The medieval page

Look at the pages from ‘The Book of the Dun Cow’ and ‘The Great Book of Lecan’ which are in Images. As a class, create a Post-It Collection of observations on these pages and cluster similar ideas together on a display-board. This activity should be followed by a discussion highlighting some or all of the following points:

  • Scribes have written around holes in the vellum – writing materials were much too precious to discard because of such imperfections
  • Notes have been written in the margins and above the lines, just as we make notes in books today
  • It is not always possible to see where one word ends and another begins. This is known as scriptio continua (continuous writing). Experiment with writing without spaces! Can you easily read what someone else has written?
  • Some letters are larger than other; some have colour added. These are often headings, marking the beginning of a new section. Compare how headings in a book today can be in a different font to the main text or in bold type
  • These manuscripts were written more 300 years apart, but the writing is very similar

Everyday Latin

Latin is the language from which Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian all derive. It was originally spoken in the area around Rome but spread through much of Western Europe. Many words in Irish derive from Latin, especially those concerned with learning, literacy, Church affairs, dates and time.

To reinforce items of Irish vocabulary and their links to Latin, download the work sheet below. Then cut out and match the cards which show Modern Irish words and their Latin ancestors with the correct image-cards.

In explaining the answers, teachers might comment on examples not associated with religion and the church: the drink fíon ‘wine’ came to Ireland from Continental Europe, borrowing of the word corcra ‘purple’ may indicate that the Irish followed the Roman practice of extracting dye of this colour from dog whelks, and in medieval Irish there was also a native word for ‘kiss’ (memm), which has not survived into the modern language.


Modern-day scribes

Write your name or a short message using Irish script. You can find out what the letters should look like here:

Paint or stamp the letters onto a bag using lino-cut or wood-cut.