Irish Studies

The Book of Kells

In 1990 the D'Arcy McGee Chair of Irish Studies was presented with a facsimile copy of the Book of Kells - 1485 were made by Faksimile Verlag of Lucerne, Switzerland, for worldwide sale and distribution. The copy was purchased by The Charitable Irish Society of Halifax, which raised the money through public subscription. A list of the generous donors is appended.

This facsimile copy of the Book of Kells, made by a special laser printing process, is an extremely close reproduction of the original. The copy is an exact reflection of the original from the irregular page sizes to the worm holes eaten through the ancient vellum. The copy is now on permanent display in the lobby of the Patrick Power Library.

The Great Book of the Gospels of Columcille was the name by which this work of art from the Dark Ages was known until the 17th century. It is believed the manuscript was made in the monastery of Saint Columcille on the Island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland in the ninth century. Little is known of it before its being noticed in the Annals of Ulster in the year 1006 (recte 1007) when it was reported as having been stolen from the western sacristy of the Great Stone Church at Ceanannus Mór (Kells) in Ireland. It was later reported as having been found minus its gold and bejeweled metalwork covers—doubtless the reason for its theft.

How this stunningly beautiful piece of illuminated work got to Kells from Iona is largely unknown. There is a reference in the Annals of Ulster to the minna (or treasures) of the Monastery of Iona being taken to Ireland during the Viking raids on Iona of the 9th century. Kells was a daughter house of the monastery at Iona and it is generally believed that the treasures of Iona including the Great Gospel Book were lodged at Kells for safe keeping.

After its recovery in 1007, the Great Gospel Book of Columcille remained at Kells until 1654 when the Governor of the Town of Kells sent the treasure to Dublin for safekeeping during the Cromwellian invasion. In 1661 Henry Jones, formerly Anglican Bishop of Clogher and Secretary to Cromwell's army, presented the sacred object to the library of Trinity College, Dublin, where it remains to this day known as the Book of Kells.

Research on the Book of Kells has revealed a good deal of information about the physical aspects of the manuscript from the kinds of pigments and inks which form its images and illuminations to the vellum leaves on which the embellished gospel test is inscribed. Strangely, the sophistication of scholarly and scientific investigation has tended to enhance rather than diminish the aura of mystery which surrounds the origins of the “Chief Glory of the Western World”. Viewing its intricately designed pattern and so called “carpet pages” today makes the viewer stand in something like the religious awe it was originally intended to inspire.

The aura of the Book of Kells attracted a gifted Cape Breton artist, Yvette Muise, to view the intricate beauty of its leaves in 1991. A day spent with the book in the Library at Saint Mary's convinced Yvette to execute a tapestry based on one of its pages, the one displaying the symbols of the Four Evangelists. Over a period of years she worked out a design, selected wools and appropriate dyes for them and began making her work. The result is a stunningly beautiful wall hanging which the Bank of Montreal acquired and generously donated to the Chair of Irish Studies. It now hangs behind the display case containing the Book of Kells facsimile at Saint Mary's University, a modern embodiment of the spirit of this book from the Dark Ages of Europe.

Contributors to the Book of Kells
Dr. James C.W. Ahiakpor Harold G. Beazley Dr. Michael Bergin
Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company of Canada Edmund P. Boyd James Braiden
W.A. Bridgeo Daniel Brownlow Patrick Brownlow
Michael Brownlow Genevieve T. Brownlow Timothy J. Brownlow
Sean G. Brownlow Sean Brownlow Burgess Transfer and Storage
Peter and Laura Butler J. Clair Callaghan D.O. Carrigan
D.K. Cone Mr. A. Connolly Harold P. Connor
Richard W. Cregan Donald E. Curren Brian and Lindsay Cuthbertson
Ervin Doak Colin and Carol Dodds The Dominion Group of Canada
Frank Dougherty Mel. A. Earley Patricia A. Fitzgerald
Brian Flemming, Q.C. F.H. Flinn Ltd Halifax Dartmouth Bridge Commission
Charles H. Harvey Charles H. Harvey C.B. Harvey
Lawerence J. Hayes J. Elliott Hudson Justice F.B. William Kelly
John L. and M. Theresa Laffin Michael J. Larsen Guy A. Le Pierres
Lydon Lynch Associates Ltd. Roger MacDonald Donald F. MacLean
B.L. Maloney James A. McCarthy Robert McDonnell
Alexa McDonough Harold F. McGee Jr. Howard L. Meek
Arthur P. Monahan Wilfred P. Moore, QC James H. Morrison
J.P. Morrow Dermot and Lorraine Mulrooney Judith B. Munroe-Mills
N.J. Murphy Dr. D. Brian O'Brien John J. O'Brien
Victor and Madeline O'Connor Cecil J. O'Hearn O'Leary Associates Inc.
O'Malley Electric Limited O'Neil, Scriven and Associates F. Kevin O'Neill
Paul O'Regan O'Regan Motor Ltd. Ocean Contractors Limited
Ruth Oland Pebble Productions Inc. Dr. Shripad G. Pendse
Capt. J. Kevin Power (RCN Ret'd) Richard W.C. and Ivy Power Dr. J. H. Quigley
Reed Stenhouse Limited John G. Riley Samuel D. Ross
Denis Ryan Kevin S. Ryan John P. Savage
Lloyd P. Shaw Yash and Poorni Singh Reverend Father William T. Slaney
J.J. and Theresa Spearns Emero Stiegman Allan T. Stockall
T.J. Tasse and D.P. Foley- Switzer Austin R. Tobin Thomas L. Trainor
Charles A. Vaughan J. Philip Vaughan Earl G. Walsh
G.M. Walsh William T. Withers Wilfred F. Young
George F.W. Young Zurich Insurance Company