Is the Book Of Kells boring?

Some folks sharing their feelings about Ireland touring think so

BookofkellsI join in the Ireland travel forum on Frommers social site. This morning I read comments of how the Book Of Kells is over-rated and even a waste of time to visit.

I would be the last person to say the Book Of Kells is over-rated, but I was once a stone mason on Iona for several years.

I can understand these “waste of time” comments, though. To just pop into Trinity College and line up and pay to see The Book Of Kells and Book of Durrow under a glass case does seem to be fairly meaningless the majority of people. It is because these folks are unable to grasp how the books got into the Trinity College library and many are unlikely to have done anything or been anywhere that has fired passion to be interested. For me, I am thrilled these ancient books are in Trinity College Library for all to see specimen pages of.

For most people, visiting Trinity College, the little O'Brien harp in the library, nicknamed the Brian Boru Harp, is much more interesting.

Its all in the Story

I have guided Columcille themed tours and pilgrimages. These usually start at his birthplace in Gartan, Co. Donegal then visited places of his life.

Derry is usually next stop , where Columcille’s first monastic community was founded. Then its off to the legendary and beautiful Glencolumcille SW Donegal. Next is below Ben Bulben mountain in Co. Sligo where the Battle of The Books took place. Nearby is Drumcliff where Columba monks, long after his death, returned to create a peace monastery as an apology for the battle. Where Yeats is buried today is within this monastic land.

If possible, its off on a boat trip to to Inishmurray Island where Columcille fled for forgiveness after the battle, then back on the mainland its off to sites of Co. Sligo where Columcille wandered and explored the monastic settlements in preparation for his own,

Off east to Donard in Co. Meath where Columcille took time out from his “formal” monastic studies to study with a bard, Gemmen, as he wanted to found faith based on songs and poetry before returning to studies at Donard.

Then its off to near Tullaghmore to Durrow Abbey and well, site of another story that created the Battle of The Books,

Tara Hill follows this where Columcille was in trial that sent him to Iona, a trial that caused the cursing of Tara Hill and the stopping of the Feis of Harps and Bards there.

Then its off on the way to the ferry to Scotland with a stop near Strangford Lough, to the remains of Mohill Abbey, where Columcille was alleged to have copied a book of psalms that created the first copyright law case at Tara.

In Scotland we go north into Argyll, cross the Isle Of Mull, and stay on Iona a few days. Iona is well known as where Columcille/Columba founded Christianity in Ireland and a kind of franchise of Monastic settlements in Scotland, Ireland, north of England and some places in Europe.

Returning across the Isle of Mull we visit Tiroran, the well of Oran, of the legendary druid chieftain of Iona that was "converted" to Christianity by Columcille and had himself buried alive, then miraculously appears back in story as founding a sanctuary on a beautiful part of the Isle of Mull.

Back onto the Argyll mainland, to Kilmartin, and court of Dunnadd where Columcille ordained Aiden, first Gael King of Scotland, who sat upon the Lia Fail. This stone was said to be given to Columcille to take to Scotland on his mission, which later became known as the Stone Of Scone, but we usually do not have time to visit this in Edinburgh.

Back to Ireland, we take a trip to Kells to visit the scriptorium, which is still there, where the Book Of Kells, started Iona was completed. Sadly, the visitor's centre there in Kells has closed due to lack of funds but they had an accessible copy of the Book Of Kells.

Then as we returned to Dublin we visit Skreen where Columcille's artifacts kept after his death and the Book Of Kells found their last known safe resting place.

After all that, you may understand how the Book of Kells can become a passion and a "must see".

The Book of Kells, along with the Book Of Durrow, become a symbol of all of those stories we pick up on tour and in pilgrimage. Our travellers build up feelings and passions of why and how they were created and how they arrived in Dublin at Trinity.

This is when a visit to the Book Of Kells in Trinity College becomes a very special visit.

Can a story create a vacation?

These days few visitors to Ireland, particularly from the USA, are willing to budget for a 14 to 21 day pilgrimage tour that this involves.

Lately, I have been facing a lot of challenges from inquirers wanting to cover in 5 to 7 days what visitors stretched over 14 to 21 days a few years ago.

There is nothing wrong with a 3, 5 or 7 day vacation, but a different vision of how to use these days to the full in Ireland I feel has to be worked out, otherwise its not just the Book Of Kells that can seem boring.

I feel a vacation should be a fantasy, and that fantasy is not a luxury but is as essential as sleeping. In ancient hunter gatherer days, and in ancient farming days, the people arranged their lives to get what they need through a few days then take a few days off. Most tribes were clever enough to be where food was plentiful and shelter was easy. They took more days off than worked.

Today we seem to have drifted into a lifestyle where people work two or three jobs taking up almost all of their waking time, and sleeping time becomes less and less.

Our heart and story is drained from us and the worst of this is the emptiness, depression, addiction, and dark interpretations of living that take over when our story is lost.

The worst is that when beauty is in front of us we risk not seeing it, feeling it, touching it, smelling it, and we have lost our fantasy relationship and our heart relationship to fit the beauty into our story. We simply say “it’s boring”, “couldn’t see anything in that”, “waste of time”, etc.

Our “Waste Of Time”

“Waste of time” is a phrase I am hearing more and more of from our visitors to Ireland. Fortunately, this is not from the people I have been guiding. Often this is from folks who cancelled my services to save money, still go to the places I suggest for an itinerary, and wonder what the “fuss” is about.

I have had folks climb to our local Carrowkeel Cairns and email me later saying, “well that was a waste of time, not much up there, piles of stones, bit of a view maybe, wish we had been doing something else” – which often means travelling more tarmac to get back to the next “waste of time”.

However, when folks join us on our day of climbing Carrowkeel cairns, hear some stories, shown why and how they were constructed, why they are there, and then guided in and out of them, followed by lunch in our traditional cottage followed by our labyrinth walk then Claire with songs and harp …… we then get emails back saying it was “their best day in Ireland”. Why?

Ireland has endless ancient sites to visit, loads of restored traditional cottages, several labyrinths and several harpists, singers and traditional music people. Why can a visit to us stand out? One word – “story”

If folks in Ireland visit places without a story to stir their passion, “boring” and “waste of time” becomes quite verbal.

One group I took to Hennigan’s Heritage in Co. Mayo arrived early and Tom Hennigan was busy attending to a business. As we waited in his preserved family cottage the group got restless with comments like, “why are we here, looks like a pile of junk we could see anywhere, looks like a waste of time John” and even, “can we leave and go to somewhere more interesting?”.

Ten minutes later, Tom appeared with his usual warm welcome along with a surprise of something even more welcoming, (use your imagination), and went into his stories of his collection. After two hours finishing with a cup of tea and home made scones I could not prise these people away from Hennigan’s Heritage !!!

What folks take home from Ireland

Many folks come to me with a list

Cliffs of Moher
Bunratty Castle
Rock of Cashel
Blarney Stone
Guinness Brewery Tour etc

What do they take home?

Glowing memories of

sean nos singer Sean O’Daly who also bought them a pint
the kindness of the children at Ballaghboy Lodge farm who helped their mother serve dinner
the breaking surf and songs of seabirds along the empty Mayo beach, name forgotten
the baby foxes playing on the dirt track to Deerpark court cairn
the antics of the cattle in the road being driven to another field
that delicious home made ice cream at Old head harbour
and I must add the warmth and love from Claire’s songs and harp too.

and very few memories of the “must see and do” places listed before arrival,

which were a “waste of time” and “boring”anyway :-)

I strongly feel story and time to enjoy it are the ingredients for a beautiful Ireland vacation rather than working through a list of places to go and stressing over a schedule to accomplish this.

Click here to talk to us about having a story fantasy time in Ireland.


  1. John, we did not find the Book of Kells to be boring! We waited for over an hour last year, due to the long line of visitors and in the rain, to enter T/College; I heard similar comments but from only a handful of people - the majority of folks were thrilled to see the Book Of Kells :-)

  2. There is no proof that the Book of Kells began in Iona.
    There is no Scriptorium in Kells : it's more likely to have been an oratory.
    There are a few fanciful bits in the 'pilgrimage' stories.
    The Book of Kells ought to be in the National Museum ~ not being exploited by TCD for money.
    Columba did not bring Christianity to Ireland, or England, or Scotland.
    Columba had a monastic site at Kells before leaving Ireland(6th Century).

  3. Shame the last Anonymous did not leave a name or expand on these very interesting comments.

    Not much proof about anything from the monastic period though from the time of Columcille it does seem the scribing industry commenced in Ireland. As a mason on Iona for over 10 years the story tols there is of the Book Of Kells commencing there and sometime during the 70s or early 80s I believe the Book Of Kells was briefly in exhibition on Iona, or was it the copy that ended up in Kells. I think it came to Iona in the early 80s just after I left.

    Interesting about the old building in Kells. The lady with the key calls it a scriptorium and my response was that I would find it awfully uncomfortable to scribe there.

    Pilgrimage stories are what you call them, "stories" and I personally believe we learn more from stories than we do from archived works. I feel that archived work becomes history and history is usually used for agendas and control. A good example is the Life of Columcille by Adamson.

    I don't think anyone in the monastic period brought Christianity to Ireland. They brought scriptures that were scribed. Each monastery had a different definition of how to live out the teachings of the scriptures merged with the faiths already existing. I believe Columcille once said, "Jesus is my druid". I do not remember where that is from as i also believe the word "druid" was not used at that time but a different word for the spiritual teachers of the time, maybe "deravid" or the welsh "derywydd"

    I personally have my doubts of Columcille ever having a monastic site at Kells. I feel that was started by monks from Iona after his death. I feel Durrow and Derry were all there was founded by him. However, from what is written your theory is also as strong as mine so I think its a choice of interpretation.

    Thanks for the comment though as it really stirred my interest again :-)


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