It is said that there was once a book that was so like The Book of Kells that often, the two were mistaken for each other.

A 12th-century writer by the name of Gerald of Wales claimed to have seen it in Kildare, equal in quality to our most famous book, but if this is true, it was lost.

This is the story of The Book of Kildare. The long-lost, original is believed to have been a precious manuscript of calligraphy, paintings, drawings, and illuminations, written and created by scribes and monks, between the 6th and 9th centuries.

The new Book of Kildare

Josephine Hardiman is an artist and calligrapher who, inspired by the story of The Book of Kildare and St Brigid, has created a new version that has launched as part of Brigid 1500. “Living in Newbridge, we are surrounded by stories of Brigid and the Curragh,” says Josephine.

“My friends and I have been meeting on Brigid’s Eve for years now to make crosses and to do a little ceremony outside around an open fire where we let go of the old and ring in the new. It’s always a special day and celebration around Kildare.”

Josephine is originally from Co Antrim but has lived in Kildare since she was five years old. “I consider myself a Kildare woman”, she says. “However, I remember making St Brigid’s crosses in Co Antrim even as a small child. When we moved here, we learned more about Brigid in school, about the myths and legends that surround her.

“I would have first heard about The Book of Kildare in NCAD where I went to study art as an adult part-time. I was a primary school teacher at the time. I was always fascinated with writing and the written word and so I decided to study calligraphy in college.

"The Peacemaker" - a page from The Book of Kildare, created by illustrator and calligrapher Josephine Hardiman

“I would draw on my books in college; I was always trying to design letters and my own calligraphy form.”

The seed of inspiration for reimagining the book was sown when Josephine was invited to be a scribe at Kildare’s Medieval Festival in 2016. Since 2017, stages of the work have been exhibited at various locations and festivals, and prints of the pages of calligraphy have been presented to President Michael D Higgins and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

In 2022, the project received funding from Kildare County Council and Brigid 1500 to assist the author in publishing the book and fulfill a wish of Josephine’s to gift a copy to each primary school in Co Kildare.

The artist and her work were featured on RTÉ’s 2023 documentary Finding Brigid, hosted by Siobhán McSweeney. The full completed and published book was launched on Sunday 28 January in Kildare town library as part of the county’s Brigid’s Day celebrations.

Josephine Hardiman sketching the stained glass windows at St. Brigid's Cathedral, Kildare Town for the Book of Kildare. Photo: Aoife Brennan.

The old and the new

Creating a contemporary manuscript is not an easy task, yet one that Josephine was passionate about doing. Her imagination that had been captured by the lost book drove her to take a seven-year journey in creating the 21st century edition.

“I have always been fascinated by the artistry and Celtic illuminations from these ancient books, even the ink and paper used,” she says.

“All of those books were part of my research and ideas. I had a huge sheet with ideas and drawings that I drew from. I divided the book into three sections — ancient Kildare, which features the four festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, and Lughnasadh, Brigid of Kildare and Kildare heritage.”

The original text is beautifully calligraphed by hand in a “Celtic Insular style”, and hand-illustrated by Josephine, with illuminations throughout.

The Book of Kildare is available to purchase from Seanchaí Books, Kildare Town Heritage Centre, Naas Parish Centre and Shop, and from the author priced at €50. You can also purchase prints of pages from

Josephine’s website:

Read more

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