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The Book of Kells

Ireland's most treasured medieval manuscript, dating back to the 9th century.

TravelCurious Tip

The Old Library of Trinity College, where the Book of Kells is housed, imposes limits on the number of visitors who can enter at one time, which can cause a queue. Be sure to get there early on busy days!

The Book of Kells is perhaps the finest historical artefact anywhere in Ireland. Created in roughly the year 800 by a tireless group of monks, it consists of 340 sheets of the highest quality vellum (prepared calf skin) on which are transcribed the four gospels, together with subsidiary texts and numerous elaborate illustrations.


The Emigration to Ireland

The origins of the book have been subject to considerable debate over the years, and there are at least five competing theories regarding its creation. Probably work on it started in a monastery on the small Scottish island of Iona. The issue then becomes confused because the location was plundered by Vikings in 806, leaving dozens dead, and after which the resident monks left for Kells in Ireland. How much of the text was finished by the time they moved is impossible to determine. Either way, it remained in Kells Abbey for centuries, miraculously escaping the repeated Viking raids on the Abbey, and eventually found its way to the Old Library of Trinity College, Dublin, where it has been on display since the mid-19th century.


Unprecedented Complexity

Looking at the illuminated manuscript today, you cannot help but feel a sense of awe at the intricacy and density of the illustrations and text. The calligraphy is extremely impressive, in the “insular majuscule” style, and appears to have been written by three different scribes. There are ten full-page images of then-unprecedented complexity, including one of the Temptation of Christ and another of the Arrest of Jesus. They all employ a far wider range of colours than was typical at the time, and the Book of Kells’ imagery is particularly noted for its combination of minute detail and bolder, larger-scale compositions. For anyone interested in history, this is not to be missed.



Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Dublin
General Post Office
The capital's last great Georgian public building, and the headquarters of the Easter Rising in 1916.
Ha’penny Bridge
An elegant icon of Dublin, the first pedestrian bridge to cross the Liffey.
Temple Bar
A lively cultural and creative quarter on the south bank of the River Liffey.
Trinity College
Ireland's most prestigious university, retaining a tranquil collegiate atmosphere in the midst of the city.
Dublin City Hall
A masterpiece of the civic Georgian architecture for which Dublin is renowned.
Irish Houses of Parliament
Today a branch of the Bank of Ireland, the old Irish Parliament buildings were a radical Neoclassical creation.

Related Tours

Dublin’s Literati: a Walking Tour
Ireland is famed for its rolling landscapes and tranquility, so it is no surprise that many famous literary figures grew up in Ireland, and based their novels of such settings.  

  • Visit the famed Trinity College Library where notable Dubliners, like Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, studied
  • Wander Merrion Square, where dozens of famous Dubliners called home, including Yeats and Wilde
  • Stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral where Jonathan Swift is buried
  • Stop for a pint in Davy Byrne's pub, famous for its appearance in James Joyce's Ulysses
Dublin: City of Literature

UNESCO recognises Dublin as a City of Literature, reflecting the city’s rich and varied history of writers and writing. During your tour, you will meander  through the streets, libraries and book stores woven into the stories and lives of Ireland's most  celebrated Irish thinkers. From Nobel Literature Prize winners WB Yeats, GB Shaw and Samuel Beckett to its beloved James Joyce, Dublin is brimming with stories of its favourite authors waiting to be heard. 

One of your tour's highlights includes a visit to the famed Trinity College campus, Ireland's first and most acclaimed university. Here you will learn about the college’s numerous treasures, as well as lesser known tales of some of its most renowned alumni, like Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde.  Your campus tour culminates with a special visit  to the Old Library where an ancient Irish masterpiece, the Book of Kells, can be seen. 

Ireland’s Literary Greats


In Merrion Square, where many houses have plaques detailing the rich and famous who once lived in the area, you will learn more about the life of Dublin’s most famous son, the writer and dramatist Oscar Wilde. At St Patrick’s Cathedral, you will hear about the illustrious writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, who had a lifelong connection to the cathedral's Dean. Whilst pausing at his tombstone, you will hear about some of Swift's triumphs and greatest controversies. 

Next, find yourself stepping back into the 18th century with a visit to Marsh’s Library. Unchanged for three centuries, this perfectly preserved library of the early Enlightenment—with its original oak bookcases— houses more than 25,000 rare and obscure books.

Lastly, your literary tour of Dublin would not be complete without a visit to Sweny’s Pharmacy and a literary pub such as Davy Byrne’s. Both made appearances in James Joyce’s Ulysses and are bursting with interesting tidbits about the famous novelist and poet.

We built this tour because Dublin played an influential role in the writings of many renowned literary figures. 
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