (trans., 1969), "The Táin", Oxford University Press.]

This incomplete "Táin Bó Cúailnge" overlaps with the partial version given in the Book of the Dun Cow; the complete text known today was derived from the combination of these s. The version of Fergus mac Róich's death tale in the "Yellow Book of Lecan" is the oldest one that survives.

In addition to that material which would be placed with certainty within the Ulster Cycle, the book has a later version of "The Voyage of Máel Dúin", a collection of Irish triads, and the same ogham tract as is recorded in the Book of Ballymote. Of final note is story of the life of Saint Patrick as told by Fintan that contains the odd account of Trefuilngid Tre-eochair, a giant at the Hill of Tara who is first to hear about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. [ [ Jone's Celtic Encyclopedia] ] [Trefuilngid's contradicts the well-known story death tale of Conchobar mac Nessa (also contained in the "Yellow Book of Lecan") that states the king knew 0f Christ's death when it happened and dropped dead because of the fact.]


Edward Lhuyd obtained the book from one of two sources; Ruaidhrí Ó Flaithbheartaigh about March 1700 at Park, An Spidéal; or from Dáthí Óg Ó Dubhda of Bunnyconnellan, County Sligo, in the same year. Ó Flaithbheartaigh and Ó Dubhda would have obtained them from Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, who's family created and preserved the book. Lhuyd bound together seventeen manuscripts as a single volume and dubbed them "The Yellow Book of Lecan".

Some of the manuscripts were written by Giolla Íosa Mór Mac Fhirbhisigh between c.1398 and c.1417. Nollaig Ó Muraíle calls it

"a great composite manuscripts. Ninety-nine folios of Giolla Isa's survive (which may be termed, for convenience, 'Leabhar Giolla Íosa' - LGÍ), containing some of the most importatn Irish literary texts from the Old and Middle Irish periods, including the only (virtually) complete copy of Rescension I of Táin Bó Cúailnge. Two colophons by Giolla Íosa indicate 1392 as the date of writing, though the work may not have been brought to completion for some years after that"

Giolla Íosa was assisted by his student, Murchadh Riabhach Ó Cuinnlis. Ó Cuinnlis penned an excellent manuscript in east Ormond (now County Tipperary in 1398-99) which is now part of YBL.

Giolla Íosa wrote that he "wrote this book for himself and for his son after him", and elsewhere, that it was "for himself and his family after him."

Ó Muraíle further states:"That is one index of Giolla Íosa Mac Fir Bhisigh's importance; to his scribal labours we owe the preservation of the most celebrated of medieval Irish tales, Táin Bó Cúailnge." (p.23) YBL also contains "Aided Nath Í", "Togail Bruidne Da Derga", "Táin Bó Fraích", "Longes ma nUislenn"; "Dá Brón Flatha Nime" and "Mesca Ulad" by his son, Tomás Cam Mac Firbhisigh.

In 1986 (see below) Professor Tomás Ó Concheanainn stated his belief that much of the Yellow Book of Lecan/Leabhar Giolla Íosa was derived from Leabhar Gleann Dá Locha (The Book of Glendalough) and Lebor na Nuachongbála (now The Book of Leinster.

A fragment of the Yellow Book is in the hand of Solamh Ó Droma, one of the three scribes of the Book of Ballymote.

Lhuyd derived the title from a note by Ciothruadh Mac Fhirbhisigh:

" [Leab] ar an Buide Leacain anim an leabhair so; mise Cirruaidh mac Taidg Ruaidh/The Yellow Book of Lecan is the name of this book; I am Ciothruagh son of Taidg Ruaidh"



* "The Celebrated Antiquary", p. 16 and 23, Nollaig Ó Muraíle, Maynooth, 1996.
* "The manuscript tradition of two Middle Irish Leinster tales", Tomás Ó Concheanainn, "Celtica" xviii (1986), pp.13-33.
* "A personal reference by Giolla Íosa Mór Mac Fhirbhisigh", Tomás Ó Concheanainn, "Celticia" xviii (1986), p. 34.
* "The YBL fragment of Táin Bó Flidais", Tomás Ó Concheanainn, "Celtica" xiiii (1980), p.56-57.

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