The Book of Kells: A Must See for any Journey to the Emerald Isle!

Have you ever wondered whether the Book of Kells is an actual book? (It is - sorta.)

Ever wondered if it was actually written in Kells, Ireland or someplace else? (Truthfully, nobody knows for sure.) 

How about whether it's actually Irish? (Read on!)

So... What Exactly is the Book of Kells?

Book of Kells - Housed in Trinity College, Dublin

Some think of the Book as some boring old medieval manuscript.

It’s true that it’s old, and it is a manuscript, but it’s far from boring!

Instead, it’s a religious scripture that also happens to be one of history’s greatest works of art. And it’s Irish!

Housed in the Old Library in Trinity College in Dublin, the Book is one of the 'must see' attractions in that lovely city.

One of the Oldest 'Picture Books' in the World!

The Book of Kells in Ireland. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Book was created around 800 A.D., during the deepest, darkest part of the Dark Ages.

A bit of background might help you appreciate its remarkable, uniquely Irish nature.

First of all, there’s a reason historians call this time period in Ireland - and throughout Europe - “the Dark Ages.”

Hardly anyone at this time – except clergy and nobility – knew how to read and write.

Learning was at an all-time low and concentrated at the monasteries that dotted the landscape.

Because so many couldn’t understand the written word, art became a critical means of self-expression, particularly in Ireland.

Art was used to explain various ideas, but especially events and lessons from the Bible.

As a result, the Dark Ages became the heyday of Celtic art, and Irish art in particular.

So ... Who Wrote It?

Irish monks at the monastery at Kells (in County Meath) and/or the island of Iona drew upon their learning and their exceptional artistic skills to create the extraordinary work we now call the Book of Kells.

For years, these Irish monks labored from dawn to dusk in the monastery’s scriptorium (“place of writing”), hunched over their benches, day-in, day-out.

Whether the manuscript was created by monks at Iona, those at Kells Ireland, or both, is a detail now lost in the mists of time.

But, no matter where it was created, the work is is remarkable, a Celtic book of light born from the bleak landscape of the Dark Ages.

Where Is The Book Now?

Proudly displayed in Dublin’s huge and well-named Old Library (completed in 1732), the Book of Kells is a hand-written, hand-illustrated work of art.

Book of Kells - The Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College

Some of the craftsmanship is so intricate that seeing the details requires a magnifier to be seen clearly.

Because Irish monks used durable vellum (specially-prepared calfskin) instead of parchment or paper, we can still see the glorious riot of colors and gold leaf (a technique called “illumination”) they used to illustrate the gospels and their teachings.

The Book is remarkable because it somehow managed to survive in all its glory for more than 1,200 years. Now, it serves as a strong source of Irish national pride as well as religious inspiration.

And one more thing: The Book is 680 pages long - but it’s incomplete! Two pages are known to be unfinished, although no one knows why the monks never completed them.

Even so, it’s the finest medieval religious manuscript surviving today. And, it’s a wonderful, inspirational expression of Irish art.

Want Even More?

If you enjoyed our page on The Book of Kells, please take a moment to share your feedback, using our contact form here.

Meanwhile, you can find much, much more information on Ireland attractions and things to do at our main Ireland travel page here.

Ready to move on?  Choose another topic to explore Irish culture and traditions, and to share your Irish side with the growing community at Irish!



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