Archives for posts with tag: Book of Kells

Kells Pasture

It’s Cozy

  • Stay for a week in a thatched-roof cottage near Waterford, where Vikings set foot
  • Watch Irish Sea fishers catch seafood to replenish what you’re eating for lunch
  • Imagine impish fairies hiding outside your door, coating the postcards you’re sending home with magical whimsy
  • Breathe in the smell of wild flowers, the bog, and pervasive, mystifying mist

It Has A Book . . .

  • Take a copy of your family memoir, A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, to the Mayor of Kells. Have faith that  “A book always finds its own readers”
  • Look at stone ruins, graves and gates adorned with Celtic art, and the refuge to which monks fled from a bloody Viking raid to pen what’s now known as The Book of Kells
  • Deposit a copy of your book for reference at Trinity College Library, Dublin, resting place of the original manuscript
  • Hope that, along with an explanatory letter, your book will be cataloged as a legitimate addition to the long and quaint path of Kells memorabilia

It’s Basic

  • Search out Ireland’s soul. Pick up a rental car at  Dublin Airport early Saturday and count on luck to survive driving on the left side into the city.
  • Stop at a central café to ‘people watch’; read the daily paper to get a handle on the pulse of the times and the place
  • After walking around and sightseeing, have a beer at the James Joyce pub. Try to grasp what he was up to with writing Ulysses, The Dubliners and Finnegan’s Wake
  • Attend a music-only sung service at Christ Church on Sunday. This Celtic church was erected in the 11th century; the choir dates back 400 years.
  • Spend a day motoring out to the Ring of Kerry on the south coast to see magnificent scenery.

It’s Irish

  • Indulge your Irish genes by telling local people your great-grandparents were poor tenant farmers in Armagh County who emigrated to America in 1850 to find a better existence
  • Go to a concert of Irish dancing in the spirit of your grandmother who expected everybody to ‘step around’ fast to do the work of the farm
  • Be careful whom you tell your grandparents’ name was Campbell; old clan warfare hatreds still run deep
  • Spend what you can on souvenirs, such as linen and lace, and take all the pictures you can to keep your visit alive and help the Irish economy

This  blog complicates the  mystery of why anyone would write a family memoir entitled  A Book of Kells, Growing Up in an Ego Void. (Our surname was Kell and I was a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether our family originated in a community of ninth century monks).

Margaret Kell Virany, lang & lit lover, Norrie Frye note-taker, journalist, editor, autho

Dunmore East Harbour and Lighthouse

“A Drinking Village with a Fishing Problem”  Dunmore East Harbour and Lighthouse (Photo credit: Wikipeda)

When we visited Ireland in May, 2013, the economy was bad but that could not deflate Irish buoyancy. After Tom and I left Dublin Airport, our first four steps on Irish soil were to pick up our rental car and drive 15 km to cousin Clara’s home in pouring rain only to find it deserted. We nearly ran down a bicyclist and his mom at a crosswalk in the panic of searching for a toilet and phone book. Thank goodness we found a helpful angel at Goggins’ Pub who gave us our first taste of wit and humor.

#1 “Two beers!” I called out when I had regained control and the publican replied, “What kind: Heineken, Murphys, Beamish, Budweiser, Kilkenny, Rickards …? ” I said, “We’re from Canada and…”  “Two glasses of Guinness”, he said, plunking them down instantly. We took two sips, gave thanks and within minutes were ecstatically on Clara’s doorstep, ready for dinner before collapsing into a midday nap. We had gotten lost because we had written her address down as no. 1 instead of no. 11.

#2 Who Stole Mother’s Long-lost Dish?  After we woke up, Clara led us to the Avoca Restaurant for supper — our treat this time. It was the night before Mother’s Day in North America but Ireland celebrates that feast in April. Feeling that something was missing and I might find it in writing, my eyes lit on a chalked message up on the blackboard. It was not the usual menu. It read, “My mother was a wonderful cook who fed our family leftovers for thirty years. The original dish was never found.” The name of the writer was Calvin Toolin. We ate fish and seafood, as we did almost every night in Ireland because it is excellent.

#3 A Clerk’s Confession in a Buried Crypt At the close of the Sunday morning sung service in Christ Church Cathedral, the elder I sat beside invited us to stay for coffee and a cookie in the crypt where there is also a gift boutique. The clerk, a professional of the tourist trade, chattily asked us about ourselves and then spilled out his own confession:  “I didn’t get very far in school. They kicked me out of kindergarten because they didn’t have hot water for shaving.” When I stopped laughing enough to ask how much the Irish linen tea towels cost, another Irish voice cut him off by quipping, “How long is a piece of string?”

#4 Getting Directions  This trip was part pilgrimage for my family memoir, brazenly entitled A Book of Kells. Trinity College, where the original manuscript of The Book of Kells is displayed, accepts donations for its annual scholarship book sale and I needed to find the drop-off spot so I could leave a copy of my book with a note and email address inside. We went from the Cathedral to the right intersection but were still lost so accosted a policeman (garda). He pointed down the street and said, “You see that building with three storeys and a red roof? Well, if you get to it you have gone in the wrong direction.”

#5  An Unforgettable Night of Celtic Music  We settled into our holiday cottage on the south coast and sight-saw nearby Waterford for two days. We craved the sound of Irish music, and heard the place to be was  Powers Pub on Main Street, Dunmore East on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.  We  followed the locals in past the bronze plaque on the door which said, “A quaint drinking village with a fishing problem.” Soon the musicians trouped in, one by one, nine men and one woman, carrying their instruments: two violins, four guitars, an accordion, a soprano voice, a mandolin and a banjo. Until long past midnight they sat in a circle, strumming their music, improvising, taking requests, performing in turn, always playing in perfect time, pitch and harmony. Their music was their hobby and love. They were happy to play for nothing more than the few drinks patrons bought them. This night was the accordionist’s birthday and the cooks in his family had prepared deep fried onion rings, breaded chicken, dips and cake for all to share. We were mesmerized and felt sorry when the night ended.

#6 The Way & Why to Read a Newspaper  Each morning we had breakfast at the Bay Café, with a good view of the Celtic Sea. On Thursday The Irish Independent was published and all the regulars picked up a copy and read it from cover to cover, sitting at tables indoors or out. The writing on the newspaper box egged them on, “The Irish Independent: Before You Make Up Your Mind, Open It Up.”

#7  Moving Up from 25% to 100%   The friendly blonde waitress and receptionist at Dunmore’s  Strand Hotel wanted to know who we were so I told her I was a one-quarter-Irish Canadian. She insisted we buy a full bottle of wine with our dinner and said we could take what was left with us. On the way out she helped me pack up, patted the outside pocket on my bag with the opened bottle in it and said, “There, now you’re 100% Irish.”

The Secret of Irish Wit and Charm  As a finale, we visited the oldest lighthouse in the world, the Hook Head Lighthouse which blinked at us night and day from across the St. George’s Channel.The tour guide led us up to the top and when we parted I told her we had had a wonderful week and found the Irish cheery and helpful, always ready and willing to tell a joke. Her Irish eyes smiled knowingly as she said, “It’s because we’re not in a hurry. We’re not going anywhere.” And who can blame them? Because they feel that way, being a tourist in Ireland is great fun; it’s such a pleasant place to be, even though we visited at a time when the economy was doing badly.

This  blog complicates the  mystery of why anyone would write a family memoir entitled  A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. (Our surname was Kell and I grew up as a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether our family originated in a ninth century community of monks.)

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folio 124r

folio 124r (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Book of Kells has exploded onto the digital stage and is challenging St. Patrick as an Irish icon.

  • The Saint Patrick’s Day website of Trinity College, the University of Dublin, announces that everyone may now experience The Book of Kells online, for free, in its new Digital Collections.
  • The Book of Kells for Ipad, released in December, 2012 is a top seller in Apple stores. For $12.99 you can buy a copy of the priceless manuscript.
  • A team of computer scientists and art historians is preserving, analyzing and quantifying the designs to make them public as a database for art applications.

Early History

  • After St. Patrick established the first Christian mission in Ireland in the fifth century, Irish monasteries spread their spiritual and cultural influence far and wide.
  • Celtic monks living on the Isle of Iona created a 680-page manuscript of the Four Gospels (Latin Vulgate version) early in the ninth century. At the same time, it codified their entire civilization.
  • The sacred Word of God had a gold cover and was designed to sit on the altar at the high holidays of the Christian year.
  • Vikings raided and savaged the monks’ colony; the surviving monks fled to Kells, County Meath, in Ireland.
  • Thieves stole the book, ripped off its cover and buried it in a bog 1,000 years ago.
  • When found months later, the Annals of Ulster called it “the greatest relic of western civilization”.  No one challenges that description today.
  • The Roman Catholic Church took it for safekeeping in the 16th century, then brought it to Dublin 100 years later.

The Art

  • Four extremely talented artists, one of them from the Mediterranean, worked together with 50 or so assistants, researchers believe.
  • The monks wrote on vellum prepared from the slaughter of 185 calves and used ten vibrant pigments, some from distant lands. A purple-brown-black ink was made from iron salts and local vegetable sources, such as oak apples (galls).
  • Mind-boggling in complexity and ornamentation, the book combines figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts with Celtic knot-work and interlace. Motifs swirl, letters evolve into pictures and pictures into letters.
  • Along with technical know-how and Christian iconography, the monks had fun. A letter M is two monks pulling each other’s beards; an  illustrated rhyme compares a writer choosing words to his cat chasing mice.
  • The lavish, intricate, minute, illuminated art and calligraphy overwhelm even the Holy Script.


  • Since the mid 1800’s, the book has been on display, now bound into four volumes of 33 x 25-cm pages. It has some water damage, is extremely fragile and has lost substantial pigment. The folios bend or contract if the temperature changes the least bit, threatening adhesion of the colors.
  • In 1989 Facsimile-Verlag Lucern published a limited edition of 1480 copies (740 reserved for the British Isles). Two copies, valued at $18,000 each, were presented to Texas Christian University and Austin College in 1990.
  • In March 2012, 120 people came to a lecture on the Book of Kells at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT. At the University of Dublin, Professor Roger Stalley debunked the idea that the book was created in quiet seclusion.
  • Simon Worrall published The Book of Kells: Copulating Cats and Holy Men, a highly entertaining, informative, short book, in 2012.
  • Hay Festival Kells, in County Meath, will return for a third edition in 2015, from 26 to 28 June.

Have you been to Ireland and seen The Book of Kells?

Would you tell us about it?

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