UCC pays $1m for 'Great Book of Ireland'


University College Cork has paid $1 million (€752,000) to acquire the Great Book of Ireland.

Compiled between 1989 and 1991, the vellum manuscript contains the handwritten work of nine composers, 121 artists and 143 poets.

Among the contributions are those by Nobel laureates Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott.

Beckett’s final poem

Beckett’s poem, a variant of a 1930s memorial to his father, is believed to be his final piece as he died a short time after writing it. It has rarely been displayed since it was introduced to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1991 .

Artists who contributed include Louis le Brocquy, Barrie Cooke, Patrick Scott, Tony O’Malley, Dorothy Cross and Sonja Landweer.

Among the contributing writers were Michael Longley, John Montague and the late Dennis O’Driscoll. Bono and Daniel Day-Lewis also feature.

The editors of the Great Book of Ireland, or Leabhar Mór na hÉireann, were Theo Dorgan and Gene Lambert, and the fee will be split equally between the two organisations originally behind the book, Poetry Ireland/ Éigse Éireann for building a National Poetry Centre and Clashganna Mills Trust, now a subsidiary of Rehab, for their work promoting the interests of people with disabilities in the arts.

Eight-year process

The acquisition ends an eight-year process for UCC, which raised the money through philanthropic donations and plans further fundraising for the professional conservation of the manuscript, the creation of facsimiles and an exhibition space.

“The Great Book is something of an artistic ‘time capsule’ that captures the richness of Irish creativity during a particular period towards the end of the 20th century,” said UCC librarian John FitzGerald.

At a ceremony at UCC on Friday, President Michael D Higgins will sign his handwritten contribution to the book.

Poets Seamus Heaney and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill will also be present and the score of a musical composition in the manuscript by Horslips member Jim Lockhart will receive its premiere.