Dating back to AD 800, the illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells is renowned for its extraordinary illustrations and ornamentations. Its intricate drawings incorporating Celtic and Christian traditions are a testament to the incredible craftsmanship of the medieval Irish monks believed to have created it while on the remote island of Iona in Scotland. Despite Viking raids, theft, and fights between various Irish and English factions, 680 astonishingly detailed vellum (calf-skin) pages of the book remain intact.
The manuscript, which tells the story of the gospels across four volumes, is on view at Trinity College’s magnificent, 18th-century Old Library. To ensure conservation, two volumes are displayed at a time, allowing visitors to view four pages during any one visit. Before viewing the book, visitors pass through an exhibition that explains the significance and importance of the manuscript and touches upon the story of its near miraculous survival. A ticket to the Book of Kells includes access to the Trinity College Library’s Long Room, where you’ll find an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and a medieval harp. Visitors can combine a tour here with a visit to nearby Dublin Castle.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Book of Kells is popular and long lines can form. Buy a ticket in advance to avoid waiting around to get inside.
- Explore independently or sign up for a guided early-access tour to skip the queue and inspect the manuscript without the crowds.
- The Old Library is wheelchair accessible.
How to Get There
Trinity College is located on the south side of Dublin city center, at the northern end of Grafton Street. Take the Luas Red line to Abbey Street, the Luas Green Line to Stephen’s Green, or the DART train to Pearse Station. Find the library entrance adjacent to Fellow’s Square, opposite the Arts Building.
When to Get There
The Book of Kells site is open daily with varying hours by season (May to September: Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 5pm and Sunday 9:30am to 5pm; October to April: Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 5pm and Sunday noon to 4:30pm). The book is a major Dublin attraction and attracts many travelers, particularly during summer. Visit in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds.
Inside the Medieval Manuscript
The manuscript’s pages are filled with colorful, elaborate drawings. Some are adorned with swirling Celtic knots, while others are covered with drawings of animals such as lions, snakes, and peacocks, as well as mythical beasts and human figures. Among the most famous pages of the medieval manuscript is the one known as Chi Rho, which is said to signify Christ.