Tuesday 19 March 2019

Trinity abandons plans to move Book of Kells to 'leaky' basement

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are shown the Book of Kells during a visit to Trinity College Dublin on May 17, 2011
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are shown the Book of Kells during a visit to Trinity College Dublin on May 17, 2011

Daniel McConnell Group Political Correspondent

IRELAND'S oldest university, Trinity College Dublin (TCD), has abandoned plans to move the priceless Book of Kells to a "leaky basement" following protests from angry staff.

Authorities had proposed moving the country's most important historical document to an underground location in another building, which senior staff had said is "liable to serious flooding".

The plan proposed moving the Book of Kells from the Old Library to what staff described an as "unsafe" basement in another building on campus.

The college, which was founded in 1592, has been embroiled in controversy over modernisation plans in recent months particularly in relation to plans to change the college's name.

The college had planned to move the priceless ninth-century Latin Gospel Book of Kells, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, from the Old Library building because of concerns over potential damage caused by large visitor numbers.

Senior management and staff at the Old Library in charge of managing such ancient manuscripts vented their fury in writing to college authorities.

In correspondence seen by the Sunday Independent, senior staff said the move to the Berkeley Library was irresponsible.

"The master plan proposes the relocation of the Book of Kells to the Berkeley Library basement. This area is liable to serious flooding and is unsafe as a location for the country's greatest treasure. The plan seems irresponsible and a recipe for extremely adverse publicity," they said in a letter to the Provost, Dr Paddy Prendergast.

The controversial plans were contained in a new €100,000 Trinity Tourism master plan produced as part of a major modernisation drive at Ireland's oldest university, including changing its name.

Sources at the college have revealed the Book of Kells will now not be moving to its intended underground location.

But staff, while welcoming that news, are voicing fresh concern at plans for a "café underneath the Long Room" within the Old Library.

The college will seek assistance from the Government to establish a new national archive and book repository.

Because of planned refurbishment, historical texts are to be removed from their location and there is concern that no suitable storage place has yet been found.

"The library has voiced concerns since the outset. . .

"In addition requested membership on the steering committee given its central role; this was denied," the letter of protest added.

The staff members have also voiced concern over the proposed removal of books and archives from the old library to "make room for increased numbers of visitors and a café".

"No plan is in place for the appropriate relocation on campus of these valuable collections, which include all of the Pollard collection of children's books and substantial elements of the Fagel library," the staff complaint reads.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, a spokeswoman for TCD said: "The overall proposals were subject to extensive consultation with multiple stakeholders in the college, including the library, fellows, board and relevant college committees, following which it was recommended that the Book of Kells Exhibition should remain where it is currently located in the Old Library but with a new display and modernised exhibition."

The Old Library building is visited by over 500,000 people a year, and the wear and tear on this unique resource is beginning to threaten its continued accessibility.

A revised logo and corporate identity for Trinity College Dublin was presented to the university's board in March following vocal criticism of the initiative from some of the academic staff.

The college is to push ahead with its plan for a new blue and white logo that is more easily reproduced in digital form.

However, the design has been tweaked so that it more faithfully reflects the elements of the university shield.

The board is also considering reinstating TCD in its name for corporate communications so that its official title reads: "Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin."

Dr Prendergast had initially argued for the dropping of the first "Dublin" to avoid repetition. He emphasised the need to reclaim "University of Dublin" as an identifier internationally, given that the term "college" can be interpreted in parts of Asia as an undergraduate institution.

Sunday Independent

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