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by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Image of Folio 27V, with the four evangelist symbols from the Book of Kells. Source Wikimedia Commons

This Tuesday, the newly created ‘Kells Tourism Forum’ announced that; “Trinity College does not own the book of Kells; it is a national treasure and is owned by the people of Ireland. Our town is its natural and spiritual home.” The book, they argue, should be experienced “in an early Christian setting as opposed to its current ‘profane’ setting”, and they’re looking for one of its four component volumes to go on display in the town. Trinity, as you might imagine, are having none of it; “…on the grounds of security, environmental and preservation concerns… The preservation of this manuscript must take priority over all other considerations.”

It’s an interesting issue – a painstakingly produced facsimile copy of the manuscript is already on display in the local Church of Ireland (on the site of the original monastery), with, presumably, no discernible deviation in appearance, and complete, rather than quartered.

So, two questions. Firstly; the forum’s dismissal of the original’s surroundings at Trinity as “profane” implies that, in their minds, it is the relic itself that’s important – but how do they reconcile such a requirement for absolute authenticity (think about it) with the abandonment of three other parts to the profanity of a library? Secondly; wouldn’t Iona and Scotland have a prior “natural and spiritual” claim to the book – if, as is generally supposed, it had its origin there, before being carried to Kells for safety from the Vikings? How different is that to Trinity holding it and preserving it, after Cromwell’s raiding?

Perhaps somewhere in Mull, even now, the bovine relations of the calves that provided its pages are getting organised.

According to the Irish Independent; “Every year, around half a million people visit the library in Trinity to view the illuminated copy of the four Gospels, making it one of the top five tourist attractions in Ireland.” And there you have it, I suppose – “The forum believes that having one volume of the book in their town would boost tourism.”

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