Wednesday 22 March 2023

Saint Patrick's Ink

As an old-school researcher I write out all my notes for the blog in longhand using a fountain pen and rather enjoy experimenting with different types and colours of ink. I was therefore pleased to find the following 1895 article with the intriguing title of 'Saint Patrick's Ink'. It pays tribute to the skill of those monastic scribes and scholars who produced the Irish illuminated manuscripts. The article is taken from the newspaper collection of the National Library of Australia, whose online TROVE resource is indeed well-named:


It is impossible to read the most ancient histories of the Irish saints without noticing how large a part books play in their lives.

In the library some cut the sheets of parchment, or even sewed together in the neatest way the odd shreds, for the monk must not waste the gifts of God, especially when they are rare and dear. They polished it on one side until it was smooth and laid it near the scribe. Others prepared the peculiar thick inks of the Irish writers, very much like varnish, in different colours. The red was the most beautiful, and after one thousand years it yet shines as the day it was first used. It was got from a kind of cockles collected on the seashore. Then there were black and green and golden inks, used in various thicknesses by the illuminators and the artists in miniature.

All these inks will resist chemicals that corrode iron. The ink was placed in thin, conic glasses attached either to the side of the desk or to the chair, sometimes to the girdle of the writer, often fixed to the end of a pointed stick placed upright in the ground, it is owing to this peculiar skill in making ink that so many of the old Irish manuscripts nave come down to us. They were like the cloth of corduroy — unless cut or burned up they were bound to last for ages — and are an eloquent symbol of that tenacious love of learning and that unquenchable faith which the hand of Patrick wrote in characters ineradicable on the very soul, in the very blood and innermost marrow of the Irish race.

"SAINT PATRICK'S INK." Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 - 1955) 16 February 1895: 1 (The Ovens and Murray Advertiser Supplement). <>.


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