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Unlocking the secrets of 7th century Ireland with new Irish Script on Screen website

The DIAS School of Celtic Studies will launch their newly revamped Irish Script on Screen (ISOS) website during a live demo this evening (17.11.22) at 5.30pm. The new website will make hundreds of Irish manuscripts dating as far back as the 7th century, including Saint Colmcille’s ‘The Cathach’ and ‘The Book of Ballymote’, more accessible to researchers and the general public alike.

The launch will take place during Tionól 2022, the School of Celtic Studies’ annual academic conference. The purpose of ISOS is to create digital images of Irish manuscripts and to make these accessible to people all over the world via the internet.

The ISOS website was established over 20 years ago to begin digitising Irish manuscripts dating as far back as the 7th century AD. There are over 5,000 manuscripts in circulation around the world which contain information about Ireland, Irish society and Ireland’s place in Europe throughout history. These manuscripts, considered national treasures, were very elaborate and costly to produce, with some being priceless and very fragile. It is one of the longest running manuscript digitization projects in Europe.

ISOS will allow scholars and the general public from all over the world who are interested in these manuscripts to view them without having to travel to Ireland. It will also help to preserve the manuscripts as it limits the number of people physically handling them.

The digitisation of the manuscripts is an ongoing, slow process, with 450 manuscripts out of 5000 currently digitized to date, which equates to upwards of 80,000 large resolution images. Before being photographed manuscripts are assessed to determine what precautions might be necessary during image capture. The use of a special conservation book cradle and cold lighting helps to reduce any effects on the manuscripts. Photographed by a specialised high-resolution Sinar camera, the image is then processed to the highest digital imaging standards before being made web ready.

The DIAS School of Celtic Studies and ISOS have a partnership with 28 different institutions around the world including the Royal Library, Brussels; the National Library of Scotland; and State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, that contribute to manuscripts to the collection.

Speaking about the launch of the new ISOS website, Prof. Ruairí Ó hUiginn, Director of the School of Celtic studies said “These manuscripts are essential for our understanding of Ireland’s history and being able to access will be a hugely important resource for scholars and the general public alike. ISOS will revolutionise the viewing experience allowing users to zoom in and expand images of manuscripts. Many Irish manuscripts have been split into different parts and ISOS will also make it possible for those parts to be reunited and shown side by side similar to how the book once appeared. There is currently no other resource collecting all Irish manuscripts in one place like this.

“The collection will also help interested members of the general public answer questions like ‘Why is Ireland known as the land of Saints and Scholars?’. Another item that may be of interest to the public is one of the oldest manuscripts in the collection, Saint Colmcille’s ‘The Cathach’ or the Battler. This is the oldest Irish manuscript in existence and is currently housed in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. The Cathach was said to have sacred powers to protect and guarantee victory in battle. Before a battle, it was customary for the manuscript to be walked three times sunwise around the warriors. I encourage anyone with an interest in Irish history to visit the website and browse some of the beautiful, intricate manuscripts in the collection.”

The Irish Script on Screen website is free to access and the new website will be live at 5.30pm on Thursday, 17th November here: https://www.isos.dias.ie/ The website will be shown in a live demo by Dr Chantal Kobel, Bergin Fellow at DIAS and Anne Marie O’Brien, Technical Director of ISOS.

The full programme for Tionól 2022 is available online here.