I am in the city of Dublin, Ireland, for only the second day, just past the celebration of Bloomsday on June 16. That was day in 1904 that James Joyce’s character Leopold Bloom walked around Dublin in the book “Ulysses.”
My odyssey has been quite different so far and I have only one more day to savor the sights, along with hundreds of tourists walking every which way, looking down at cell phones.
But this morning I got to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells “Turning Darkness into Light” exhibition. In the sixth century, monks created the Book of Kells in a monastery on the Scottish island of Iona founded by Colm Cille . The book, which tells the story of Jesus through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is believed to have been completed by 800 A.D.
The monks painstakingly created illuminated manuscripts on vellum, the dried skins of calves – the pages, the layers of ink, the colors, survived a harsh climate, thievery and displacement for centuries. The book includes 680 pages, written in Latin, most illustrated with Celtic designs.
In 1806, the Vikings descended on the monastery, killing many monks, but survivors found refuge in a monastery at Kells in Ireland. It is believed that the monks carried the book with them.
The church at Kells was destroyed during fighting in Cromwell’s reign but the book, which had been stolen earlier, was discovered “under a sod.” In 1653, the governor of Kells sent the book to Dublin for safekeeping.
A few years later it reached Trinity College, which had been founded by royal charter in 1592. And that’s where the Book of Kells remains, on view behind glass to the public every day.
The book on Tuesday, was open to a page of John’s Gospel: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep...”
Almost as impressive as the Book of Kells is the Long Hall of the library, with ladders every few feet leading to the shelves in the balcony, and marble busts of famous authors and scholars like Aristotle, Francis Bacon and Shakespeare lining the central passageway.
One of the library’s treasures is one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which was read outside the General Post Office on April 24, 1916 by Patrick Pearse at the start of the Easter Rising.
The tall structure houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.
But alas, the building is showing its age. Originally constructed in 1712, it was expanded in 1860, when the roof was raised to allow construction of the vaulted ceiling and upper gallery bookcases. Trinity has announced that the library will close in the fall of 2023 for reconstruction.
My odyssey today started with Trinity College, it included several walks around the Grafton Street area and a turn around St. Stephen’s Green. The city is alive with outdoor dining and flowers everywhere.
The visit began with a grandson’s wedding – he married a young women from Dublin who wanted to be married in her home city. The planning started three years ago; the date was changed five times and the location moved from Ireland to Philadelphia and back again. The bride understandably shed a few tears at the wedding vows. Fortunately, her elegant white gown had pockets for tissues.
On Friday there was an American import, a rehearsal dinner with a multitude of family members. The wedding took place the next day in the church of Saint Thérèse in Black Rock and the reception was 45 minutes away in Tinakilley Country House, a mansion overlooking the Irish Sea.
The mansion had been built for Capt. Robert Halpin, whose company laid a submarine cable from Valentia Island, County Kerry, to Newfoundland. The cable, 2,600 miles, was stored in the ship’s two tanks and weighed 6,000 tons. One thousand eight hundred and sixty two miles from Valentia, the cable broke and the ship had to return to Europe. On a second try, but after a fall in the company’s stock, Halpin was successful. He miraculously rediscovered the original cable and salvaged it to be used again.
The wedding was not over with the reception. The tradition was to celebrate another day – and so the party went on, at the mansion and in a local pub well into the night. A few vans carried us to Dublin on Monday, some to the city, some to the airport. Others went in several directions, some to the American West.
That’s how my very short Odyssey in Dublin began, and there’s still tomorrow and the gift of Solstice. I hope to visit Howth, a fishing village so I must find my way to the train station.
A source for information on the Book of Kells was “The Book of Kells: Medieval Europe’s greatest treasure?” by Martha Kearney for the BBC, April 26, 2016.