Visiting Ireland: The Book of Kells
It’s hard to prioritize what to do and see in Dublin if you are visiting for a short period of time.
You’d think this process would be easier if you are living in Dublin, but NOPE! It took us two years before we got around to seeing the Book of Kells.
I’m not sure why we waited so long. No one else does!
Close to a million visitors a year view the Book of Kells making it the 5th most popular tourist attraction in Ireland.
If you’re a history buff, a book lover, a believer in the gospels and/or a Star Wars fan, this is the tour for you!
WHAT IS THE BOOK OF KELLS
The Book of Kells is an ornately-decorated copy of the four gospels written in Latin. It is believed to have been created in the early 800s by Irish monks.
Based on what I know about living conditions in the 800s, not to mention the 1800s, I am amazed this book survived!
The Irish monks who were the scribes and artists that created the Book of Kells would have been held in high esteem for their abilities. Remember, there were no printing presses in the era of Vikings! The entire book, from the inks to the vellum pages, was created by hand.
WHERE IS THE BOOK OF KELLS
The Book of Kells came to Trinity College Dublin in 1661. It is now displayed in the Old Library, which is aptly named because it is the oldest surviving building on the college campus. The building, shown below, was built between 1712 and 1732.
Trinity College Library contains the largest collection of manuscripts and printed books in Ireland making it an important research library in Europe.
WHAT YOU WILL SEE ON YOUR TOUR
Exhibition: “Turning Darkness into Light”
The first stop on your tour will be the exhibition area, which explains what the Book of Kells is and how it was made.
Through the displays and videos you will get a firm grasp of why this medieval manuscript is called one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures.
No photography is allowed in this area, so you’ll just have to trust me that the exhibit is well done.
The Treasury: Book of Kells
When you leave the exhibition area you will enter a dimly lit room called The Treasury. This is where the Book of Kells is on display in a special glass case.
At this point you may be wondering, what’s the big deal about an old book?
First, approximately 185 calfskins were needed to create the Book of Kells. That’s a lot of beef.
Second, the colors in the book were created by hand using red lead, orpiment, lapis lazuli and copper. I had to google what orpiment was and found out it is an arsenic sulfide mineral. So, if nothing else in the Middle Ages killed you, handling orpiment might!
Last, lavishly decorated books, like the Book of Kells, served multiple purposes in medieval times. The books could impress those who needed to be impressed. Plus, the books could spread the gospel in pictures to people who could not read.
1,200 years later the Book of Kells is still impressing viewers and educating scholars and the masses alike. The artistry found in this book is truly incomparable.
(image: Wikipedia, Folio 32v showing Christ enthroned)
Photography is NOT allowed in The Treasury, so don’t be the jerk that tries to sneak a photo. Security guards are present.
If you aren’t able to visit the Book of Kells in person, the entire book is online as part of the Trinity College Digital Library. Find it here.
The Long Room
After you exit the Treasury, you’ll be in the main part of the library called the Long Room. It is a striking room containing 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.
In what seems like a good problem to have, the roof of the library was raised in 1860 in order to make room for more books.
We toured the Long Room on a day packed with tourists, yet there is something about a library that brings out everyone’s best behavior. There were hushed whispers and slow walks through this room.
The Long Room looks like something straight from a Hollywood movie set. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been the scene for any movies. However, the Jedi archives from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones bore enough of a resemblance to the Long Room that college officials considered legal action against Lucas Films. In the end, no legal action was taken, but Star Wars fans still make the pilgrimage. Seems to me like it worked out for everyone.
In the Long Room you can also see one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic’s independence. There is also a harp on display dating back to the 15th century.
TIPS FOR VISITING
- The Book of Kells is open daily, but the hours change based on the season.
- Buy tickets online in advance of your visit. When we were there on a Sunday in April, the ticket queue was at least a couple of hundred people long! You will be queuing outside and it often rains in Ireland, so take my advice and buy tickets online! Got it?
- According to the college website, most people spend 40 – 60 minutes touring the exhibit. My husband and I completed the tour in about 30 minutes. It’s hard to linger when there are a ton of people also touring the exhibit.
- While kids 12 and under can tour the exhibit for free, this is not something my kids (ages 7 and 10) would have been super excited about. In a few years they will hopefully appreciate the historic significance of the exhibit.
- If you have no interest in history, religion, or architecture, then you might not find as much value in the 14 euro ticket price.
I’m definitely happy we finally made visiting the Book of Kells a priority.
We enjoyed our tour and learned several new things! I hope if you visit the Book of Kells your experience will be as enriching as ours.
If you want more information about the Book of Kells, click here.
If you want to buy tickets, click here.
Thinking about visiting Ireland? Read on!
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Visiting Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day
The Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands with Kids
Our Favorite Irish Castle Tour with Kids
Kissing the Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle