From the Irish Times letters page:
Demand for return of Book of Kells
Sir, – In demanding the return of the Book of Kells (Home News, August 31st), it is a pity that the town of Kells does not make more of the magnificent treasures that it already possesses. I am thinking of the four ancient crosses, embellished with animal and figure sculpture, which are far easier for the public to examine than the microscopic detail in the painted manuscript.
The monastery at Kells was a great centre of stone sculpture: why is this not heralded on the approach to the town? Some of the monuments are not easy to find, so why is there no dedicated walking trail and why no special parking area for visitors?
Once in Kells, information about the monuments is almost nonexistent; no word, for example, about the remarkable “unfinished” cross, which tells us more about the processes of carving and construction than any other high cross in the country; no word either about “St Columba’s House”, the 11th century (?) church with its ancient stone roof still intact. Nor is there any obvious concern with conservation (in recent years, for example, a tree has been allowed to spread its branches over the famous “Tower cross”).
Sadly, the visitor leaves Kells with no sense that any of these great works are seriously cherished. Given a more pro-active approach, Trinity College might be asked to provide its visitors with information explaining the historic importance of the town, along with a note of how to get there (by public transport).
Having seen the book in Dublin, a visit to Kells itself might then become an essential port of call. – Yours, etc,
Professor of the History of Art (1987-2010),
Trinity College Dublin,
Dear Mr. Stalley,
Your article of some years ago has been posted to us at ourbookofkells.com. If you find yourself in the vicinity of our lovely town in the near future, you will find most/all of your observations/complaints have been attended to. I would agree with some of your comments on signage and lack of information of a few years ago, but this is no longer the case. The reference to the people of Kells not cherishing their heritage and “great works” is an insult unworthy of a person of your former position.
We have always understood that visitors to Trinity College Library were pointed in the direction of Kells after visiting our famous Book, but obviously, from your letter, this is not the case. It is very sad that, from the enormous revenue our book creates for Trinity College, only a crumb of compensation is offered in return to the community of Kells, the rightful home of this valuable manuscript, and that this crumb comes with conditions.
Recent archaeological finds at the Commons of Lloyd, together with the heritage and “great works” we already possess, make Kells an ideal visiting place for tourists and historians alike. So sad that our greatest asset is missing and that even the name “Book of Kells” has been hijacked and cannot be used by our community. Perhaps Trinity College would like to make a generous donation to Kells Heritage Park Ltd. You owe us that much, at least.
Kells man – Ronnie McGrane.