Spread the word, Book of Kells goes global despite objection by Burger King

National treasure: Dr Bernard Meehan, the Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Library with a copy of the Book of Kells

John Spain

Ireland's national treasure, The Book of Kells, has now become a registered global trademark owned by Trinity College - despite fast-food giant Burger King beefing about it.

The worldwide restaurant chain had to be convinced that the use of the initials "BK" didn't infringe on their trademark as purveyors of burgers, fries and milk shakes.

The new venture to commercialise the sumptuously illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels may not please everyone.

But the reality is that Trinity College needs to balance the books to ensure that its priceless collection of ancient texts is properly cared for.

As a result, admirers of the Book of Kells will soon be able to make the masterpiece of medieval art a part of their daily lives.

Trinity, the keeper of the world famous book, has joined with the prestigious art book publisher Thames & Hudson in the UK to produce what it calls "five exquisitely designed gift products" making use of the glorious illustrations in the manuscript.

These gift products include a five-year journal (€18.50); a set of three large notebooks (€11.95); three small notebooks (€8.99); a boxed collection of 20 different notecards with envelopes (€16.99); and a boxed collection of 30 postcards (€10.50). All are illustrated with details from the Book of Kells.

The publisher says that the five products celebrate Ireland's greatest national treasure and will make ideal gifts for anyone interested in manuscripts, design and Celtic art.

Paul Corrigan, retail and merchandising manager for Trinity College at the Old Library where the Book of Kells is on view, does not agree that the move overly commercialises our national treasure, and points to the high quality of the new gift range.

"We don't want to be seen as exploiting the Book of Kells but, as you know, governments have cut university funding and we have to find new ways of financing our preservation of the manuscript and the other ancient texts we look after," Mr Corrigan says.

The title, Book of Kells, became a registered global trademark owned by the College some months ago.

Mr Corrigan revealed that there was some delay in achieving this in America because Burger King initially objected.

"Eventually, they understood that Trinity College was not interested in the fast-food business," Mr Corrigan says.

The new Book of Kells gift range recently went on sale exclusively in the Old Library Gift Shop in Trinity College. From September 7, Thames & Hudson will be distributing it to bookshops across Ireland and internationally. Trinity has done a royalty deal with the publisher, so a percentage of all sales will come back to the college to pay for the upkeep of the manuscript.

Several impressive books about the Book of Kells have been published over the years but are expensive because of the cost of reproducing the artwork. The standard work by Bernard Meehan, the Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Library, republished recently, costs €94.80 in hardback and €15.75 in paperback.

The Book of Kells' brilliant decorations alongside text of the four Gospels include full-page depictions of Christ, the Virgin and the Evangelists as well as a wealth of smaller decorative illustration.

The manuscript is made up of 340 folios of calf vellum and, since 1953, has been bound in four volumes. It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity since the mid 19th century and last year attracted over 650,000 visitors. Two volumes are on public view, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. The pages on display are changed at regular intervals.

Entry to see the Book of Kells costs €10 per adult and €20 per family at the door. A fast-track family ticket to avoid queues is one of the options available online for €26.