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Manuscript dug from bog rates among our top 10 biggest finds

The Faddan More Psalter, a remarkable 1,200-year-old manuscript found in a north Tipperary bog four years ago, has provided astonishing evidence of links between the early Christian Church in Ireland and the Middle Eastern Coptic Church.

As a painstaking conservation process came to its conclusion, tiny fragments of papyrus were discovered in the lining of the Egyptian-style leather binding of the manuscript, which was unearthed by Eddie Fogarty in a mechanical digger in the townland of Faddan More, not far from Birr, in July 2006.

The discovery of Egyptian papyrus represents the first tangible connection between early Irish Christianity and the Middle-Eastern Coptic Church and has confounded some of the accepted theories about the history of early Christianity in Ireland.

Four years ago the find was heralded by Dr Pat Wallace, director of Ireland's National Museum, as "the most important day in the history of the museum since 1868 when the Ardagh Chalice came in".

The four-year conservation process has strengthened that view.

"It was a miraculous thing that the manuscript survived at all. It was found by Mr Fogarty who was cutting turf.

"It was also remarkable that Mr Fogarty and the family he was working for, the Leonards of Riverstown, were familiar with the work of the National Museum and knew exactly what to do to protect a manuscript found in wet bog.

"They immediately covered it with wet turf and this was absolutely vital in preserving the manuscript. If they hadn't done that it would have been obliterated in a few hours in the sunshine," Dr Wallace told the Sunday Independent.

The fragmented illuminated vellum manuscript encased in an unusual leather binding is a book of psalms dating back to the late Eighth Century but its origins remain a mystery.

One suggestion is that the Psalter was dumped in the bog along with a crumpled leather bag and an animal pelt to hide the book, both of which were well preserved.

The manuscript sat upright in the bog for over 1,000 years suggesting it may have been thrust into the soaking wet ground as the holder fled.

There was an ancient monastery in Birr but no links to that site were discovered during the conservation process, which was filmed over the last four years by Crossing the Line Films. The film will be shown on Tuesday on RTE One at 10.15pm.

The documentary follows leading Irish book conservator John Gillis as he set about preserving and conserving this unique find.

The Eighth Century manuscript will go on public display for the first time at the National Museum next year and will form the centrepiece of a permanent exhibition.

Dr Wallace said the psalter was so rare and important it now ranks among the top 10 of the thousands of objects in the national collection.

He said the work by senior conservator, John Gillis, 49, who is on secondment from Trinity College was of international importance.

"His achievement has been quite remarkable."

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