The Book of Aicill

The Book of Aicill relates to the criminal law and is often discussed as being on par in significance with the Senchus Mór; although, the latter deals with civil law.

Like the mystery of Saint Patrick’s posthumous authorship of the Senchus Mór, the Book of Aicill attributes its authorship to that of the legendary Cormac Mac Airt who is supposed to have ruled as High-King of Ireland during the 3rd century AD, however, the text itself is claimed to be an expansion of Cormac’s earlier work by a monk named Ceannfalad who lived, much later, during the 7th century.

It could be viewed as early Ireland’s criminal code but this requires some elaboration because the view of a ‘criminal’ and what constitutes a ‘crime’ was hugely distinct from our modern understandings of these terms. Under the brehon laws a “wrong” varied in degree of seriousness according to the level of intention or forethought behind the act. Today, ‘crimes’ are defined as a wrongful act against society (as a whole) that carries penal consequences.

The four texts were brought together and bound in the 18th century in full sprinkled calf leather with the quires sewn twice on five flexible cords. In 1907 it was dis-bound and “vamped”, and crudely bound in two separate book-cloth bindings. The impressions of tackets, and evidence from the binding structures indicate the original binding may have been limp. Drying sand and quill parings have also been found in the spine-folds.

The manuscript was treated to remove disfiguring surface soiling, and remedied distortions caused during the 20th century rebinding.

The treatment has included removal of the binding cover and thick adhesive residues from the spine-folds. Soiling has been reduced using an alcohol and water mixture, applied with swabs under magnification. Due to the low shrinkage temperature of old vellum the use of moisture has been controlled during all processes. Distortions have been reduced by hydrating the skin in a humidity chamber, and using clip and pin tensioning during the drying phase.

Photo: The Book of Aicill, Trinity College, Dublin

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