Discovery and Condition
Read about how the Faddan More Psalter was discovered and identified by Museum staff.
The book was found on the afternoon of 20 July 2006 by Mr Eddie Fogarty, who was operating a mechanical digger in the bog at Faddan More, near Birr. Mr Fogarty, somewhat astonishingly, spotted the book as it sprung open in the bucket of his digger and then dropped into the two metre deep trench adjacent to where he had been working. He immediately contacted the bog owners, Kevin and Patrick Leonard, who gathered together the fragments and covered them with wet peat before notifying the staff of the National Museum of Ireland. We were indeed fortunate on a number of fronts: that the book survived at all; that it was spotted under these circumstances; and that the landowners had made archaeological discoveries before, had a keen interest in local history, and knew from past experience exactly what to do with the find to ensure its preservation while still in the bog.
Conservation and archaeological staff from the Museum travelled to the site on the following morning and were astonished by what we found. It was immediately clear that we were dealing with an early book from the surviving lettering and traces of a yellow border, which were visible on top of the remains. The book itself lay open on the leather cover. However the condition of the find was the cause for a great deal of concern. Descriptions at the time varied from ‘like lasagne’ to ‘alphabet soup’. We clearly had a find of enormous importance but one in very poor condition. The landowners had laid the book on a plastic sheet, which we were able to slide onto a board to remove it from the trench. We then covered the find with cling film and encased it in ‘cellocast’ resin bandages to encapsulate it for transport back to the Museum’s conservation labs in Dublin. In Dublin, the Psalter was exposed as fully as possible for recording, was recorded and was then put in to storage while we worked out what to do with it. We did not want to introduce biocides, due to the risk of reactions with the inks and pigments, and freezing the book would risk deterioration of the vellum. We therefore stored it in a refrigerator at four degrees centigrade, lying on its bed of wet peat from the site and covered in a ‘cellocast’ resin cover moulded to its contours with an intervention layer of silicon mylar. This technique, which has proved valuable at the Museum in storing bog bodies, relies on the natural biocides in the bog water to prevent deterioration. Although mould will eventually grow on any organic material stored with the book (for example, ties, labels, etc.), it is now nearly a year since discovery and those parts of the Psalter that are still in storage awaiting treatment are completely stable with no signs of mould growth or deterioration.
Examinations showed the vellum book to be a Psalter of large format with a folio size of approximately 30cm x 26cm, and five gatherings. It was found lying with gathering three open, and part of Psalm 83 visible. Early examination found areas of illumination, particularly what may be the remains of an illuminated page with display lettering, found by gently easing the book block back from the cover. The eighth-Century date is derived from the style of the lettering used, making this the first Irish manuscript book to be discovered for over 200 years.
It became apparent, as the manuscript was examined and its importance assessed, that a complex conservation project was required, with systematic recording and dismantling in order to extract as much information as possible about it as treatment proceeded. A project was initiated to carry out this process with a high level steering group from the National Museum of Ireland and Trinity College Library, with specialists in different aspects of the work sought for consultation as material related to their fields became available.