The Book of Kells – and Kilkenny’s claim

There are, as every school boy knows, towns called Kells in Counties Kilkenny, Meath and Antrim. At different times in history, all three have advanced claims to be the birthplace of the famous Book of Kells (with varying degrees of credibility).

There are, as every school boy knows, towns called Kells in Counties Kilkenny, Meath and Antrim. At different times in history, all three have advanced claims to be the birthplace of the famous Book of Kells (with varying degrees of credibility).

While Kells (Antrim) has long since conceded defeat in this battle of the towns, there is in Kells (Kilkenny) a small, determined and vociferous view keeps their claim if not triumphant at least never fully negated. They have an arguable case to make.

Local soundings recently suggest that some of that argument will be to the fore next week at a lecture on March 7 in Rothe House when Professor Rodger Stalley will address the theme “The Real Book of Kells” as part of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society’s series for 2012

His fully illustrated lecture grew out of his life-long study of the Book of Kells in Trinity College Dublin, where he was Professor of the History of Art.

He became engaged with the forms and structures of stone sculpture of the 9th and 10th century and in time began to see the correlation between this and the written illustrations in early manuscripts.

He was invited to become a member (and subsequently leader) of a research group exploring art historical issues associated with the Book of Kells.

Research has the tendency to go down avenues not necessarily anticipated when initially undertaken, that is part of its appeal.

Certainly no one anticipated that his research on the Book of Kells would completely overturn the popular belief of how the book was produced.

The image was of learned, endlessly dedicated, scholarly, elderly monks working in silence and solitary dedication for months and years in the scriptorium of a large and tranquil monastery.

After his own lengthy and detailed examination of the book he has completely turned his back on this fondly held image describing it as “clearly romanticised rubbish and simply not possible”.

So who then did produce this icon of early Irish art, numbered among the most significant creations of the first millennium and surely one of Ireland’s greatest treasures?

Professor Stalley will reveal all and argue his somewhat unsettling view on the issue next Wednesday (March 7th) in Rothe House at 8pm.

It is sure to be an evening of surprises – and that’s even before any thought is given to the contribution of those from Kells (Kilkenny) as they continue to press their claim to be the rightful birthplace of this mediaeval masterpiece.