The Book of Kells and Trinity College
Right in the heart of Dublin – in the prestigious Trinity College – is a jewel of Ireland’s cultural heritage: the Book of Kells.
It’s one of the most famous manuscripts in history, a UNESCO Memory of the World item, and is described by the 11th century Annals of Ulster as “the most precious object in the Western world”.
This exquisitely illuminated manuscript contains the four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin and dates back to around 800AD. Almost every one of its 680 pages features elaborate imagery of mythical creatures, wild and domestic animals, Christian iconography and Celtic symbols.
A storied history
Scholarly opinion differs about the book’s early history but most agree that it was likely begun on the remote Scottish island of Iona and finished in the monastery at Kells in County Meath, where it was brought in 806 by monks fleeing Viking raids on Iona.
And there it stayed until the 1650s, a time of great political upheaval in Ireland, when it was sent to Dublin for safekeeping, and presented to Trinity College by the Bishop of Meath a few years later.
The book’s history is told in the fascinating Turning Darkness Into Light exhibition, which also details how it was made and bound. But until you get here to see it for yourself, you can view high-resolution images of each of its pages in the Library’s Digital Collection.
A manuscript as impressive as the Book of Kells needs a library to match its majesty – and Trinity’s Old Library doesn’t disappoint.
The magnificent building was constructed in the 18th century, and houses a vast collection that includes everything from illuminated medieval manuscripts and early printed books to correspondence from playwright and Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett and pieces of art history.
The main chamber of the Old Library is the magnificent Long Room. This striking 65 metre hall – with a beautiful wooden barrel vaulted ceiling, dark oak beams, and marble busts – is a sight that will linger long in the memory (if you haven’t seen it on Instagram already).
The 300-year-old library houses over 200,000 of Trinity College’s most ancient books, and is Ireland’s “legal deposit” library – which means it has to host one copy of every book published in Ireland – a testament to the building’s literary pedigree
The newly launched Trinity Trails campus walking tours guide visitors through the college’s rich history. The tour is a 45-minute guided or self-guided loop of the college grounds that aims to uncover the institution’s hidden gems and give you an insight into student life.
It takes you to fascinating spots like the Old Anatomy Museum, the Rose Garden and the Zoological Museum. The self-guided option includes immersive 360 tours and AR experiences that bring some of the college’s famous artefacts to life.
If you really want to dive into Trinity’s history, continue your experience with the Book of Kells and Old Library exhibition. With so much to see, the best option is to slow down and absorb the atmosphere of this extraordinary place.
Need to know
A major restoration project of the Old Library in 2023 means the Long Room will be unavailable to visitors for roughly five years. The Book of Kells will still be viewable in a temporary exhibition in the college’s New Square.
Online booking is strongly recommended for entry to both the Book of Kells and Old Library exhibition and guided tours.
There are several cafés and restaurants around the Trinity campus, including The Buttery restaurant, the Perch Café and the Pavillion Bar, a particularly popular spot with students and locals on a sunny day.
If you want to discover more about Ireland’s heritage and culture, make your way to the nearby National Gallery of Ireland, the Museum of Literature Ireland and Dublin Castle. The campus itself has a strong cultural pedigree – both the Douglas Hyde Theatre and Samuel Beckett Gallery have regular exhibitions and shows.
The Morgan Hotel
Situated in the heart of Temple Bar, Dublin’s Cultural Quarter, the recently refurbished 4 star Morgan Hotel is the perfect base to explore all that the capital city has to offer. The cobbled streets and laneways are lined with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and bars.
Museum of Literature Ireland
Whether you are new to Irish literature or an expert, you will be inspired and surprised at MoLI – The Museum of Literature Ireland. Located at 86 St. Stephens Green in the historic UCD Newman House, where James Joyce once studied, MoLI is an interactive celebration of Irish poets, playwrights and novelists. It is a must-see for anyone interested in Irish literature. The Commons Café and MoLi Shop are free to visit.