In Honor of St. Patrick's Day : Book of Kells

To get a taste of how to identify Irishness in census records, please read last year's 16 March and 17 March blog entries. As the entries show, identifying national origin and ethnicity of ancestors is not always an easy task.

Today's entry has nothing to do with the history of Irish in Beaufort County, but it does have to do with my travels in Ireland since the summer of 1976. During that first trip I met my future in-laws, visited more archaeological sites than I can remember, learned to drink hot tea with milk, [I still think that Guinness tastes nasty] and saw the Book of Kells in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin. Many folks who visit Ireland seldom get out of the pubs or off the golf courses. Not so with me. I am a dedicated cultural heritage tourist who gets a thrill from seeing old books, old rocks, medieval churches, and overgrown cemeteries. The Book of Kells falls into the "old books" category.

It is somewhat ironic that St. Patrick and the Book of Kells are most readily identified as "Irish," when in fact neither truly were.

St. Patrick was a slave to an Irishman for a time. Sources vary on his birthplace (some say Scotland, some say Wales, some say northern England) but definitely he was not an Irishman. [For a charming cartoon, narrated by a young girl with a thick Dublin accent, watch this video.]

The Book of Kells was likely mostly created on Iona, a remote island off the west coast of Scotland probably around the year 800 A.D. by monks of St. Collum Cille. (AKA St. Columba) [As an aside, he is purported to have sighted the Loch Ness Monster on 22 August 565.] St. Collum Cille, born in what became County Donegal, Ireland, founded a monastery on the remote island of Iona in 561 A.D.

Trinity College, Dublin, Eire (Eire is the official name of Ireland) owns and exhibits the Book of Kells. You will notice that the staff at Trinity College Dublin's Old Library change the pages on display frequently. This is to minimize damage caused by light exposure to the fragile volumes.

The Book of Kells and similarly illustrated manuscripts of 7th- and 8th-century England and Ireland are known for their entrancingly intricate artwork—geometric designs so precise that in some places they contain lines less than half a millimeter apart and nearly perfectly reproduced in repeating patterns. Trinity College Dublin has digital images of some of the illuminated manuscripts online. The designs are a wonder to behold.

John Cisne,a Cornell University paleontologist, says that the monks evidently trained their eyes to cross above the plane of the manuscript so they could visually superimpose side-by-side elements of a replicated pattern, and thereby create 3-D images. More

For additional images from the Book of Kells, click here, here, and here.

Entries about the Book of Kells can be found in the online New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia and the online Encyclopedia Britannica available through our library website.

You can view a video about the Book of Kells from the Today Show broadcast on 17 March 2009. [The traditional Irish music is sort of nifty, too.]

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

[Another irony is that we celebrate on the date that St. Patrick died 17 March 461 rather than the date he was born which remains unknown]. Perhaps you've heard that Sigmund Freud stated that "This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."

Having been in wedded bliss with an Irishman for 32 years, I believe it!

About the Author

Grace Cordial has been responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Beaufort District Collection at the Beaufort County Library since 1999.  The Beaufort District Collection exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of our part of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Besides the research room, Cordial manages the “Virtual BDC:” the BDC web pages, the Online Obituary Index, two digital collections, a new BDC.BCL Facebook page, and the Connections blog.  
Among her duties is to coordinate or present programs about local history, Gullah culture, and our coastal environment, including occasional instructional sessions about how to perform historical and/or genealogical research.