No visit to Dublin Ireland will be complete without at least a glimpse of the Book of Kells, a truly Irish national treasure that’s on display at the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin. This incredibly intricate gospel manuscript is richly decorated and illuminated with Christian iconography fused with undeniably Celtic art and is considered to be a masterpiece among medieval manuscripts.
What you can (and can’t) expect
Despite its age – the manuscript was penned in the 9th century – the rich artworks that make this manuscript so special still glow with vibrant colour. Of course, this lavish and ancient book isn’t for handling, so your chances of actually turning the calf velum leaves and studying all four volumes are probably zero, but you will get an opportunity to get just a little sampling by looking at the two volumes that are on display. One will be open at a page showing one of the major illustrations contained in the Book of Kells, and another will show you a typical page of lavishly ornamented text.
Although this treasure is no longer found in the Abbey of Kells, the setting at Trinity College Library in the heart of Dublin will not disappoint. The “Turning Darkness into Light” exhibiton that greets you before you’re allowed a peep at the real thing is more than impressive, and besides displaying enlarged images of some of the most spectacular pages of the Book of Kells offers you a chance to look at pages from other valuable manuscripts.
From here, you’ll move on to the treasury room where you’ll get your much anticipated glimpse at the Book of Kells itself. But your journey into the world of magnificent old books isn’t over yet. As you pass through the Long Room with its vaulted roof and high shelves packed with leather-bound volumes guarded by the busts of famous thinkers, you’ll feel as if you’re in the library of your dreams.
More than ‘just’ the Book of Kells
The incredibly intricate artwork (one illumination measuring just one square inch includes 158 interlacing ribbons of black and white) in the book of Kells and the sheer weight of history attached to it cannot be downplayed, but there’s at least one more reason why the Old Library is special to the people of Ireland.
Housed in its collection of more than 200,000 books is the Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It was read aloud outside this very building by Patrick Pearse almost exactly a century ago and marked the start of the Easter Uprising. It may not be as old as the Book of Kells, or as beautiful to look at, but in terms of its influence on Ireland’s history and modern day politics, it is much more significant. In itself, the uprising failed to wrest power from the British, but this event and the way in which it was handled ultimately turned the tide of Irish Nationalism.
Very Dublin? You don’t get anything more Dublin than Trinity College and its Old Library.
Helpful Links – Sources & References: