Donal’s Book: Egerton 88

Law and grammatical miscellany, written by Domhnall O Duibhdabhoirenn (Donall O’Davoren) in County Clare c.1564. More in the British Library description (leave this site)>>

An ancient manuscript of significance to the Clan was mentioned in the Clan History page.

Here’s a nice story from Richard Davern about the manuscript (illustrated) referred to in the British Library as ‘Egerton 88’. In November 2019 Richard wrote:

I do not recall how or indeed where I first became aware of Egerton 88 as I am not an Irish speaker and thus Old Irish manuscripts were not on my horizon. However, given my surname is Davern, I was aware of their Medieval Law School in County Clare and it is most likely through researching it that I became aware of this manuscript, also known as Dónal’s Book.

I remember feeling sadness that such a treasure was firstly fragmented, and secondly the bulk of which was no longer within Ireland. While in London one day, I naively presented myself at the British Library asking to see the manuscript, much to the amusement of the Librarian who explained that this was a categorised document, which would need a letter of introduction in order to be able to gain access it.

It must have been the expression of disappointment on my face that then prompted the kind Librarian to ask why did I actually want to view it in the first instance? I explained that my reason was no more or less compelling than I was a Davern, and I just wanted to “behold” this document, not for any knowledge I could gain from it, as I would not be able to read it, but simply to touch it and be re-connected back through the centuries to its origin, and to my ancestor, that Dónal ODavoren was, one way or another.

I think today, that the Manuscripts Librarian was so amused with my naivety, that to my amazement, he told me he would make an exception on this occasion and would have it presented from their Library archives to myself, within the hour.

The sense of history was overwhelming as my white-gloved hands first touched the folios. My over-riding memory was to ask myself; “I wonder who was the last Davern to touch this manuscript. To my delight I found on the inside cover some handwritten notes which were attached. I got some small pieces of paper and transcribed them to the very last word. They being in English, and giving some details about the manuscript and its history. This was the only information I could take from it, but this information paled in significance when compared to that sense of history which still lives in my heart to this very day.

The story moves on, through my encounter with a lady called Rita Davoren from Minneapolis, USA, who was making a film documentary about her County Clare ancestors. By now I was slightly consumed about the tragic circumstances of this exiled and fragmented manuscript. I hoped that part of her documentary would at least talk about the Davoren manuscript. It was Rita who put me in contact with Edward OLoughlin, and over a series of emails with Edward, where I again continued in my naïve belief that my dream of one day seeing the manuscript united, and housed in County Clare could become a reality. Edward gently poured some cold water on this thought, outlining obvious “problems” that would render this impossible!

While at an antique book fair in New York, I spoke with a book dealer from Copenhagen.

I asked him if he had any contacts who would be able to get me access to see the third fragment of Dónal’s Book, as by now I had also “beheld” the Dublin based fragment at the Royal Irish Academy. Thus, I felt if I could just behold the Copenhagen segment, then I would have a story to bore the nurses who will have to tend me during my later years, I am presently 52, so hopefully a long way off; I am sure they will light up when I tell them I was one of the few, if only Daverns who had beheld all three fragments of the ODavoren manuscript!

The Copenhagen book dealer kept his word and I subsequently had a lovely message from the Danish Royal Collection saying that my trip to Copenhagen should not be necessary, as there were plans afoot to reunite the Manuscript in Ireland, in the coming year!

I was waiting to hear where and when this reunion was to occur, if indeed it was true and to my great amazement I received an invitation from Edward to the opening of the “Keepers of the Gael” exhibition at the Galway City Museum.

After some wonderful words from the speakers at the opening we went upstairs, and it was nothing short of emotional to welcome home to Ireland, Egerton 88. For me to see two out of the three sections reunited was bitter-sweet. Perhaps it was seeing the two parts side by side only managed to heighten the loneliness of knowing that their completeness was just 6 folios short; lacking the Copenhagen segment.

The author at the Galway City launch

I just feel so strongly that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve what I thought I would never see, given the logical difficulties that Edward, with his own experience, had gently pointed out to this naïve dreamer.

But maybe being naïve sometimes is not a bad thing because we do not see the problems that could lead to inaction. So my dream is still alive that before the Galway city museum exhibition ends, could we manage somehow to get Copenhagen to Galway. I am sure that Donal ODaveron would be enthralled, that we were making so much of his work 500 years later!

Richard Davern
Limerick City

Note: Both Egerton 88 (British Library) and the segment held at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin of Dónal’s Book are now on display at Galway city museum, until 30 January 2020.