Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Trinity College & the Book of Kells, 3.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2010

We really enjoyed our visit to Trinity College and the Book Of Kells.     

Tim looking sceptical!


We signed up for a tour led by one of the College students, and although we have some doubts about the veracity of his anecdotes, it was very entertaining.  We were shown all over the college, including (because we were a small group) some parts not usually shown to tourists, and it really is a very impressive place.      

Sir George Salmon, Provost


This gloomy looking character at right, Sir George Salmon, (Provost of Trinity) we were told, was strongly opposed to the enrolment of women, declaring that it would happen ‘over his dead body’ which it did because he died four days before the first woman enrolled.  (Wikipedia says he actually agreed to it in 1901 three years before he died in 1904.)     

I’m inclined to think that our guide told us more than a whopper or two.  When he found out we were from Australia he told us that Trinity wasn’t letting The Book Of Kells tour any more since they’d lent it to Australia where something had been spilled on it.  Not true!  We checked, and there was some minor damage but that was from the vibration of the plane’s engines on the long haul flight, and not because some drongo spilled his coffee on it! I know (because I’ve read about it in our National Gallery’s magazine for members) that the procedures for the loan of art works are meticulous, and I’m not really happy that people went away from this tour thinking that Australians are careless with precious treasures on loan.  We are so far away from the great art centres of the world and most Australians can’t afford to see these works of art unless European galleries lend them to us so I would hate to think that anyone really believed what he said…     

Also dubious was his story about the unpopular professor who was harassed by some drunken students one night.  When they broke all the windows in his rooms (at left) he retaliated by firing at them and they promptly went back to their rooms to get their guns as well. A gun fight ensued and the professor was mortally wounded.  None of the students was convicted of his murder because they were British aristocrats, he said, but I bet it was more likely that all the witnesses were drunk and they couldn’t prove identity.    

What is true is that the books in the Trinity College library are shelved not by Dewey but by height. There are literally thousands of grand old books there (some of which were on display) and although now specific titles can easily be found because it’s all computer catalogued, it must have been a nightmare for the librarians in days gone by!   There are also splendid busts of various alumni including Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett, as well as other great men of letters,  (no women, of course), and a very interesting display about the British/Irish in India, some of which was quite chastening to read.   

What is also (probably) true is that the spectacularly ugly modern buildings (in the Brutalist style i.e. large lumps of concrete) have won architectural awards and that the plants which were supposed to decorate the one supposedly inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon all died because of the composition of the concrete.   

Source: Wikipedia


From the tour we went in to see The Book of Kells.  It’s beautifully displayed, augmented by other illuminated manuscripts because (of course) one book, even with four pages on show isn’t really enough to captivate a horde of tourists.  There was an ancient bible from the 6th century, and various other works on vellum, as well as cabinets showing the tools they used and the sources of the colours such as lapis lazuli.   

We found all this fascinating, but we’d walked a long way from our hotel to the city centre, so we adjourned for lunch to a nice pub nearby…

2 Responses to “Trinity College & the Book of Kells, 3.10.10”

  1. Louise said

    Your tour sounds interesting Lisa. We didn’t get to do a tour, just getting through the Book of Kells display with a moaning 9 year old was work enough, so I’m glad to hear about yours, even if the truth may have been slightly augmented. I’m enjoying reliving Dublin.

    • Lisa Hill said

      Oh, Louise, that is heroic, travelling with a 9 year old! Mind you, the Irish seem to be very fond of children, and the ones we’ve seen have been very well-behaved. So too are their parents: we were in a ‘family-friendly’ Italian restaurant tonight and at 8:00pm all the families had vanished, taking their kids home to get a good night’s sleep before school in the morning!

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