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|Insular (Gaelic) script
The beginning of the Gospel of Mark from the Book of Durrow.
|Languages||Latin, Irish, English|
|Time period||fl. 600–850 CE|
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols.|
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Irish Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were also used in monasteries like Fulda, which were influenced by English missionaries. It is associated with Insular art, of which most surviving examples are illuminated manuscripts. It greatly influenced Irish orthography and modern Gaelic scripts in handwriting and typefaces.
The script developed in Ireland in the 7th century and was used as late as the 19th century, though its most flourishing period fell between 600 and 850. It was closely related to the uncial and half-uncial scripts, its immediate influences; the highest grade of Insular script is the majuscule Insular half-uncial, which is closely derived from Continental half-uncial script.
Works written in Insular scripts commonly use large initial letters surrounded by red ink dots (although this is also true of other scripts written in Ireland and England). Letters following a large initial at the start of a paragraph or section often gradually diminish in size as they are written across a line or a page, until the normal size is reached, which is called a "diminuendo" effect, and is a distinctive insular innovation, which later influenced Continental illumination style. Letters with ascenders (b, d, h, l, etc.) are written with triangular or wedge-shaped tops. The bows of letters such as b, d, p, and q are very wide. The script uses many ligatures and has many unique scribal abbreviations, along with many borrowings from Tironian notes.
Insular script was spread to England by the Hiberno-Scottish mission; previously, uncial script had been brought to England by Augustine of Canterbury. The influences of both scripts produced the Insular script system. Within this system, the scholar Julian Brown identified five grades:
- Insular half-uncial, or "Irish majuscle", a majuscule script influenced by
- Insular Hybrid minuscule
- Insular Set
- Insular Cursive
- Insular Current.
The script was used not only for Latin religious books, but also for every other kind of book, including vernacular works. Examples include the Book of Kells, the Cathach of St. Columba, the Ambrosiana Orosius, the Durham Cathedral Library A. II. 10. Gospel Book Fragment, the Book of Durrow the Durham Gospels, the Echternach Gospels, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Lichfield Gospels, the St. Gall Gospel Book, and the Book of Armagh.
Insular script was influential in the development of Carolingian minuscule in the scriptoria of the Carolingian empire.
The "Tironian et" ⁊ (identical in meaning to the Roman ampersand, &) was in widespread use in the script (meaning ond 'and' in Old English and agus 'and' in Irish) and is occasionally continued in modern Gaelic typefaces derived from insular script.
See also 
- Carolingian minuscule
- Gaelic type
- Hiberno-Saxon art
- Insular G
- Irish orthography
- List of Hiberno-Saxon illustrated manuscripts
- Pfeffer Mediæval An insular minuscule as a Unicode font (strictly speaking, a Carolingian minuscule with a set of insular variants)
- Wiglaf the Writer - Insular Minuscule Examples of insular minuscule handwritten documents.