On 2nd March the Royal Irish Academy hosted a two-day conference at Dublin on the late fourteenth-century manuscript Leabhar Ua Maine or Book of Uí Mhaine. Twelve speakers presented papers on various aspects of this manuscript, ranging from early modern poetry to illumination, among whom was ASNC’s Professor Paul Russell. A small delegation of current ASNC PhD students (David McCay and myself) and professors (Prof Máire Ní Mhaonaigh; Prof Paul Russell; Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson) were among the 110 delegates, as well as ASNC alumni such as Dr Sarah Waidler, Dr Silva Nurmio, Dr Deborah Hayden and Dr Elizabeth Boyle.
Just after noon, the conference was opened by Siobhán Fitzpatrick (head librarian) and Elizabeth Boyle. The first two papers given by Dr Nollaig Ó Muraíle and Dr Bernadette Cunningham provided a context for the manuscript by exploring its origins and those associated with its production and further history. After a tea break Dr Elizabeth Boyle took the audience on a journey through the Middle Eastern historical matter, of which a wide variety can be found in the manuscript. She discussed the interpretation of this material by tying it to its contemporary historical context and the genealogical material that is found in large quantities in the book. Prof Michael Clarke continued with the exploration of the verses on world-kingship by placing them in an international context, linking the poetry with mainland European monastic cultures and tentatively positing a link with the material found in the Book of Uí Mhaine and the contents of the library of King Richard II. Although this paper marked the end of the first day, discussion on the topics touched upon during the sessions continued during the reception.
The second day opened with a paper on the dindshenchas material contained in the Book of Uí Mhaine presented by Dr Marie-Luise Theuerkauf. Prof Ruairí Ó hUiginn followed with an analysis of the genealogical tracts, comparing them to the same core of material found in the roughly contemporary Book of Ballymore and Book of Lecan and pointing to the fact that the foregrounding of Uí Mhaine material in the manuscript indicates a strong regional interest. After a short tea break the next session brought us into the realm of poetry, as Prof Pádraig Ó Macháin and Dr Mícheál Hoyne discussed the transmission and functions of the poems in the manuscript. During the lunch break many discussions were continued, and there was ample opportunity to ask the speakers questions or wander around the Royal Irish Academy to browse the shelves or admire the Book of Uí Mhaine in person, which had been put on display especially for the occasion.
The first afternoon session was dedicated to language and was started off by Dr Deborah Hayden, who discussed the version of Auraicept na nÉces contained in the Book of Uí Mhaine. After this interesting paper, it was Prof Paul Russell’s turn to delve into the language. His study of the Uí Mhaine glossary explored the relationships between this word-list and similar glossaries found in three related manuscripts, concluding by showing that their transmission took place in the reverse direction than has hitherto been assumed. After the afternoon coffee break we moved on to the last two papers of the conference. In an interesting paper, Prof Liam Breatnach explored the metrical tracts that are found in the manuscript. Finally, the conference was brought to a close by Dr Karen Ralph, who took a closer look at the illumination found in the manuscript and linked it to medieval Irish literature. This paper concluded our journey through the Book of Uí Mhaine, which proved to be a multifaceted source providing us a glimpse into medieval Irish society.