Kells – Turning Darkness into Light

Kells – Turning Darkness into Light

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.

Chi Ro

The Chi Rho Page.  Image Credit:  Trinity College Library Dublin, Digital Collections

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.


Image Credit:  Tomm Moore

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.


Image Credit:  Wikipedia

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.


Kells Visitor Center.  Image Credit: Heritage Towns of Ireland

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:

Heritage Towns of Ireland: Kells

Kells Heritage Center brochure (with map)

Kells Tourist Office brochure

Meath Tourism

Trinity College: The Book of Kells

Glendalough – St. Kevin’s Monastic Site

Although I know my trip would start in Dublin and I’d love to explore the city some more, I’ll start with some of the areas around Dublin itself that I’d like to see, starting with St. Kevin’s in Glendalough.

The Upper Lake.  Image credit:  Wikipedia

Glendalough, in County Wicklow, isn’t too far from Dublin, and at the time this is being written, a bus runs from Dublin to the site, charging 20 euro for a round trip ticket.  Glendalough itself means the ‘Glen of the Two Lakes,’ so it makes sense that the monastic site is situated in a valley with two lakes.


St. Kevin’s Church.  Image credit:  Wikipedia

The monastic site was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, and despite Viking raids in the 9th and 10th centuries and raids by the English in the 14th century, the monastery remained in use until the 16th century.  Visitors today can still see a 10th century cathedral, an 8th century Celtic cross, and St. Kevin’s church.  A 30 meter high round tower and the ruins of St. Kevin’s original church, Teampall na Skellig, can also be seen, as well as additional structures.


The Round Tower.  Image credit:  Wikipedia

The site itself is open to the public for no charge, but the adjacent visitor center, offering guided tours, audio/visual displays and exhibits charges 3 euro per adult and opens at 9:30 am year round.  This cost is waived for Heritage Card holders.

Additional links & Resources:

Heritage Ireland: Glendalough Visitor Centre

The Gold Book:  Ireland, page 44