A warm and cozy visit with Ireland’s Book of Kells

 I was once a Florida boy and now I’m a Caribbean man. Bitter, bone-numbing cold fits no where into that biography. So when I found myself in freezing Dublin, Ireland, unable to speak clearly or feel my ears, the last thing I wanted to do was walk to some ancient university to see an old Bible. Standing in front of my hotel as arctic winds threatened to turn my corneas into ice cubes. All I could think of was spending the day back in my room under the covers. But that would be selfish, as well as negligent. I have two young children and they deserve something more than comfort, warmth, and television. I felt it was my obligation as a parent to educate them whenever possible and, yes, teach them how to suffer courageously. So, frostbite be damned, we set off to see the Bible.
      About halfway to our destination I began to feel confident and upbeat. “This cold ain’t so bad,” I thought. “I’m starting to warm up. Piece of cake.” At just that moment, of course, it began to rain. Yes, what felt like little drops of liquid nitrogen fell from the heavens, seemingly just to torment me. It was then my seven-year-old daughter spoke those horrible, dreaded words that were nothing less than a dagger plunging into my heart: “Daddy, pick me up.”
      Now I’m racing down the street with girl in arm, boy in hand, ice on head. Finally we make it to the sheltering stone walls of Trinity College. This very old university looks like a museum itself but is far from dead. As Ireland’s top-ranked institution, it remains noisy and vibrant with young students and old professors bustling about. Founded in the 1500s, it has played a significant role in Irish history and culture for centuries. I’m in awe of the number of minds that have passed through here over the last five centuries.
      Entering the on-campus museum that houses the Bible we came to see is like walking into paradise. It’s so warm and dry, I decide that we may never leave. The Book of Kells, that Bible we came to see, is displayed in a dimly lit room. This is no ordinary holy book. More than a thousand years old, it’s an Irish treasure and obvious masterpiece. It contains the four gospels, in Latin, and glows with spectacular artwork. Some dedicated monks clearly spent a long time on this one. The museum plays an interesting video that explains how the book was made. The pages are calf skin. It took about 150 calves to make the book. The entire process is labor-intensive, to say the least.
      Earlier in the week I had visited the National Museum of Ireland where I learned all about how the Vikings repeatedly raided, plundered, pillaged and raped the unfortunate people of Dublin. It’s amazing that the Book of Kells survived all that. It gets its name, by the way, from the name of a church that once kept it.
      The Book of Kells is impressive, both for its age and artistic beauty. Accuracy, however, is another matter. Scholars point out that the book is littered with errors in the text. Oh well, you can’t have everything. Besides, those monks probably had poor lighting to contend with.
      The Book of Kells is well worth seeing for anyone with an interest in Christianity, Ireland, or history in general. My kids didn’t exactly ooze excitement in the presence of this medieval book, but neither did they rebel and demand to leave. So that’s a passing grade in my book.
      Interesting as the Book of Kells may be, however, the Long Room is the highlight of the day for me. As I enter this special chamber of the “Old Library” my heartbeat rises. For all of my life, when I dreamed of the perfect library, this is what I saw. And, now, here it is, no longer a fantasy.
      The room contains about 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. Marble busts of great thinkers and writers line both sides of the walkway. I sense my IQ rising just by standing here and breathing the air. If I had a duplicate of this room in my house I would never feel the Sun on my face again. When I die I want someone to toss my ashes into a corner of this room.
      Just when I was really beginning to enjoy the dopamine dump in my brain and felt nothing could wrong, I spotted a sign that has haunted and tormented me in many museums around the world: “Photography is strictly forbidden within the Old Library Building”. No! Not this time! I want a photo of this room.
      I literally stand motionless as the two sides of my soul debate whether or not I should sneak a photo of the Long Hall. This is such a powerful and beautiful scene. I need it in my photo collection. I deserve it. I don’t consider myself a real photographer–I don’t know an aperture from my. . .   Nonetheless, I am totally addicted to capturing beautiful and moving images where ever I may be in the world and this was a shot I felt compelled to snatch. I scan the room for security guards. I see just one and he’s not exactly Elliott Ness. I can do this, no sweat, I think to myself. I reach into my pocket and feel the cold metal of my camera. All I needed is a second to take a steady, no-flash vertical shot of the room. I hit the power button and began to pull out the camera. Then I hear the voice of angel.
      “Daddy, how come they don’t let people take pictures in here?”
      I looked down into the eyes of Marissa, my little girl.
      “Uh, because flash photography might damage old paintings and I suppose they want people to buy their photos in the gift shop,” I say.
      “That’s too bad, I bet you wanted to take a lot of pictures of all these books,” she says.
      “Yeah, sweetheart, I did. But we have to follow the rules. Let’s go, maybe we can find a nice postcard in the gift shop.”