This book was compiled towards the end of the 14th century at the castle of Ballymote for Tonnaltagh McDonagh, who was then in occupation of the castle. The chief compiler was Manus O'Duignan, one of a family who were ollavs and scribes to the McDonagh and the McDermots. Other scribes of the book were Solomon O'Droma, a member of a famous Co. Fermanagh family, and a Robert McSheedy.
The book is a compilation of older works, mostly loose manuscripts and valuable documents handed down from antiquity that came into possession of McDonagh.
The first page of the work contains a drawing of Noah's Ark as conceived by the scribe. The first written page is missing and the second opens with a description of the ages of the world.
The work contains treatises on the history of the Jewish peoples ;St. Patrick and his household; Cormac's instructions to a king; a physical and geological survey of Ireland. Part of the work is devoted to sagas of Finn and Brian Boru, while the Book of Rights, which O'Donovan translated and edited in 1847, is taken entirely from the Book of Ballymote. It also contains treatises on metre and the profession of a poet, on the Ogham writing and language. The book ends with a translation from the Greek......the destruction of Troy and the wanderings of Ulysses, followed by a resume of Virgil's 'Aeneid', beginning with Nestor's speech to the Greeks.
The Book of Ballymote, like many of its kind, has made history by its wanderings. For over a hundred years it was a treasured possession of the McDonaghs of Corran. About the beginning of the 16th century, it fell into the possession of the O'Donnells with whom it remained until the Flight of the Earls in 1603. From 1620 until 1767 it was in the library of Trinity College,Dublin. It disappeared from the library and was later found in Burgundy, France. In 1785 it was returned to the Royal Irish Academy where it remained as one of the Academy's most treasured possessions. The work was photographed by the Academy in 1887 and two hundred copies of it were made. One copy is in the diocesan archives and others in libraries.
(Taken from James McDonagh's History of Ballymote and the Parish of Emlaghfad).