Quire structure added to KBR 5100-4

I have been experimenting a little with visualising quire structures recently and have now added a link to such a visualisation in the description of manuscript KBR 5100-4. You will be able to navigate a schematic illustration of the quires that contain Félire Óengusso based on my analysis of the manuscript last February. Images are courtesy of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Brussels and the schematics tool used is the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies Collation Modeler (VisColl), the wonderful work of Dot Porter.  The visualisation can’t currently display large quires (such as we see often in Irish manuscripts) very well, but Dot tells me there is a new version on the way that can, at which point I will update the link 🙂

If you are not sure what I mean by quire and quire structures, this next section is for you!

When discussing how a manuscript is put together, scholars often have to refer to its structure. This is not unlike modern book. In fact, if you have a hardback to hand while reading this, I suggest taking one out and looking at it from the top. When you look closely at the point where the pages meet the spine, you will very likely see that the pages were not pasted together as a loose stack, but as small groups or booklets of pages. (Depending on the publisher.) Like in this book on the right for example.

This is true also for most manuscripts, except that we do not always call the leaves of a manuscript pages (and where they are called pages, this is because they have been numbered as pages).

Most manuscripts consists of similar ‘booklets’ bound together, which we call quires (or gatherings). Each quire consists of a number of sheets or folded together. A simple way to create a small quire or booklet yourself is to take a number of A4 or A3 sheets, say four, place them on top of each other, and then fold the bundle in half across the short side. You will now have a booklet with four folded sheets or bifolia and eight folia: each folded sheet is called a bifolium and forms two leaves or folia in your booklet.

If you were to paginate these like in a modern book, you would number them 1 to 16, but with manuscript folios we normally refer to the front and back side, the recto and the verso, of the folio. This is called foliation. Instead of having  a page number 1 on the first leaf of your booklet, you would refer to it as folio 1r, and to the backside as 1v.

Quarto. Source: www.lib.umich.edu

To create such neatly folded quires, a scribe would have taken a sheet of paper or vellum (animal skin) and folded it to right size.  This might mean folding a sheet more than once. For instance, if you take one sheet of paper, fold it in half, and then fold it in half again, you have a quarto. Your quire now has four leaves or folia.

If you look again at the image of the quire structure of KBR 5100-4 above, you will see, on the left, a series of curved lines with numbers. This schematic illustrates how the part of the manuscript that we call quire 7 fits together. Each of these lines represents a folded sheet or bifolium and each folio is referred to by recto and a verso. In the visualiser loose, individual images have been stitched together, but it shows you each side of the whole bifolium. This way we can visualise the structure of the manuscript without having to take it apart.

If you want to know more about manuscript terminology and making manuscripts, you could start here:



(this page was edited in 2020 to add an image)

The little things (KBR 5100-4)

Having recently visited the Royal Library in Brussels for the second time to study MS 5100-4, I wanted to share with you some small discoveries that put a smile on my face.

For those of you new to the manuscript (see here), this is a composite manuscript consisting of individual booklets of texts copied by Michél Ó Cléirigh as part of his work for the Franciscans in Louvain, who at that time began to collect religious materials from Ireland for posterity. The separate ‘copy books’ can be identified, among other things, by the scribal pagination. There are three numbering systems in the manuscript: foliation in dark pencil, scribal pagination, and from quire 2 (second copy book) onwards, light pencil foliation that continues onward from the scribal pagination of quire 4. The main sections in the manuscript, as indicated by the scribal pagination, consist of a section containing poetry, the prologue and commentary to the Félire, the Félire itself, the Martyrology of Gorman, and the Martyrology of Tallaght.

Quire Contents Dark pencil  ff Light pencil ff Scibal pagination
2—4 Poetry 6—39 1—67 (39r)
5—6 Preface and Commentary to Félire 40—65 68—93 1—45 (ends 65r)
7—8 Félire Óengusso 66—93 94—121 1—51 (ends 91v)
9—19 Martyrology of Gorman (9, part of 18, and 19 are autographs and notes) 94—180 122—207 1 (=100r)—141 (ends 170v)
20—21 Martyrology of Tallaght (foll. by Comainmniughud) 180—201 208—228 1—12 (ends 192r, text ends 197r)
KBR MS 5100-4, sections with scribal pagination © Nicole Volmering, March 2018 (research carried out in February-March 2016 and February 2018)

Index to the commentary, KBR MS 5100-4 f. 42r (own image) Low resolution images posted courtesy of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België.

Even if your main interest is only in part of the manuscript, it is always helpful to get a sense of what the scribe was doing with the compilation as whole. In this particular manuscript I came across some nice personal touches. For instance, the commentary to the Félire is preceded by an index (fol. 42r). This paints a lively picture of the scribe trying to organise and navigate through his material (which a little bit of a jumble of short stories). The index includes the page numbers as well as occasionally the year of the saint’s death.

Tags indicating the start of each month of the Martyrology of Gorman. KBR MS 5100-4, f. 100r (own image) Low resolution images posted courtesy of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België.

There are further signs of active organising too, like this lovely set of little tags, neatly pasted in, marking the start of each month of the Martyrology of Gorman. A few have broken off, but on some the name of the month is still readable. The text of the martyrology, with numbering and dominical letters, begins on f. 100r starting on f. 100 (f. 128 in light pencil), at one time numbered 1 by the scribe, to mark the start of the text (the new quire beginning with the previous folio).

Also visible on this photo is the ruling, which shows that the main text was written one line of text per line, while the glosses were written roughly half-size, filling the ruled space with two lines of text. The number 1, marking the start of this section, sits perfectly between the double-ruled bounding lines.

Fingerprint, KBR MS 5100-4, f. 193v (own image) Low resolution images posted courtesy of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België.

My favourite discovery however is on fol. 193v. At the bottom right just above the start of a catchword (referring to Lasar on the next page), a fingerprint was left on the page, presumably due to a small ink spill at the time of writing. Might this be Michél Ó Cléirigh’s own fingerprint?


Update: As of September 2019 you can now finally inspect the full contents of this manuscript on: isos.dias.ie!



(Edited in 2020 to add reference to digital catalogue and move page)