Manuscript Expert Is New Burns Scholar

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Bernard Meehan, an expert in medieval manuscripts, is serving as the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies for the spring semester.

Meehan is keeper of manuscripts at Trinity College Dublin, where he has worked since 1976. He is the author of The Book of Kells: An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript in Trinity College Dublin , a scholarly analysis of the Gospel manuscripts, artists, texts and a full account of the historical background behind the famous document stored at Trinity College Dublin.

"We are absolutely delighted to have Bernard here for a number of reasons," said Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill. "First, he is acknowledged as one of the foremost scholars in medieval manuscripts and has considerable experience as an archivist. One of the chief purposes of the Burns Scholar is to make use of the Burns archives and to appraise its strengths and weaknesses. We feel Bernard will ably fulfill that task.

Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies Bernard Meehan will conduct research and teach a Fine Arts course on noted medieval manuscripts. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
"Bernard also is the first Burns Scholar from Trinity College Dublin," O'Neill added. "As we try to balance expertise in literature, history and archival work in selecting candidates, we also have sought to attract people from all over Ireland. So we are very fortunate to welcome Bernard to our campus."

"I've been quite impressed with Burns Library and its collections - its strong reputation is well-deserved," said Meehan, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland. "The working atmosphere here is quite pleasant and I look forward to building on an already fruitful relationship with Bob O'Neill."

This semester , Meehan teaching a course in the Fine Arts Department on noted medieval manuscripts, such as The Book of Kells . He also plans to continue work on several ongoing projects, including a study of a 6th century religious text.

Meehan says his early interest in history helped steer him to his field of expertise. "As I continued my studies, especially into college," he said, "I found myself becoming more attracted to medieval history, culture and art. On the one hand, it seemed a very exotic world, yet a world that held quite a lot of comprehension for me."

Meehan was appointed as assistant librarian in the Manuscripts Department of the Trinity College Dublin Library, and became keeper of manuscripts in 1983. His primary responsibilities include the display of early Irish Gospel manuscripts, negotiating and purchasing further acquisitions, and oversight of preservation.

"The Book of Kells is obviously the better-known of our holdings," Meehan said. "But it's only the tip of the iceberg. We have many other very distinguished collections, some of them contemporary in nature, such as material on Samuel Beckett, for example. So it will be very interesting to explore the Burns collections in more depth."

Meehan also has authored The Book of Durrow: A Medieval Masterpiece at Trinity College Dublin , and numerous articles in the fields of insular art and 12th-century English and Scottish history and codicology.

Meehan earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Edinburgh in 1973 and 1979, respectively. Among his other professional activities, he served from 1987-97 on the government-appointed National Archives Advisory Council.

Established almost eight years ago with a grant from the Burns Foundation of San Francisco, the Burns Chair is held by a person who has made significant contributions to Irish culture or intellectual life, and who will use the Irish Collection at the Burns Library for research. Past holders, affiliated with some of Ireland's most prestigious cultural and educational institutions, have represented the fields of history, literature, bibliography, language and art. In addition to research obligations, chairholders teach two courses and present two lectures each year.

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