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A faded page of text with a dark dirty spot at left, with a bright color image of the same page at right.
Side by side an image of the Book of Uí Mhaine f. 48r and a false color image of the same.

Register Now: Inks & Skins

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The manuscripts created from calfskin by secular scholars in Ireland prior to 1600 contain a wealth of tales and poetry, together with historical, legal and scientific writing. The vernacular traditions contained in these books are extraordinary witnesses to Gaelic civilization and learning on the western limit of the known world. As artefacts of that civilization, the manuscripts themselves, their creation and survival, have their own tales to tell. One current project, Inks and Skins, seeks to unearth that narrative by focusing on how and by whom these handmade books were created.

Inks and Skins is an interdisciplinary project dedicated to the investigation of the materiality of the late-medieval Gaelic manuscript. It is led by Prof. Pádraig Ó Macháin, Professor of Modern Irish in University College Cork. In 2019 Prof. Ó Macháin was the recipient of an Irish Research Council Advanced Laureate Award, which funds the project. The research has involved a combination of enhanced visual analysis, multi-spectral imaging, and X-Ray Fluorescence scanning, together with a range of complementary spectroscopies and techniques. The object has been to understand the writing supports and the composition of inks and pigments used by the secular scholars who created Gaelic vellum hand-written books in the period 1100-1600. The anchor manuscript is the Book of Uí Mhaine, a large vellum manuscript of poetry and Irish tradition assembled c. 1390 for the Ó Ceallaigh (O’Kelly) family of Uí Mhaine in Co. Galway. It is today preserved in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy, where it bears the shelf-number D ii 1. Manuscripts before and after the medieval period are studied for comparative and contextual purposes, as are other manuscripts of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Early in the project a fruitful collaboration was established with the Library of Congress, where staff of the Library’s Preservation Research and Testing Division, led by Dr. Fenella France, provided their skill and expertise in the analysis of the manuscripts, this collaboration continues today, and is celebrated in the seminar and workshop to be convened in Washington in September. 

Register to join us at the Library of Congress on September 13th from 10 am – 4 pm. 

Speakers will address the history of the Irish manuscripts, complementary research projects in which they are involved, and the results of the analytical techniques involved in the research. As Inks and Skins is a collaboration between heritage science and humanities, the importance of a visualization platform to share the results with humanities scholars will also be discussed.

The Topics on Preservation Series (TOPS) is an ongoing lecture series organized by the Preservation Directorate. You can find past lectures and recordings here.

Please request ADA accommodations at least five business days in advance by contacting (202) 707-6362 or [email protected].


  1. Further background information on the project is available at:

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