Books and Busts in Dublin

Sufficiently fueled for the morning from the Irish breakfast and copious amounts of coffee, Dublin awaited. I was dressed in the same outfit I’d first put on in Houston, unbrushed hair, and no makeup, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a vision. My room at the Westbury wasn’t ready, so there was going to be no freshening up for several hours.

Karlin and I left the crystal-encrusted confines of the Westbury to start our Dublin exploration. Map in hand, we established our bearings and developed our plan of attack. First stop was Molly Malone, supposedly the most photographed sight in Dublin. The statue of a busty, female fishmonger (and possible lady of the evening) is a tribute to the heroine from Dublin’s unofficial anthem, “Molly Malone.” On Sunday morning, she was alone, something we realized later was a rarity.

Molly MaloneMolly Malone

Just across from Miss Molly was our next destination, Trinity College. We passed through the stone archway that led us to the brilliant square. Filled with statues of scholarly men I didn’t know at first glance, we scoured the area for signs directing us to the Book of Kells and the Old Library. As a literary nerd, I had to see the Long Room. Karlin and I scurried along the path following the signs.

TrinityTrinity College

We went in through the Literary Shop and forked over our Euros to the friendly cashier. With a scan of our tickets, we entered the “Turning Darkness into Light” exhibition. The book, dating back to the ninth century, contains elaborately hand-drawn depictions of the four Gospels and text in Latin. The book is now divided into four different volumes, but only two of those are on display at a time. Large prints hung on the walls showcasing the amazing detail and handiwork involved in creating the Book of Kells. In her world history classes, Karlin taught the Book of Kells, so she explained the history, workmanship, and symbolism to me.

Kells2WikiPage from John in the Book of Kells

We made our way to the large, glass display table where we would view what 500,000 other Dublin visitors see each year. One of the volumes was opened displaying a beautiful and ornate page, while the other volume showcased two pages of script. I was at a loss for words, which seemed to be a common reaction judging by the silence surrounding the table.

KellsBook of Kells

After sufficiently gawking at the Book of Kells, Karlin and I ventured up the stairs to the Long Room, the main chamber of the Old Library. The heavy, wood doors opened and I literarily gasped. I’d seen it in photos and on TV, but I was overwhelmed by the sight of the Long Room. Filled with 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, the Long Room, at just over 71 yards long, is nearly 3/4 the size of a football field. Imagine that! Marble busts of brilliant philosophers and writers stood guard as if protecting the oak-filled room. Said to be the finest bust is the one of Jonathan Swift, the great Irish author of Gulliver’s Travels.

Long RoomLong Room in the Trinity College Library 

I grabbed a seat on a bench and craned my neck looking up to the leather-bound books. I dreamed of ascending to the top using the old, wooden ladders. The green ropes lining the shelves were my nemesis. I wanted to crack open and breathe in the glorious smell from the old books. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a beautiful harp and was drawn to it. Made from oak and willow and strings from brass, this harp is the oldest of its kind in Ireland. Dating back to the fifteenth century, it is what the emblem of Ireland is modeled after. I would see depictions of this harp throughout my journey in Ireland.

Long Room2WikiUpstairs in the Long Room

Sufficiently high on the smell of old books, Karlin and I left the Old Library. We saw crowds lining up outside the Library Shop eagerly waiting to see what we just had. Dublin was sunny, albeit still a bit cool, but would present a perfect backdrop for the rest of our day. We nosed around campus a bit more before it was on to our next adventure

Trinity College RelfectionReflection of us in Sphere Within Sphere by Pomodoro

Karlin and I walked back through the stone arches that greeted us earlier. This time I noticed the flyers advertising rugby matches and social clubs. I wondered if the students realized how fortunate they were to study in such a storied institution.

I hoped so.

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22 Comments
  • @mrsoaroundworld
    April 17, 2012

    Hi Leah! Great post, as always! I actually hadn’t been into Trinity College when I went to Dublin (I am almost ashamed), so even learned something new! Fiona will be very proud ahhaah Ana

    • Leah Travels
      April 17, 2012

      Shame on you, Ana. You’re totally missing out. I’d go back and explore more. It really is a gorgeous campus.

  • Fiona
    April 17, 2012

    Leah, great post and you’re so lucky to have travelled with a history expert too- a lot of visitors to the book of kells wonder what all the fuss is about! Glad you appreciated it properly:)

    • Leah Travels
      April 17, 2012

      I was very lucky, Fiona. Karlin taught me all kinds of stuff both in and out of the history books. I’m in 100% agreement in knowing the story in order to appreciate it properly. I think that’s the case with so much we encounter while traveling.

  • Frank DiCesare
    April 17, 2012

    Nice post, Leah. Did you take these photos?

    • Leah Travels
      April 17, 2012

      Thanks, Frank. Photography is prohibited in the Long Hall (ask George Lucas about that) and the Book of Kells. These are Wiki photos with the link below in red.

  • D.J. - The World of Deej
    April 17, 2012

    Great post Leah….old libraries are fascinating to me. I often wonder how long books have been there, and who has picked them up before me…

    • Leah Travels
      April 17, 2012

      The cool thing about the Trinity Library is that it is entitled to every single book (for free) published in Ireland and England each year since 1801. The books in the Long Room are simply the oldest books, so think of the miles of books housed elsewhere on campus. We could get lost in all those books. Imagine that!

  • Sabrina
    April 17, 2012

    That last picture is awesome! And I love the pictures of the Trinity College Library: it looks just like you’d image a really old library to look like. very cool.

    • Leah Travels
      April 17, 2012

      Thanks, Sabrina. I really liked the last photo too. That sculpture is similar to the one found in the Vatican Museum and is by the same artist. Photography is forbidden of the Book of Kells and in the Long Room, so those are from Wikimedia. There’s a story of George Lucas wanting to use the Long Room as an inspiration for the Jedi Archives in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. He was willing to pay Trinity, but they refused. I’ve heard two accounts as to how Lucas was able to get such a close replica of the library. First, he smuggled in video taping equipment to capture the Long Room. The other is that he sent people to the library with photographic memories. I like the second story better, but who knows?

  • Kieu
    April 17, 2012

    I once listened to a history podcast about The Book of Kells – fascinating history and what it’s been through. Would love to visit Trinity College one day.. Dublin too!

    • Leah Travels
      April 17, 2012

      You must see it after listening to the podcast. It’s so interesting to put all the information together with the actual book. To know the story behind it is the only way to truly appreciate it as a work of art.

  • John
    April 18, 2012

    Wow the long room looks spectacular. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of it before this post. Beautiful pictures too.

    • Leah Travels
      April 18, 2012

      Thanks, John. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve probably seen it, or George Lucas’ version of it in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Photography is forbidden of the Book of Kells and in the Long Room, so those are Wikimedia. Often I don’t adhere to the no photography rule (ahem…Sistine Chapel), but I did this time.

  • Lisa
    April 18, 2012

    Sixteen years ago this month we were in Dublin – your post made me long to go back! We went on a guided tour of Trinity led by a student who was the most entertaining tour guide that I have ever had.

    • Leah Travels
      April 18, 2012

      Oh wow! Sixteen years ago, it does seem it’s time for you to revisit. I saw several student-led tours and would have loved to jump in on one, but there was so little time with so much to do.

  • Sophie HeadingThere
    April 20, 2012

    Leah, lovely post! There is a gorgeous animation about the writing and legend behind the Book of Kells. I watched it with a friend and expected it to be a kids film, but the animation is absolutely stunning- I’ve never seen anything quite like it and was completely enchanted! It’s called The Secret of Kells. Largely fictional, but draws on Irish mythology.

    • Leah Travels
      April 20, 2012

      Thanks for the tip. I’d love to learn more about the Book of Kells and Irish mythology. I’ve taught both Greek and Roman through literature, but never Irish. That sounds really cool. Thank you again!

      • Sophie HeadingThere
        April 26, 2012

        My pleasure! Thanks for the inspiring reads. I recognise the quote on your banner from an old folk song, Rose. We sing it in a folk group I am part of. Is that where you know it from? Such a lovely song!

        • Leah Travels
          April 26, 2012

          It is? I had no idea it was a song! Do you have a link to the lyrics or song? I’d love to hear it. I guess there’s nothing new under the sun.

          • Sophie HeadingThere
            April 26, 2012

            It’s an old Irish folk song that is sung in rounds- really beautiful. The lyrics have a similar phrase in, perhaps not exact. It’s something like this:

            Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
            will I ever see thee wed?
            I will marry at my will, sire
            At my will.

            Ding, dong, ding, dong
            Wedding bells on a April morn
            Carve my name on a moss-covered stone
            A moss-covered stone

            On, on, travelling on,
            Life is short but the road is long
            Peace and joy may come my way,
            Come my way

            Heigh, ho, nobody home
            No food nor drink nor money do I own,
            yet, I will be merry, merry, merry.

          • Leah Travels
            April 26, 2012

            That’s awesome, Sophie. Thanks so much. Songs sung in rounds are too cool. I bet it sounds beautiful.

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