The Book of Kells is perhaps one of the most well-known illuminated texts in the world. Completed in the 9th century, the Book contains all four gospels of the New Testament and is considered one of Ireland’s greatest treasures. Today, its 340 remaining folios are bound in four volumes displayed at Trinity College in Dublin.
My family and I saw the Book while in Dublin on our 2011 vacation, but looking down at those illuminated pages only left me more curious and intrigued than before. Combine that with a film discovery after returning to the States – Tomm Moore’s The Secret of Kells – and I knew I had to see where they came from, before they were donated to Trinity in the mid 1600s.
Saint Colmcille first settled at Kells in 550, but the group of monks credited with illuminating the Book didn’t arrive until 250 years later after fleeing their home on Iona due to Norse raiders. It’s believed the Book was created on Iona and the monks brought it with them, but scholars aren’t certain when its relocation occurred.
With the original Book still safely kept at Trinity, perhaps one of the most noteworthy sights in Kells today is the 10th century round tower. Originally 90 feet tall, the tower served as a lookout and shelter for the monastery’s residence during attacks from raiders. But unlike other round towers of the time, which traditionally feature four lookout windows on the uppermost floor, Kell’s tower has five – one for each of the medieval city’s 5 gated entrances.
St. Columcille’s house and 3 high crosses can also be found within the town.
The Visitor Center houses additional exhibits, including replica pages from the Book of Kells, and is open from 10:00am to 5:30pm Monday thru Saturday during the summer months, and from 2:00pm to 6:00pm on Sundays. Admission is 4 euro per adult, and though the site is a heritage town, a Heritage Card doesn’t gain free admission.
Guided tours of the monastic site can be arranged in advance for a fee, though visitors are also welcome to walk at their own pace and instead use a free audio tour available online.
Admission to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin, as well as walk through the college’s Old Library, is 11 euro per adult. The library is open from 9:00am to 6:00pm Monday thru Saturday, and from 9:30am to 6:00pm on Sundays during the summer months.
Additional links & Resources: