Discover Where Dublin’s Literary Treasures Come to Life in Illustrious Color

Donna Wichelman Europe

A number of images come to mind when people think of Dublin, Ireland—from Guinness Ale to musical pub crawls to clam chowder to four-leaf clovers, leprechauns, and St. Patrick’s Day. Many Americans go to Ireland to discover their ancestral roots. Some people have romantic notions of rugged shorelines and pots of gold at the end of a rainbow.

While these images give one picture of Ireland, and Dublin specifically, there is also another side that represents a different picture of Ireland’s legacy—that of a unique heritage of old manuscripts and rich literary history found in its writers and poets that dates back centuries. Two museums in Dublin will captivate your attention with these wonderful treasures.

The first, located on the Trinity College campus in Dublin, takes us through the astonishing history surrounding the development of the Book of Kells—a work comprised of the most colorful and complex artistic biblical folios in a codex created in the early Medieval Age. It will grab your attention even if you aren’t a person who is much interested in these things.

Book of Kells by Bernard Meehan

A Picture of One Folio from the Book of Kells

The story of the Book of Kells begins with the arrival of Christianity in the fourth century and became a solid framework of Ireland’s culture by the fifth century. Many individuals, including St. Patrick, devoted their lives to this end. Thus, the Book of Kells is not just a work of art, but it is also a book of Ireland’s Christian history.

According to Bernard Meehan in a guide book that talks about the Book of Kells (Thames & Hudson, 1994), “It has always been difficult to write about the Book of Kells …Those who have tried to describe it betray almost a sense of disbelief, as though it had emerged from another world: ‘the work, not of men, but of angels,’ as the thirteenth-century historian Giraldus Cambrenis put it … It is the most lavishly decorated of a series of gospel manuscripts produced between the seventh and ninth centuries, when Irish art and culture flourished at home and in centres of Irish missionary activity overseas.”

Color Pigments Used in Creating the Book of Kells

In addition to getting a first-hand look at the Book of Kells, the museum shows the step-by-step process that went into creating a book, known as a codex, in Medieval times.

After taking in the beautiful Book of Kells, the museum corridors lead you to a part of the Trinity College Library, which is, in itself, a place of profound fascination with its two levels of row after row of a myriad of books.

Library, Trinity College, Dublin

The second museum, the Dublin Writers Museum, located in an eighteenth-century mansion in Dublin’s North Center, gives another side of Dublin’s literary legacy. The museum boasts an extensive collection of paraphernalia that belonged to these authors and owns many early editions of their works—many of which you may know, some you may not.

Background: Dublin Writers Museum Complex, Dublin, Ireland

Dublin Writers Museum Pamphlet

I made one discovery here, for example, that surprised and enlightened me. Irishman Bram Stoker wrote and published Dracula in 1897. His book not only became one of the most popular works of literature devoted to vampire legends at the time, but the work also instigated the entire genre in the literary world. The museum has a first edition copy. The museum holds early and first editions of other famous works, such as Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, James Joyce’s Ulysees, and Patrick Kavanaugh’s The Great Hunger.

The complex also houses The Irish Writers’ Centre, the Irish Writers’ Union, the Society of Irish Playwrights, a children’s literature society, and a restaurant.

As you travel, I hope you will join me in finding the many out-of-the-ordinary places like these two museums that will provide you with interesting insights about the world we live in. You never know when you might find your own pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.