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Airy Plumeflights

A Beginner's Guide to Celtic Script and Design

By: Timothy O’Neill

Publication Date: December 1994


Airy Plumeflights (the title derives from Finnegans Wake) is an enchanting and practical introduction to lettering and decorating in the Celtic style by one of Ireland’s best-known calligraphers.

Part One tells the story of Daniel, an apprentice scribe in a ninth-century Celtic monstery and is set against the background of daily life there. He describes being introduced to the ancient arts of cleaning animal hides for vellum, mixing inks, and preparing parchment and quills before working with master scribes and illuminators on transcribing Gospels in the scriptorium. Drawings by the artist Mark O’Kelly accompany the narrative.

Part Two, an illustrated step-by-step explanation of Celtic-style writing, takes its components, letter by letter, and describes the process of graphic composition and the intricacies of spirals and interlace. It also explains the basic principles of ruling and page layout, finishing with examples of bookbinding and covering.

A list of suggested further reading and examples from the Book of Durrow complete the work.

‘An excellent introduction to a complex art.’Ronan Sheehan, Irish Press

‘In this lucid and beguiling book about the ancient art of the scribe, Tim O’Neill has found the perfect way to celebrate the hallowed traditions of penmanship. Airy Plumeflights sweeps the reader away into a pristine world of quills and inks and vellums: it is an instruction manual but it is also a revelation of both the demands and the rewards of an artistic discipline: The master pretends to be an apprentice, the scholar pretends to be a learner, but there is no pretence about the love and knowledge that inform the whole project.’ – Seamus Heaney


TIMOTHY O’NEILL teaches and lectures on calligraphy in Ireland and abroad. He is author of The Irish Hand (1984) and Merchants and Mariners in Medieval Ireland (1987).

Also available as an ebook


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Weight 0.25 kg
Dimensions 190 × 220 mm
Publication Date

December 1994


Paperback, 42pp