The Book of the Dun Cow
Lebor na hUidre
RIA MS 23 E 25

A fragmentary manuscript, dated to the 11th or 12th centuries, making it the third-oldest known manuscript in Ireland (the oldest being the Cathach). The leaves are vellum, measuring 11" by 8". There are only 67 leaves remaining in the manuscript. "{A}t least sixty-six leaves have been lost — fifty-one before the 17th century foliation and sixteen since that time (acc. to Best-Bergin, op. cit., p. xxiii)."[1] In 1380, the scribe Sigraid Ua Curnín restored the faded writing, at the request of the owner of the manuscript, Domnall mac Muirchertaig meic Domnaill (Ó Conchobair) Lord of Cairbre (1362-1395). It passed through numerous hands, many unknown, until being bought by the Royal Irish Academy in 1844.

The contents of the book include the Irish redaction of the Historia Brittonum, here called the Lebor Bretnach or "Book of the Britons." This is notable for being one of the few manuscripts that identifies Nennius as the author. This is followed by a life of St. Columcille, selections from the Ulster Cycle (such as another version of the Tain Bo Cuailnge, "The Sickness of Cuchulainn" and "The Cattle-Raid of Fraich"), "The Voyage of Bran," "The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel," and three versions of "The Wooing of Etain."

While not as extensive as The Book of Leinster, it is still an important manuscript, containing texts not found otherwise.

The contents, in Irish, can be found in full here. Images of the manuscript can be found here.



The Book of the Dun Cow

An allegorical novel of good and evil by Walter Wangerin, Jr., published in 1978. It is the story of Chanticleer the rooster and his farm mates, and the evil dictator Cockatrice, servant and creation of Unwyrm, an evil serpent who lives underground. Unbeknownst to the animals, they are the keepers of Unwyrm's prison, and so it is up to them--Chanticleer and his pals Mundi Cani Dog and John Wesley Weasel--to defeat Cockatrice and Unwyrm in an apocalyptic battle. They place their faith in God and the Dun Cow, who is perhapse a sort of Marian figure. The religious overtones are clear in a C.S. Lewis sort of way, and thus can be read as either fantasy or religious allegory, whatever makes you happy.

There is a sequal called The Book of Sorrows.

I've never read the book, but there was a cartoon based on it, called Chanticleer I think, produced by Don Bluth.

I don't know what, if any, connection exists between the two books. As far as I know, a dun cow is simply a type of cow--tan or light brown, which was used in making the top entry of this w/u, and a character in the bottom entry.

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Mary Jones © 2004