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The Red Book of Ossory

The Red Book is a 14th Century manuscript commissioned by Richard de Ledrede, who served as the Bishop of Ossory between 1316 and 1360. The Bishop Of Ossory’s See was St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny City. The Red Book consists of 79 pages of vellum and is written in Latin and Old French. It contains 60 hymns that Ledrede wanted his clergy to sing instead of using the vernacular of the time. It also contains a copy of The Magna Carta.


Significantly, The Red Book also contains an account on distillation. This is the very first written account of distillation in Ireland - as we say in Kilkenny “ The First Drop”. Also significant is the first mention of Aqua Vitae; these latin words translate into Uisce Beatha in Irish. When anglicized and mispronounced, Uisce Beatha becomes Whiskey. It is in Kilkenny that this story begins: indeed the next mention of Aqua vitae will not be until The Annals of Clonmacnoise in 1408. In Scotland, it will not be until 1494 that Aqua Vitae is recorded.


In June, we will celebrate the return of The Red Book to its home in St. Canice’s Cathedral for the 700-year anniversary. And we are welcoming all visitors from Ireland and abroad to our city , and the opportunity to see the original Red Book, where Ireland’s whiskey tradition begins, The First Drop.

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