Last summer my family visited Ireland. We stayed in two castles, ate a lot of great food, soaked of the local culture, and did some typical touristy things. On our last day in Dublin we had tickets to see the famous Trinity College library (Harry Potter fans will remember the Long Room) where Irish cultural artifacts and very old books are on display. But nothing in the collection is as old or as historically important as their most precious piece: The Book of Kells. It’s fair to say that the Book of Kells is the main attraction, and the configuration of the tour and museum testifies to this. So a few of us were salivating to set our eyes on such a quirky, mysterious, and beautiful work of art. I don’t know if it was the time of day (11:00 am), or the day (Friday), or the time of year (early summer when the weather is typically grand), but the tour was WAAY oversold and somewhat of a disappointment. Simply put, there were far too many people allowed in at one time to allow anyone (all paying customers) more than a glance at the ancient tome.
This is how our tour went down. After entering the gate, the tour path leads you through a couple rooms of museum information displays to prepare for what you are about to see. But I didn’t see more than a handful of folks loitering or reading in that section. Nearly everyone bee-lined for the Book of Kells where a glass case table stood in the middle of a dimly yellow-lit room. A circle of people three layers around in circumference formed a mob around the book, which was actually two volumes opened to the page of the day (the curator turns the page daily). Some museum attendant was pleading with the crowd to continue moving around the circle (no stopping) and to let others get a change to look. Some complied, others didn’t. Lots of nudging and even a little pushing. Many people, including some in our own party—especially the kids—didn’t even get one glimpse. Sad.
Next on the tour path was the Long Room which was amazing but also overcrowded. Lots of people taking selfies. And there was a sense that you had to keep moving because the crowds swelled continuously from behind. Finally, the tour dumped everyone into the back of a gift shop. Typical. At least the quality was high and the prices were fair.
In the gift shop I purchased Bernard Meehan’s illustrated introduction to the Book of Kells (hereafter BOK) manuscript. It’s definitely the best affordable guide available today for learning about and appreciating the art and history of the Book of Kells. With 117 illustrations and 110 of those in high-gloss color, Meehan’s book is a feast for the eyes. The text is authoritative since Meehan is the current supervising curator of the Book of Kells. So he’s something of an expert on the book. Although he’s not the first to write a book on this famous bound manuscript, he stands on the scholarship that preceded him, which gives BOK a cumulative-information feel. Meehan lays out BOK like a good tour guide: Continue reading