World Famous Book of Kells: Interesting Facts You Need to Know
The Book of Kells and the Old Library
A trip to Trinity College to see the extraordinary Book of Kells has so much more to offer than the chance to see the book itself. You will also be able to visit the Long Room – the main chamber of the Old Library, see the oldest harp in Ireland and also one of the copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. And the visit does not have to end here, you can also see what the Library Shop has to offer or, if the weather allows, enjoy a picnic on the wonderful grounds of the Trinity College.
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells is one of the world’s most famous and beautiful manuscripts of the four Gospels of the New Testament written in Latin. It dates back to the 9th Century.
The book was found in the Abbey of Kells, hence its name – the Book of Kells. It is not known for certain where the book was written, however, the majority of scholars now point to Iona, an island off Mull in western Scotland.
The Book of Kells is most known for its colourful and very detailed designs. The intricacies, complexity and attention to the slightest of details makes it hard to believe that the book was written and decorated by hand. However, the book was not created by one person. It is now believed, judging by different styles of writing and drawing / colouring that 3 different artists were involved in decorating the book and at least 4 different writers looked after the text (these numbers vary depending on the source).
Some also believe that the book is unfinished as there are some blank pages and missing illustrations, however others note that they may simply have been lost over the years.
The Book of Kells was stolen in the year 1006. When it was recovered it did not have its gold cover binding or the jewels decorating the cover.
In order to protect it, the book was sent to Dublin around year 1653 and it was donated to the Trinity College in year 1661.
The book has been on display for almost 70 years (since 1953). There are more than half a million visitors coming to the Trinity College every year to see it, making it one of the top attractions in Ireland.
Here is some kids-friendly information which will help to make the visit more exciting and easier to understand for the younger ones:
1. This special book was written over a thousand years ago. At the time there were less than half a million people living in the whole of Ireland. This is less than the current population of Dublin! Farming was the main profession of the people of Ireland.
2. The book was written by monks – monks were men who lived in a monastery and dedicated their lives to worshipping God. Boys would join the monastery at the age of 15 or 16. They would have their heads shaved at the front, so they were easily distinguishable from other people. Monks prayed, fasted (didn’t eat food for long periods of time) and farmed the land belonging to the monastery.
3. When the book was created a 1000 years ago there were no printers. The monks had to write and illustrate the book by hand! Also, paper as we know it today was not available, the monks used calfskins to make the pages of the book. The skin would first be soaked in water and lime for a few weeks before being scrubbed, stretched, flatten and then cut into pages. This was a very hard and time-consuming work.
4. The monks also did not have pens! How do they write the book then? They used quills – bird’s feathers coming from their tail. Mainly swans and gees feathers were used. They also had to make their own ink out of minerals, oak apples and soot. Only five colours were used to decorate the book: red, yellow, green, blue and purple. See attached a few colouring pages – see if your child would make a good monk!!!
5. The illustrations in the Book were very important as most people couldn’t read! The monks wanted to assist the people in understanding the Gospels without the ability to read. Some pages have no writing at all and are covered only in beautiful drawings, these pages are called ‘carpet pages’
The Old Library – The Long Room
The Long Room is the main chamber of the Old Library. The room is 213 feet (65 m) long, hence its name. By mid-19th century there were so many books in the library that the ceiling had to be raised! The library holds around 200,000 books.
1. The Long Room is the longest library room in Ireland and potentially in the whole of Europe. The room is beautifully decorated, even the ceiling is a work of art, so don’t forget to look up when you visit!
2. The Long Room is the longest library room in Ireland and potentially in the whole of Europe. The room is beautifully decorated, even the ceiling is a work of art, so don’t forget to look up when you visit!
3. The Long Room holds one of the library’s oldest books. Although the books are very old, they are not as old as the Book of Kells and they were made using a printing press.
4. The library also has sculptures of famous men. These sculptures are called busts and only include a man’s head and shoulders.
The Long Room is also the home of the oldest harp in Ireland and one of the copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
The Oldest Harp
The Gaelic harp is the national symbol of Ireland. The Trinity College Harp dates back to the 15th Century and it is beautifully ornamented. This harp was a model for the Coat of Arms of Ireland (note to self: include a picture).
1. The harp can be seen on the Irish coins (let your child compare the harp on the coin with the one in the room, ask if there are any differences – the real harp is a bit wider; this is due to the restoration work done in 1960s).
2. The harp on the coins and government documents is left-facing, where the Guinness harp is right-facing.
3. The Trinity College Harp is a particular type of harp – a Gaelic harp. This type of harps is no longer being made.
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic
The Proclamation was issued in 1916 by the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army declaring themselves as the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, and as a result declaring independence from the United Kingdom (after 800 years).
1. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic is also called the 1916 Proclamation and the Easter Proclamation as it was presented on the Easter Monday.
2. There are about 30 original copies of the Proclamation.
The Library Shop
The library shop has a wide selection of souvenirs, including books, jewellery, crafts, T-shirts and much more.
Note: The Old Library is fully wheelchair accessible. On arrival, please speak to the Library Guard on duty at the door who will arrange for you to use the elevator. There is no parking on the Trinity College campus. We would advise you to take public transport. As Trinity College is located right in the centre of Dublin, you will have a wide selection of bus routes and Luas (Dublin tram).
Book of Kells Tickets
Kids under 12 go free
€11 – 14
We would recommend booking the tickets online, this will allow you to avoid the long queue.
We know it’s often hard to plan ahead with kids, but usually it is possible to buy ticket online only 15/30 minute in advance of the visit. This is means you can do it on your way and still avoid having to queue.
Book of Kells Opening hours
The Book of Kells Exhibition is open 7 days a week.