Archives for posts with tag: Saint Patrick’s Day

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



The author stands on the grounds of the 6th century Abbey of Kells

You never know when you will make a connection. If channels for selling your book seem stale, why not search farther afield? I’ve just returned from a trip to Ireland, where the roots of my family memoir, A Book of Kells, lie. This email from the Tourist Office in Kells (Meath County) Ireland was in my email box this morning:

Good afternoon Margaret,

Thank you so very much for the copy of your book you left at the tourist office here in Kells. It is our Bank Holiday on Monday, so we have a long lazy weekend. If the weather holds I intend to sit in the garden, with my feet up devouring every word therein.

I was intrigued as soon as I saw the cover as my father, his father and various ancestors all served in the Navy. So can’t wait to find out all about your father in particular.

I will email you next week and tell you how I got on. And I will pass the book around the staff and my friends in Kells.

 Thanks again, and very kind regards,

 Doreen Fitzsimons

Kells Tourist Office

I’m looking forward to corresponding with Doreen. She is an expert on all things connected with The Book of Kells and obviously, an extremely nice person.

This blog post adds to the mystery of why anyone would entitle their family memoir ‘A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void’. (Our surname was Kell and I am a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether we originated in a community of ninth century 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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