This is the last in my series about Ireland. I have a lot more material I'd like to share with you, but I will save it for a rainy, Ireland-like day.
After several wonderful beauty-filled days in west Ireland, we left for Dublin. On the way, we stopped at the ruins of a monastery and holy site called Clonmacnoise, an awkward but fun word to say, pronounced just like it's spelled.
Founded in 544, Clonmacnoise became a major center of religion, education, and trade because of its location on the River Shannon and a major east-west route in central Ireland. Through the centuries, three different churches were built there, but what makes it even more compelling is that it's the site of three famous high crosses, which are carved out of stone, possibly in the 9th century.
Clonmacnoise was attacked repeatedly by the English, the Irish, the Vikings, and the Normans through the centuries until it finally fell for the last time to the English in 1552. I admired their tenacity to continue rebuilding, to offer light in the darkness as well as education and a (somewhat) safe place for people who settled nearby.
It rained steadily on us and we all got pretty wet, even with hoods and an umbrella. Even so, I enjoyed our time there. We took a ton of photos, and the crosses and stone ruins stand out stark against the cloudy, gray sky. After buying a couple of souvenirs, we squished our way back to the car and the road to Dublin.
In Dublin, we stayed in the historic area and did our touring on foot. On Friday and Saturday mornings, we had four-hour walking tours with our guide, Brendan, who looked like a young Tom Cruise. He was very serious at first (and throughout) but we asked a lot of questions and made some jokes and he loosened up a bit. Soon, I was as full of Irish historical facts as I was brown bread.
The first day we walked 15,000 steps or 7 miles. I was so tired that as soon as we got back to our room, I laid down and took at 30-minute snooze. I did the same thing on the second day, too. When I woke up, I felt refreshed and ready to go again.
We saw many historic sites and museums that documented the city’s history during the time of the Vikings in the 800s all the way through the 20th century’s Easter Rising, an armed rebellion in 1916, and Ireland’s eventual independence from England in 1949.
Of all the wonderful sites we saw in Dublin, my favorite place was Trinity College, established by Queen Elizabeth in 1592. Trinity College Library, the largest in Ireland, is home to two famous sites I really wanted to see: the Book of Kells and the Long Room.
I was most excited about The Book of Kells, a masterpiece of calligraphy and illumination. Produced around 800 AD, it contains the four Gospels in Latin as well as some other biblically-related texts. Along with the scripture text, it contains incredibly intricate images of Christ, the disciples, plants and animals, Celtic knots, and initials. Lavishly decorated, it is considered by many to be Ireland’s finest national treasure.
The Book of Kells is housed on the bottom floor of the Library. It is set inside a glass case in a small room. Two of the four folios, or bound volumes of the work, are on display at a time: one shows a major illustration and the other shows typical text pages.
A large tour group came in when we did, so we had no hope of seeing the book unless we pressed in with everyone else. It was hot and too close for comfort, and more people kept coming in, so we didn’t stay for long. I knew from other friends who've seen the Book of Kells that it would be very crowded, so I wasn't as disappointed as I might have been.
Still, I wanted a holy moment with God and His beautiful Word, artistically rendered in this centuries-old masterpiece. But in reality I was hot, tired, thirsty, and anxious to get to the gift shop so I could at least buy a likeness to study afterward.
The holy moment came later, and now, too, as I think about how easily the book could have been destroyed by marauders of the monastery where it was housed. A small number of scribes and artists gave their gifts to create it, and no doubt there were monks who gave their lives to protect it. Yet God protected it all this time from thieves, fire, the elements, pests, and more. Through the Book of Kells and many other manuscripts and fragments found in other places, God's Word has survived through the ages, and it will continue to do so: "The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever" (NASB). Nothing and no one can stamp it out. Amen to that.
Upstairs in Trinity Library is the famous Long Room. At nearly 65 metres in length, it holds 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books and is one of the most impressive libraries in the world. In addition to the books, marble busts of famous philosophers, writers, and college dignitaries line the room. Other important items are one of the few surviving copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland and a harp from the 15th century that became the model for the symbol of Ireland.
I loved the Long Room--me and dozens of other tourists--and I wanted to find a quiet nook somewhere to sit down with an antique book. But we had more history to learn and more historic sites to visit, and so we pressed on through the rest of our adventure in Ireland.
Hope you’ve enjoyed my series about the "emerald isle." Now it's your turn: If you have been to Ireland too, what were some of your favorite sites? If you haven’t, where was your most memorable vacation? I’d love to hear all about it.