All of my novels are inspired by real archaeological finds, and THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN is no exception. Things keep turning up in Irish bogs—gold, bog butter, wooden roads, even people—at this rate, I have enough inspiration to keep Cormac and Nora busy for for quite some time.
In July 2006, a workman named Eddie Fogarty was operating a mechanical digger in the bog at Faddan More, Co. Tipperary, located just a few miles southwest of Birr in County Offaly. He was cutting big blocks of turf, to be ground up for peat moss used in gardening.
Here's a view of turf blocks drying on Faddan More bog,
taken when I visited in April 2011.
Eddie Fogarty had spotted a leather-bound book as it fell from the bucket of his digger into an adjacent trench, and immediately called the landowners, Kevin and Patrick Leonard, who had some experience with artifacts previously found in this particular bog. More on that later...
The Faddan More Psalter, in situ
The Leonards knew they had something unusual when they spotted some illuminated pages, and phoned the National Museum with the news that they’d discovered something almost like the Book of Kells.
A crew from the National Museum, including museum director Pat Wallace, archaeologist and Keeper of Antiquities Eamonn Kelly, and Keeper of Conservation Rolly Read, all rushed out to the bog site.
The manuscript in question turned out to be a Psalter, a book of Psalms written in the 9th century. Several lines of text were visible, and it was the museum's Head of Collections, Dr. Raghnall Ó Floinn, who managed to pick out a single legible phrase: ‘in ualle lacrimarum’—‘in the vale of tears.’
The Faddan More Psalter, still wet from the bog
After a bit of research, it turned out that the bit of legible writing was a line from Psalm 83, verse 7: ‘in ualle lacrimarum in loco quem posuit.’ — ‘In the vale of tears, in the place which he has set.’
The Faddan More Psalter
As you can see, the book wasn't exactly in great shape; many of the pages had been reduced to a sort of gelatinous goo, with only the edges preserved, but it was still an amazing find, unlike any other in the world. Judging from the style of writing and embellishment, antiquities experts estimated that it was written around the ninth century. There were many famous monasteries in the region around Faddan More—Birr and Clonmacnoise to name only two.
The Faddan More Psalter underwent more than two years of conservation work (more on that later as well...) and is now on permanent display at the National Museum of Ireland, part of an exhibit entitled The Treasury: Celtic and Early Christian Ireland.
And I suppose you know how the minds of crime writers work—always looking for a body. I heard about this discovery of a ninth-century book of Psalms and immediately started to wonder about the person who'd carried it into the bog... Images of a scholar and his assistant began to percolate, and became the opening prologue of THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN.