by the care and diligence of Doctor William Bedel

A short PA report in today’s Irish News pointed me to the upcoming Sotheby’s auction of the Wardington Library Bibles[free reg req] which begins on 12 July and, in particular, the lot pictured – “Leabhuir na Seintiomna ar na ttarruing go Gaidhlig tre churam agus dhuthraed an Doctuir Uilliam Bedel…The Books of the Old Testament translated into Irish by the care and diligence of Doctor William Bedel, Late Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland. London, 1685.” Some fascinating detail in the catalogue notes too – see below. Update A short online bio of William Bedell, thanks to Mayoman.From the catalogue:

This version of the Old Testament was published over 40 years after the death of the principal translator William Bedell, Bishop of Kilmore (1571-1642), and 83 years after the first edition of the New Testament in Irish (Dublin, 1602). It was printed anonymously in an edition of about 500 copies, largely at the expense of the Hon. Robert Boyle, who provided the type. He refused to print the Apocrypha, although the translation had been made. Some 80 copies were sent to Scotland for distribution among the Highlanders, but only six of these copies still exist in the parishes to which they were sent.

“Bedell remains a hero of liberal, cosmopolitan protestantism…The monument of his literary heritage is the Irish translation of the Old Testament…[a] great work of missionary linguistics which distinguishes Bedell’s memory in a twenty-first century in which the Irish language has survived – and been revived – as the classic language of a sovereign Irish state” (Oxford DNB).

Robert Boyle was, of course, born at Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford, on 25 January 1627, son of the first Earl of Cork, and was one of the founding members of the Royal Society and employer, co-experimenter and friend of Robert Hooke.

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  • Did he give out soup with the Bible too in this hearts and minds operation?

  • Mick Fealty

    Just 220 years out Taigs. 🙂

  • Pete Baker

    There’s always someone trying to find a cloud where there’s only a silver lining, Mick. 😉

  • Cormac

    I remember being told by a teacher during a cúrsa samhraidh in the Gaelteacht that the Irish language bible had been translated directly from the original Greek/Aramaic/whatever (ie NOT English).

    Not sure if this was true, but these were lean times for the language revival (‘who needs Irish when you’re just going to feck off to bleedin’ New York?’ was a common refrain) so perhaps the old fellow was just looking for some fact to impress us with.

    I hope this rare book doesn’t go abroad, although after attending the truly depressing sell-off of Irish War of Independence items in Dublin recently, I don’t hold out much hope of the government stepping in. If it does ‘feck off to New York’ then i hope it at least goes on public display or to a university.

    There, my two cents, now back to work.

  • Cormac

    And by ‘doesn’t go abroad’ I mean ‘does come back to Ireland’, naturally.


    Busy day in work, trying to type and keep a lookout for the boss too…

  • Mayoman

    An amazing man. Found this on his life.

    Intersting that the language of Irish prostestants at this time was Irish and not English. More common history that unites?

  • Pete Baker

    Cormac [and anyone else who’s interested]

    The estimate is £2,500-3,500.

    Which is, admittedly, a little bit beyond my price range..

  • Tochais Siorai

    Some of his assciates were interesting characters as well.

  • This man showed that people of different faiths can live together in harmony. He clearly didn’t feel that acceptance of Irish culture undermined his own beliefs. Likewise, his presence in Ireland was positive and beneficial to the well-being of the people and culture here, despite the fact that he didn’t fit the Irish Catholic mould.

    As we move towards a new Ireland, people on both sides of the religious and cultural divide should realise that acceptance of the ‘other side’s’ culture does not necessarily equate to undermining of their own.

    Is this the Ireland of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter that we should all be striving for? I believe it is.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Sorry my link above doesn’t work. Anyway, Fintan O Toole wrote a biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright, a few years back in which he explored the relationship between Bedell and one of Sheridan’s ancestors, Donncha O Sioradáin, a convert to Protestantism in Cavan who acted as a link between the native Gaelic Irish and the settlers and who saved many lives during the 1641 rebellion.

  • By Gum, Sotherby’s sounds like what farmers would call Sotheby’s in Devon or Cornwall 😉

  • Pete Baker


    Thank you, cybez..

  • Young Fogey

    Now, if I were at the antique buying stage in my life, I’d jump at this, but as I’m at the struggling for a deposit stage I’ll have to pass…


    the Irish language bible had been translated directly from the original Greek/Aramaic/whatever (ie NOT English).

    There’s no reason whatsoever why it should be translated from English. That would be a pretty daft way to do it given that each iteration of translation introduces more infelicities. Anyone with enough knowledge of the bible to translate it into a new language is going to be able to read Biblical Hebrew (I presume that like the King James Version this would have been translated from the Masoretic text so no need for Aramaic although he would have needed Greek for parts of the Apocrypha).

    It always amazes me how even a lot of very Nationalist minded people seem to just accept the dominance of the English language without question.

  • Pete, Just in case the neighbours see that 🙂

  • Cormac

    Young Fogey: I agree, but to a bunch of young schoolkids it just seemed impressive at the time!

    Makes sense that it should have been translated from the original texts (and impressive that the good doctor was so profficient in these languages too).

    Wish I had the money to buy it also – struggling for a deposit too (damned Celtic Tiger! 🙂

  • Greenflag

    So the English have their venerable Bede and we Irish can claim our venerable Bedell ? 🙂 Interesting article and I’m sorry to say I never heard of Bedell’s great work.

    I do not know if the ‘linguistic’ fraternity have examined the book to see which ‘dialect’ of Irish was used ? Scots Irish/Gaelic had begun to diverge from Ulster Irish as early as the 14th century ? Connacht Irish was presumably at that time also dialectically different from Munster Irish ?

    Had the Reformation taken off in Ireland perhaps Bedell’s work would have done for the Irish language what the King James did for English ?

    Of course for the Reformation to have succeeded in Ireland would have meant that Roman Catholicism would have had to survive as the ‘official’ religion of England .

  • Greenflag

    ‘and one of Sheridan’s ancestors, Donncha O Sioradáin, ‘
    If I’m not mistaken it was a son/grandson of the same Sheridan who inflicted the cruelty of ‘elocution’ on the English language and who was responsible for the creation of what is now called ‘received’ pronunciation . Ironic that it took an ‘Irishman’ to make the regional varieties of English socially less acceptable at court than they had been in previous centuries .

    How now brown cow – god save us 🙂

  • Fearn

    Bhfuil fhios ag éinne ar díoladh an leabhar, cé a cheannaigh agus an t-airgead?