On my previous trips to Dublin, I had walked by Trinity College many times but never ventured inside. I had heard that the library was a must see but just brushed it off. It’s more than just a place for book lovers, the Book of Kells exhibit in Trinity College is an interesting lesson in art, history, and religion. And if that is not enough, the Long Room upstairs is just visually stunning and filled with so many amazing books.
So you may be wondering what is the Book of Kells and what is so special about it? Well, first of all, it probably dates back to the 9th century. It may have been commissioned to celebrate the bicentenary of the death of St. Colum Cille who founded the monastery in Iona. At one point it was stolen, then later returned and for security purposes, it was sent to Dublin in 1653. Since there are textual errors and such ornately decorated pages, historians believe it was for altar furniture for special occasions rather than for daily use.
You don’t get to see the Book of Kells right away. You first have to go through the exhibit which helps you appreciate the book. First, you learn about how the book was made. I hadn’t thought about it before but obviously, they don’t have the tools that we do now to be able to make books. They actually used 185 calf skins to make the pages. They were very resourceful and used various things such as gypsum, green clay, and indigo indigotin to get the colors that they needed.
The exhibit also helped explain some of the symbolism in the Book of Kells. I really appreciated the display that explained the most celebrated page which is called Chi Rho. Chi Rho is the name of Christ abbreviated in Greek form. There are so many details on this page. If you look closely, in addition to the elaborate letters you can find fish, mice, cats and even an otter.
After the exhibit, you enter the room where the actual Book of Kells is stored. Since it was divided into four volumes in 1953, you can see four different pages, all under glass. They also have enlarged versions of some of the Book of Kell pages on the wall for you to examine closer.
Once you have finished looking at the Book of Kells, then you go upstairs to the Long Room. The room is covered in dark wood and full of countless old books. The books went all the way up to the ceiling, and each section had ladders to reach the top shelves. Along each side, there are busts of various famous men including Socrates, Shakespeare, and even some I weren’t sure who they were. It is quite the site to see.
Also, towards the far end of the room, you can find the Brian Boru harp inside a glass case. It is the oldest surviving Irish Harp and the national symbol of Ireland is modeled after it. Although it is mistakenly linked to Brian Boru who was king in 1014, it probably dates from later in the middle ages. It was presented to Trinity College in the 1700s and then restored and restrung in 1961.
As with other popular tourist attractions, there can be a long line to get inside. We arrived at about noon on a Saturday and there was a queue. So I definitely recommend buying you Book of Kells tickets for timed entry online before you go.
It is also worth mentioning that the campus of Trinity College is beautiful and worth exploring. We walked around a bit before we went inside the library and took a few pictures, but they do also offer 35 minute guided tours. While you can get a combined ticket for both the tour and the Book of Kells for 13 euro, you cannot purchase it in advance. Given the popularity of the Book of Kells exhibit, I would recommend booking that in advance and then showing your tickets to get the tour for an additional 6 euro.
I really thought the Book of Kells exhibit was interesting and the Long Room was just beautiful. Have you visited Trinity College?
- Buy your tickets online in advance to avoid a wait.
- Take a tour of Trinity College if you have time.
- Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the Book of Kells exhibit.
- Here are some more photos that will inspire you to visit Dublin.
Disclosure: No financial compensation was received, but we did receive complimentary tickets to the Book of Kells. As always, opinions expressed here are my own.
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