Interview with the Abbot Ronnie

29 10 2014

When asked how is all in Kells, he replied ‘There is a lot of depression after Cromwell’s men came in 1640 and burned our monastery, murdered our Monks and stole our Book of Kells.

They then took it to Dublin and gave it to Cromwell himself, as a treasure.

Some day we will get it back and put it in its natural monastery environment in Kells with all of its glory.

Things are that bad in Kells that the local council closed the public toilets 20 years ago and the tourist buses drive through the monastic town because there is no place to park and no book to see.


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From the Irish Times letters page

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,

Dublin 2.



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.

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Letter Printed in The Meath Chronicle July 13 2013

Dear Editor,

At a time when our town needs an economic boost as much as the rest of the country, it is heartening to find that attempts to secure the return of our greatest asset, the Book of Kells, are again being made.  The amount of revenue this great manuscript would generate would re-open some of the abandoned business-sites left in the wake of the fall of the Celtic Tiger.  Existing business in the accommodation, restaurant, retail, pub, and business trade in general, would increase substantially by the return of the book to its original home.

Where valuable artifacts exist there is usually room for spin-off business to emerge.  Say craft shops to manufacture clothing with the book’s title, or printers to reproduce pages or photos from the manuscript.  Gift-shops selling postcards, calendars, or jewelry bearing the title of the book.   At least, under normal circumstances, this would be possible.  But Trinity College, not satisfied with the profits from its possession of the Book of Kells, have also taken possession of the wording of that title, under copyright law.  We cannot produce anything bearing the name “Book of Kells”. 

I believe it was back in 2010 that the local council made approaches to Trinity College for the return of even one volume of the book.  Trinity refused, citing the dangers the move, and the placing of the manuscript in a different location, as their main reason.  You would think, as a sign of gratitude for their windfall, our Book of Kells, that they would have agreed and even offered professional advice on how to safeguard it.  We would not ask for financial help, the many millions Trinity has already gathered from the possession of our treasure, can stay in their coffers.  Any of the present-day banks know a certainty when they see one, and the necessary precautions and equipment and security to protect the manuscript we would pay for ourselves.

The Library of Trinity College has half-a-million visitors annually.  At nine Euro a head, OAP’s get a less-than-generous one Euro discount, all of which revenue goes to the upkeep of the library.  True, not everybody visits just to see the Book of Kells, but there can be no doubt that it has, by far, the greatest interest.  If you visit the Trinity Library Shop online, you will be amazed at the variety of products on sale bearing the Book of Kells title.  From fridge-magnets to miniatures of the book itself, (for just eighty Euro).  Silk ties, 2014 calendars, postcards, prints, and yes you’ve guessed it, been there bought the Trinity “Book of Kells t-shirt”.  Is this what is meant by “fair use”, if so then they are fairly using it.

Perhaps, if Trinity are still struggling after all this revenue is counted, they would consider introducing student-fees to help in the upkeep of their library.  We are more concerned, however, with the upkeep of the economy of Kells County Meath.  We would like to make “fair use” of what we believe is our right, the return of our manuscript, much of which was written in this place, the title of which bears the name of our town, the authors of which died protecting it in their abbey in Kells.  We would make a promise to these departed saints, we will never use the name of their book to promote alcohol in the form of “Book of Kells” beer.  Rumour has it though, that this copyright has also been acquired.

Trinity, you’ve had your “fair use”, the people of Kells want “fair play”

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The Return of the Book of Kells mentioned in Dáil Debate in 2000

Written Answers. – Book of Kells. Tuesday, 14 November 2000 Dáil Eireann Debate Vol. 525 No. 5

Mr. Farrelly asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage Gaeltacht and the Islands if she will facilitate the arrangement of a meeting between the Bursar of Trinity College, Dublin, and Kells Urban District Council members to explore the Government’s wish, on the basis of statements made by her, that a volume of the Book of Kells will be loaned to the Urban District Council for its new heritage centre for one month during the summer 2001; and if, at this meeting, all of the elected Deputies from the Meath constituency will be invited to attend; if she will outline publicly the Government’s view of support for this proposed project, similar to the Government’s approval of a volume of the Book of Kells being transported to Australia in 2000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25517/00] Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): My statutory role as Minister in relation to past and possible future loans by Trinity College, Dublin, of sections of the Book of Kells is solely to consider the issue of granting an export licence if it is proposed that the book should leave the country. A decision regarding any loan now or in the future of the Book of Kells is a matter for Trinity College.

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The Telegraph On Book Of Kells

“The Telegraph” 

Kells may, for the moment, be lacking the Book for which it is famed the world over – a disputatious issue to which we shall return – but there were other books in abundance as this small market town in County Meath staked its big claim at the weekend to establishing itself as the Hay on Wye of Ireland.

The Kells man on a mission

Throughout this weekend, Ronnie McGrane, 64, has been a ubiquitous presence. Dressed as a monk – he calls himself the Abbott of Kells – he stands outside the two main venues, the Eirgrid and the Breslin stages and wherever else crowds are gathered in town. In one hand he has a placard: “Sign our Petition. Return the Book of Kells to Kells.” In the other he has a clipboard where he is slowly amassing signatures.

As any fool knows, the Book of Kells, the ninth century exquisitely illuminated copy in Latin of the four gospels, has, since 1661, been in the “safe-keeping” of Trinity College Library Dublin (Cromwell is to blame, apparently).

Ronnie – and the people of Kells – want it back, not least so the town can benefit from the tourism and heritage potential. (“We’ve no public lavatories in Kells, and we’ve got Heritage office that’s shut.”) The Irish government has been debating it back and forth since 1922. Now, the row has intensified after Ronnie registered the website ourbookofkells.com. He’s seriously upset Trinity and who knows what will happen next. But Mr McGrane, a businessman and former member of the Chamber of Commerce here, has a detailed plan in place for where the Book will be displayed in Kells and how a “theme park” type experience can be funded. He’s found hundreds more supporters and at least a 1000 new signatures among Festival goers this weekend.

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Meath Chronicle On Book Of Kells

“The Meath Chronicle”

Town council won’t challenge Trinity on Book trademark

Thursday, 30th June, 2011 9:30am

Kells Town Council is not planning to challenge Trinity College’s application for the registration of the Book of Kells trademark.

Councillors heard at last week’s meeting of the council that the college already holds the trademark for several purposes since 1999 and the most recent application extends the trademark for use on textiles and seeks to register a logo, which is a depiction taken from the book.

Area manager Kevin Stewart said he had met with repesentatives of the college to discuss the matter and had received legal advice.

He explained that the Book of Kells trademark has been registered and owned by Trinity College since 1999 and the registration extends to all countries in the EU and covers nine separate ‘classes’ – each class covers a particular material or substance. As owners of the mark, Trinity would have to licence or agree to its use by others and it would, at its discretion, have the right to take action against anyone using or ‘passing on’ the mark.

Mr Stewart said the council obtained specialist legal advice and there appears to be no sustainable grounds on which to lodge an objection to the current Trinity proposals. He said the council could consider whether to challenge the existing registrations on the grounds that the trademarks have not been used but that would take considerable research, the costs of doing so are unknown and may be substantial.

“In any event, it is not clear whether a basis for challenge on those grounds exists. I have asked for further advice on that aspect and I will inform the council of the outcome in due course,” he said. Mr Stewart said the issue now was whether the town council should register some trademarks themselves.

He said that, in the context of the redesign of the heritage centre, Failte Ireland stressed that good relations between the council and Trinity College were crucial.

The college had indicated that it was willing to work with the council – telling the story of Kells in Trinity exhibits and entering a discounted tickets arrangement between the college and the heritage centre.

Cllr Sarah Reilly said it was important to have a working partnership with Trinity to get some benefit from the Book of Kells.

Cllr Bryan Reilly welcomed an improved relationship with Trinity College and said that Kells should get its fair share out of it.

Cllr Tommy Grimes said they would have to play hardball with Trinity College yet keep them on their side. He suggested getting a written agreement from the college on what they were entitled to.

Cllr Sean Drew suggested they ask the college to stock the Kells tourists leaflets. Cllr Conor Ferguson said the Book of Kells was a national treasure and asked how anyone could own it.


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Comments From a Reader

“The book of Kells was created by Celtic monks in the late eight and early ninth centuries and is regarded by the world as a whole as Ireland’s finest national treasure.  It takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, where it resided for centuries and where some of it was created by the monks. There are four volumes of the book, all of which are housed in the Library of Trinity College, and two of which can be viewed daily.

We can be certain that the book resided in Kells in the twelfth century, in the Abbey of Kells.  The abbey was converted to a parish church during this century and the book remained there until 1654.  This period marked the arrival of Oliver Cromwell and his army to our shores.  Cromwell was a religious fanatic who carried out what I would describe as the ethnic cleansing of the Catholic population of Ireland.  Cromwell’s cavalry were stationed in the church of Kells at this time.  The book was given to Trinity College, for safekeeping, by the then governor, Henry Jones, later to become Bishop of Meath.

Trinity College was founded in 1592, and under the rule of the Tudor monarchy, it was confined to Protestants only at this time.  To send the Book of Kells here for “safekeeping” seems to be a contradiction.  The college’s role was hardly to protect any Catholic manuscripts, rather to destroy them and the teachings contained within.  But Trinity did keep the Book of Kells safe and it survives there to the present day.  A debt of gratitude is due to Trinity for their role in protecting the book.  But this debt has been paid a thousand times over by the currency it has generated towards the college’s coffers.

500,000 visitors pass through the doors of Trinity library every year, many of whom are drawn by the presence of the Book of Kells.  The amount of revenue from the library shop must also be substantial.  The debt has been repaid.  None of this cache has ever been shared, as far as I am aware, with the Kells community.  It is time this was changed.  The people of Kells have a right to share in the wealth of the book which takes its name from their town, the town from where the book was taken and is part of their heritage, their history.

Have the board of the Library of Trinity College ever considered what they would do if the roles were reversed.  If the “Book of Trinity” was housed in Kells and all access to what they would consider their property denied?  Can they not see the total injustice of this situation?  Would they be happy to travel to Kells to view what they considered to be their own property?  I think not.  Neither should  the people of Kells be prepared to accept the present situation.  To deny them the right to even one volume of their book is legally and morally wrong.

Where do the politicians lie in this respect?  I do not know.  It is high time they made their voices heard.  But it is also high time the people of Kells made their voices heard too.  Lend yourselves to this campaign.  You have everything to gain and nothing to lose”.


(Name with editor)

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The Book of Kells

pt.1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRGQPJIO5CM&feature=player_detailpage#t=234s


pt 2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9kg1B-M3mA

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Local Politicians on the Return of the Book of Kells

Meath East Politicians  Ben Gilroy, Damien English and  Darren O Rourke are asked about the return of the Book of Kells.

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Senator’s call for Book of Kells Heritage Centre – Meath Chronicle

Originaly Published Wednesday, 8th December, 2010 4:47pm on Meathchronicle.com


A call for Failte Ireland to fund the development of a Book of Kells Heritage Centre has come from Senator Dominic Hannigan.

He made the call during an Oireachtas debate last week on tourism and job creation.

“A Book of Kells Heritage Centre could become the key destination for visitors to the Boyne Valley and County Meath. This is a really worthwhile project which will bring jobs and increased tourist income to the county,” he said.

Senator Hannigan told the House about the refurbishment work currently being carried out on the courthouse in Kells.

“This beautiful building could become the nucleus for a heritage centre, thereby giving tourists an opportunity to learn about the Boyne Valley and the historic town of Kells,” he said.

He added: “I have heard many great ideas from people in my own county and I firmly believe we have the potential to grow employment, particularly in areas like tourism, agriculture and green energy industries. At present, all we hear is bad news but, having consulted with many people in Meath, I know we have the talent and enthusiasm to recover. We have what it takes to get our economy back into shape.”

The heritage centre in Kells has been closed for over a year because the council cannot afford the running costs. The building is also in need of urgent repairs and work started recently on repairs to the roof of the building.

The council has submitted a plan to Failte Ireland, which involved exploring the town’s link with the Book of Kells and the rebranding of the centre as the Book of Kells Heritage Centre.

The Book of Kells is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, and it is hoped in Kells that a Book of Kells Heritage Centre could attract the people who go to see it in Trinity College, Dublin, to Kells to see the town from where it came.

The heritage centre is housed in the former Kells Courthouse. The building was designed by Francis Johnston and dates from the early 1800s. The building of the courthouse was financed by the Headfort family as a gift to the people of the town.

The famous Kells Market Cross is currently located outside the centre. A ninth century high cross that was originally located at the gate of the Kells Monastery in the centre of the town, it was removed from the town centre in the mid-1990s following a traffic accident and relocated to an area in front of the heritage centre.

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