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Our beautiful history, one page at a time

Often, I think that the Book of Kells (hereafter to be known as the Book) has become the Anne Frank House of Dublin – such is the interest in seeing it.

On average, 3,000 people a day come to see the Book (the day I visited, it was a mere 2,800).

Today, the queue stretches along the building that houses the Book and halfway across Fellows Square. However, it moves quickly enough and it does afford the mainly American group to play their favourite game when abroad.

(Said in a hostile tone): "Ever get up to the Hebrides, Bob? Done any of South America? Been to Israel? Spent much time in Reykjavik? You really should check out Azerbijan before it's ruined." And so on.

And there followed a lengthy diatribe on gluten intolerance.


As rain threatened, the man behind me muttered darkly to his partner: "This had better be worth the wait."

After 35 minutes queuing, we were in and straight into the gift shop, which was doing a brisk trade selling all things Trinity and Book related.

Through a turnstile and it's straight into Book of Kells: The Colonnades, Turning Darkness into Light – an introduction to the Book and other manuscripts (for example, the

Book of Durrow) written in Ireland over a 1,000 years ago. In brief, the Book (the reason we're all here after all) is "a lavishly decorated copy, in Latin, of the four gospels of the life of Christ". It was first mentioned in the Annals of Ulster and sent to Dublin around 1653 for safe-keeping.

In the first exhibition space, there's a good introduction to Ogham, the ancient system of writing designed for the Irish language.

Materials and methods of making the Book are well covered. It was written on vellum (calfskin) and even after treatment, hair follicles can be detected on some leaves of the Book. I liked the Select Alphabet from the Book, where you can really appreciate the intricacy and artistry of each letter.

Up some steps, into an even darker space and the Book is displayed in a large, glass case and today two of the four gospels are on view.

You have to wait your turn to get a look, so it's handy that there are giant illuminated pages from the Book around the walls.

After your look-see, it's then upstairs to the wonderful Long Room, soon to be seen in Neil Jordan's new film Byzantium, in which several vampires have an argument among the dusty tomes. The Long Room (hereafter to be known as the Long), is quite simply, beautiful – a hallowed, long repository of ancient books with staircases leading up to the higher levels. Long sliding ladders rest against the bookshelves ready to spring into action.


The books are watched over by 38 marble busts ranging down both sides of the Long; they include Shakespeare, Aristotle, Bacon and Swift.

A number of years ago, I was fortunate to attend a party here. It was organised by the Friends of Trinity Library (of which esteemed society, my uncle was a member) and there was food and drink and live music and dancing. I suspect this was a one-off but I'm glad I was able to experience this beautiful room in an unusual way.

Conservation is an important part of the Long and there's a good section on 'Why study dust' – the removal of which can also cause damage to books (I always knew that there was a good reason not to dust).

Check out the display cases – I spotted some notebooks that once belonged to JM Synge and a working rehearsal copy for the first performances of Waiting for Godot used by Beckett (written on it is 'Prompt Copy 1953').

Back in the gift shop, it's your last chance to buy a Trinity College umbrella.

You might pass on this but you will leave with great memories of a beautiful room full of books and the most famous Book of them all.

An adult ticket costs €8