Will Kells reclaim its most famous book?


IT’S THE heritage argument that won’t go away. The Kells Tourism Forum has delivered its most emphatic message yet to Trinity College Dublin that it wants the Book of Kells returned to the town.

Trinity has politely declined the request for the ancient manuscript to be moved, but it doesn’t sound like the historians of Kells will give up lightly. Does Kells have a case in bringing the book back to Meath? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons:

Who had it first?

The Book of Kells resided in the Abbey of Kells from at least 1007 until 1653. In 1661, it was presented to Trinity College Dublin by the Bishop of Meath, Henry Jones, where it remains to date. So it was in Kells for at least 646 years, and Trinity for around 350.

Who can look after it?

Trinity has a display and storage set-up that’s “subject to very careful environmental controls and security”, along with a team of conservation specialists who make sure the book is in tip-top shape. The Kells Tourism Forum says it will build a centre just for the storage and care of the book.

Who needs it more?

Half a million visitors a year go to Trinity to see the manuscript, and in July, the Book of Kells received a €2.7 million grant to increase its potential as a tourist attraction. Back in Kells, they figure having just one volume of the book wouldn’t adversely affect on the number of people heading to Trinity to see it, but would simply open up a new avenue for visitors.

Who’s going to win?

Trinity currently has the upper hand, given that its storage facility and visitor centre is already in place, plus the location of the Book Of Kells in the Old Library is embedded in visitor guides. Kells has an emotional argument in returning the manuscript to its spiritual home, but their demands seem to be falling on deaf ears. Don’t expect this argument to conclude for a long time to come.