Renewed attempts to return Annals of Inisfallen from UK to Ireland

The medieval annals associated with Killarney are a record of the history of Munster

Renewed attempts are being made to secure the return to Ireland from the UK of the Annals of Inisfallen, the great medieval manuscript associated with Killarney, Co Kerry.

The annals are a principal record of Munster history and while associated with Emly in Tipperary and Lismore in Waterford, they were largely compiled at the lake island monastery on Lough Leane – the lake of learning.

Written in Irish and Latin on 57 folios of vellum, the annals are among the vast collection of manuscripts housed at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. The manuscript, started in 1092, describes events from as early as the 5th century.

There have been numerous attempts to get the annals back to Ireland. However, they have returned to Killarney only once – a brief loan in 1983.


The current push is informed by two major changes. Firstly, there is now a proper place to house them and also a global movement to see artefacts returned to their native homes centuries after being taken during colonisation.

The annals chronicle a wealth of events in Munster including Viking raids on Skellig Michael off the Co Kerry coast in 823; the arrival of a group believed to be Ireland’s first Jews in 1079; great snow “from the feast of Brigit to the feast of Patrick” in 1047; and the life spans of kings and poets.

Private owner

There have been numerous attempts at recovering the manuscript, beginning in 1734 with Dean Swift, who wanted the then private owner to place them in Trinity College Dublin.

In 1981, Killarney Urban Council and the trustees of Muckross House wrote to then taoiseach Charles Haughey asking him to open negotiations. A delegation went to Oxford from Killarney in 2005, and in 2013 then minister for heritage Jimmy Deenihan made a request to Oxford to get them back.

Fianna Fáil councillor Niall Kelleher says the time is right for a fresh campaign and he is seeking the backing of the local authority. He said there is a renewed understanding of the need to return artefacts to their native homes, which was true whether they were taken from Africa or from Attica.

Mr Deenihan, who is involved in local history in Kerry, is liaising with officials in the Department of Heritage on the matter. The former Kerry TD said Killarney House would be a secure place to house the annals and that the manuscript would be better appreciated and understood in its native land.

“It would be a major tourist attraction to the area and it’s fitting that they should be housed in Killarney near where they were written,” he said.

The Bodleian Library, which is part of the University of Oxford, said it had not been approached by the Government with a request to have the annals returned to Ireland.

However, it said it works very closely with its Irish counterparts and shares “responsibility for the preservation of knowledge and history from these islands, just as the library of Trinity College, Dublin, is home to many English medieval manuscripts, some of which have Oxford associations”.


Regarding a possible return of the annals, which can be viewed digitally on the library's website, the Bodleian said: "The University of Oxford does have a policy on repatriation and any decision would be made by the university's council following advice received from those responsible for the collection of which this item is a part.

“As a member of a national and international academic and museums community, Oxford would make its decision in the context both of its own procedural guidelines and its appreciation of the wider context.”

The library noted that the manuscript “passed into the possession” of Irish historian and politician Sir James Ware (1594-1666) and nothing is known of its ownership in the years immediately prior to then.

“From Ware, it passed through several intermediate owners to Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755), who bequeathed his great collection to the University of Oxford. There is no suggestion that Ware acquired his manuscripts illegally.”