1972: Ireland Votes For Change

“1972: Ireland Votes For Change” entrance

On the 11th October 2017, Emeritus Professor J.J. Lee launched UCC Library’s latest exhibition 1972:Ireland Votes For Change.  The exhibition, curated by Emer Twomey and Emma Horgan (Archivists, UCC Library) marks the donation of the Neville Keery Collection to University College Cork, and the 45th anniversary of the 3 Irish referendums of 1972.

Mr. Neville Keery, Prof. J.J. Lee and UCC President Patrick O’Shea at the launch of “1972: Ireland Votes For Change”.



These democratic events provided for the third, fourth and fifth amendments to the Irish Constitution which sparked the beginning of a period of enormous political and societal changed for Ireland.

  • The third amendment provided for the entry of Ireland into the European Communities (EC).
  • The fourth amendment allowed for the lowering of the voting age to 18 from 21.
  • The fifth amendment removed the reference of the special position of the Catholic Church under article 44 of the constitution.

Mr. Neville Keery at the launch of “1972: Ireland Votes For Change”



Mr. Keery is a former Irish Senator and Senior European Commission Official. In 1972 Senator Keery was appointed to Fianna Fáil Headquarters (the party in government at that time) as Research Officer and Secretary to the “Into Europe”, “Votes at 18” and “Article 44” Referendum Campaigns.




Using material primarily from the Keery Collection the exhibition includes original documents, publications, photographs, newspaper front pages, quotes, and campaign material from the referendums reproduced on the walls and displayed in exhibition cases.

Examples of archival material reproduced for display in the exhibition.

The December 1972 referenda ‘Votes at 18’ and ‘Article 44’ wall


Neville’s interview clips on a touchscreen in exhibition space


Visitors can view clips from an exclusive interview by Dr. Theresa Reidy (Department of Government, UCC) with Mr. Keery filmed in UCC. Topics include his early career in politics; his involvement in campaign planning i.e. ‘the Taoiseach’s tour’ of the country in which Jack Lynch travelled around Ireland for a ‘Yes’ vote during the “Into Europe” May 1972 referendum; the effects of the December 1972 Referendum on Irish Society; and he finishes with his thoughts on the issues facing Irish society today e.g. Brexit and the future of the European Union.



Other interesting additions throughout the exhibition are specially commissioned multi-disciplinary opinions and recollections from not only contemporaries of 1972, but current day commentators and organisations, reflecting how the referendums effected Irish Society.

Commentary of Bryan McMahon “It was a frenzy. No platform was safe.”

These include (in no particular order);

  • John Bruton (Former Taoiseach, EU Ambassador to US and Leader of Fine Gael)
  • Ruairí Quinn (Labour Party Deputy and Senator 1976-2016)
  • Bryan McMahon (Former Professor of Law, UCC)
  • Alan Dukes (Former Minister and Leader of Fine Gael)
  • Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter (Professor of Modern Irish History, UCD)
  • Dr. Theresa Reidy (Dept. of Government, UCC)
  • Dr. Mervyn O’Driscoll (School of History, UCC)
  • John Fitzgerald (Adjunct Professor, TCD)
  • Matt Dempsey (Chairman, The Agricultural Trust)
  • Con Lucey, IFA Economist 1974-2008 (Irish Farmers Association)
  • Marie O’Toole, ICA National President (Irish Countrywomen’s Association), and
  • Jack O’Connor, SIPTU General President

We are extremely grateful to all the contributors for their comments.

Original items on display including a ‘Euro Baby’ medallion (centre shelf)


It’s mentioned earlier in the blog that there are original items on display in two exhibition cases at the entrance to the space. When you visit take a closer look at one of the cases and you will see a silver medallion. When researching content for the exhibition we came across the little-known fact Ireland commissioned ‘Euro Baby’ medallions that were awarded to all children born in Ireland on 1st January 1973, the date Ireland officially joined the EEC. We immediately knew we had to try to track down a medallion for display.


With the help of the European Commission Representation in Ireland Office we were put in contact with a ‘Euro Baby’, Úna Downey, who generously loaned us her medallion for the exhibition.

Close-up of Úna’s ‘Euro Baby’ medallion


The outside wall of “1972: Ireland Votes For Change”.


During our research of the Neville Keery Collection for the exhibition we came across a poster from the Irish Council of European Movement (ICEM, now the European Movement Ireland). With their permission we reproduced a number of images from it to evoke the contemporary style of 1972 – notably the ‘Making up your mine Yes/No’ dice, a pencil used to mark X for your vote (both these items physically stand out from the wall), and “Vote Ireland in – or count Ireland out!” poster, as seen on the outside wall of the exhibition space. The ICEM poster is also on display in one of the exhibition cases.


We are extremely grateful for all the assistance we received from the European Commission Representation in Ireland Office, European Movement Ireland, the Audiovisual Service of the European Commission, the Downey family, Kevin Healion (Archivist currently listing the Neville Keery Collection), our colleagues in UCC both in the library and the wider campus, and finally, to Neville Keery, for his advice, encouragement and support, without which there would not be an exhibition.

His contribution to the success of the referendum campaigns and to political life is summed up perfectly in the commentary provided by Mr. John Bruton:

“Neville Keery’s career spans a very interesting period in Irish and European History. He supported Ireland’s entry to the European Common Market in the referendum on that topic in 1972…In many ways Ireland has changed for the better since then, although material advance has been accompanied by increasing and debilitating cynicism about politics. In contrast the life of Neville Keery is that of an idealist who sees politics as a vocation of service to others.”

The exhibition is running until Friday 15th December 2017, and is located on the ground floor of the Boole Library, main campus University College Cork.  Admission is free and all are welcome during the opening hours of the Boole Library.

By the way, you can hear Emma and I being interviewed about the exhibition on Shush Radio – sounds from UCC Library (broadcast Mondays 11-12pm on UCC’s 98.3fm). Thanks to our colleagues Martin O’Connor and Ronan Madden for highlighting the exhibition on their show.

Finally, the Neville Keery Collection is currently being listed and we plan on opening it to the public for research in January 2018.

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HI6091: Work Placement in Special Collections

The River-side welcomes this guest post from Kate O’Brien and Donncdha Carroll, students on the 2016/2017 MA in Medieval History in UCC, that includes the HI6091: Skills in Medieval History module. HI6091 is taught by Dr Malgorzata  Krasnodębska-D’Aughton, recently selected for a President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching 2016/2017 and Elaine Harrington. The module featured in the Award application as an illustration of the teaching approach that combines traditional skills of a historian with a creative use of technology. Part of the HI6091 module, Dr D’Aughton designed, includes a specifically tailored work placement that focuses on public outputs. Donncdha Carroll and Kate O’Brien spent six weeks in Special Collections providing collection care on St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Library Collection and creating a finding aid for an uncatalogued collection of Photostats.  Kate and Donncdha had previously written posts for The River-side as part of The Book of Kells student exhibition hosted on The River-side.



Earlier this year UCC Library’s website updated its look making its easier to navigate. As part of that update the Special Collections’ team worked to make available more information about the collections including the finding aids required to access newspapers, microform and manuscripts on microform. Stay tuned to the Special Collections Guides for these as they’re released over the next few months! I asked Kate and Donncdha to write about their favourite book from St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Library Collection that they worked on and secondly to explain what Photostats were and how they could be used.


About St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Library

St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Collection was founded in 1720 by Bishop Peter Browne (1665-1735) and it was purchased by the University College Cork Library in 1984. The private collections of Archdeacon Pomeroy (1725), Bishop Crow of Cloyne (1727) and Bishop Stopford (1805) form the bulk of the collection which consists of c3,000 volumes. The main subject areas are theology and ecclesiastical matters, but the classics, history, literature and science are also represented. Most of the books were printed in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, chiefly in London and Dublin. There are three small collections of pamphlets dealing with: (i) the Popish plot, and religious controversy, etc of the last quarter of the 17th century, chiefly English printing; (ii) Political and miscellaneous tracts of the early 18th century, chiefly Dublin printing; (iii) Irish pamphlets of the last decades of the 18th century, tithe war, economics, politics etc. Languages present in the collection include:French, German, Italian, Latin, Irish Gaelic, Greek, Dutch and Spanish. For more information on the collection see:


St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Library Collection: Kate’s Favourite Book

My favourite book that I came across in this collection was the sixth and last volume in the set of A Collection of Theological Tracts in Six Volumes by Richard Watson (A.4.27d v.6). The book was published in 1785 (M.DCC.LXXXV). Richard Watson (1737-1816) was an Anglican Bishop of Llandaff and a theologian from Cumbria. He was a key member in the Revolution Controversy which was the late 18th century British debate regarding the French Revolution.

Examples of the holes where the fragments of bullets were.

One of the reasons why this book is so interesting are the marks in it. Fragments of bullets have been found embedded in this copy of the book, along with the holes and other damage caused by the impact of shooting. Although not much is known about how this volume came to be in such a condition, it is certainly a unique example of a book that witnessed some turbulent event.  What first alerted us to the unusual marks within the book was a small paper bookmark, which simply had the word ‘shot’ written on it and was sticking out from between the leaves. After doing research on the history of the volume and collection, I couldn’t find any further information that would give us a clue to help solve the mystery that this book presents.


St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Library Collection: Donncdha’s Favourite Book

The book I have chosen as my favourite from S. Fin Barre’s Cathedral Collection is Reginald Scot’s 1584 treatise The Discouerie of Witchcraft. The text deals with alleged instances of witchcraft and magic, which the author questions and explains as scientific phenomena or tricks that are used to make people believe in the dark arts. Scot is decidedly dismissive of the idea of magic, viewing belief in magic as unchristian. There are a number of reasons why this book sparked my interest.

Firstly why would this text be in the Cathedral’s collection? A preliminary examination suggests that the book is out of place among religious texts and treatises on the Scripture. However, further examination reveals that the book was part of the collection due to the fact that it dismisses magic and witchcraft and explains why the author does not believe they exist. The treatise’s Christian stance fits well with the general character of the collection. The book is also interesting as a text seen in its contemporary context. At the time, magic was not regarded as a superstition of the past. One of the leading advocates and writers on the dangers of witchcraft was King James VI.

Signatures on the title page of The Discouerie of Witchcraft

Secondly, what I found interesting on a more human level is the presence of many signatures on the title page of this particular copy of the text. The signature of a certain Thomas is repeated a number of times along with another signature that seems to spell out ‘Gwyllym.’ The name ‘John’ is signed. These names add a personal dimension to the history of the volume. I attempted to find out who the signatures belonged to in order to track the history of the book. The volume could have belonged to a Welsh family that moved to Herefordshire where we find a Thomas Gwyllym in 1722 and another Thomas Gwyllym who died in 1742. While it is uncertain if the two names are the same person they most definitely the same family.

For more about The Discouerie of Witchcraft see Dr. Edel Semple’s blog post about Shakespeare’s historical sources. Dr Semple is based in the School of English, UCC and her post was based on a lecture she gave as part of Culture Night 2016.


About Photostats

The term ‘Photostat’ was a trade name and generic title for photographing documentation directly on to sensitised paper which produced a clear and easily readable image. Using photostats as a method of documenting historical material such as manuscripts was first pioneered by Lodewyk Bendikson (1875-1953). When a Photostat image is first taken it is produced as a negative (white on black). It is then photographed again to produce a positive (black on white) copy of the graphic material which uses sensitised paper and prints as a readable text image rather than reversed. The image captures the manuscript’s folio in high quality making it easily legible and as such a useful tool of research when the original manuscript is not available. In comparison to microfilm photostats can be used anywhere and do not require the same level of equipment. In cases where microfilm is not suitable and the original text is not available, photostats act as an excellent research tool. An example of an undated photostat is [Proclamation against Archbishop Rinuccini].

Kate’s Favourite Photostat – RIA 23 E 29

One of the most interesting Photostats that I found during the cataloguing process was a Photostat of the Royal Irish Academy manuscript Ms 23 E 29 also known as The Book of Fermoy. The manuscript was made between the 14th and 16th centuries in Castletownroche, outside Fermoy, Co. Cork. According to the Royal Irish Academy online catalogue, it was made by several scribes including Domhnall Ó Leighin, Uilliam Ó hIcedha, Dáibith Ó Duib and Torna Uí Mhaoil Chonaire. It contains material relating to the Roche family, lives of saints, medical treatises, mythological tales, genealogies, historical tracts, a fragment of Lebor Gabala (The Book of Invasions) and poetry.

A note within the Photostat claims that the manuscript contains the earliest surviving manuscripts of Finbarr’s vernacular Life, a statement which upon further research I could corroborate. This note also informs us that the manuscript was copied by Domhnall O’Leighin between 1450 and 1460, for David, the son of Maurice Roche, who was the head of the Roche lordship in north-east Cork. Unfortunately, due to the loss of a folio in the manuscript, the copy of the Life is only fragmentary.

RIA 23 E 29 or The Book of Fermoy

This Photostat, like many others that I have listed during the MA work placement, presents the text written in Irish and in cursive handwriting, making it hard to read. Yet, a good amount of information both printed and online about the RIA manuscript, makes it easier to examine and follow the text on the Photostat. There are a few pieces of decoration throughout the text, mostly embellishments of capital letters. Some spaces have been left for later decoration that was unfortunately never completed. Once can tell from the positive Photostat, that the manuscript wasn’t in good condition when the Photostat was created. Since the Photostat was made, the original manuscript has undergone restoration in 1975, when Roger Powell re-bound, flattened and repaired the leaves, before it was resewn.

This was my favourite Photostat as it touched a wide range of topics. Although the text on the Photostat and the original manuscript were hard to read, a wealth of published and electronic information on the manuscript available helped me follow the manuscript’s contents. The section with mythological tales was one of my favourite sections of this Photostat.


Donncdha’s Favourite Photostat – Survey and Catalogue of the Walls of Cork

In the process of listing the Photostats I found my favourite example: a copy of a Survey and Catalogue of the Walls of Cork City. This Photostat covers a number of pages, each one tracking the condition of the city fortifications during the 18th century. This Photostat opened interesting avenues of research such as investigating the reason behind the survey and the identity and position of the overseer of the survey named Jehosephat Huleatt – as spelled on the Photostat.

Pages from The Survey and Catalogue of The Walls of Cork City

Mr Huleatt is recorded in the Council Book of the Corporation of the City of Cork to have been an overseer of public works for the town of Cork in 1745. This Photostat seems to be an image of a particular survey of the condition of the walls he was commissioned to do. It is interesting that his name is mentioned both on the Photostat and in the city records, however there are six variations in how it is spelled. Mr Huleatt was replaced as an overseer on the 2 February 1757 by a Mr Taylor and does not appear in the records again.

Jehosephat Huleatt was involved with a number of different projects aiming to renovate and expand the walls of Cork, as found in the records:

“Whereas some persons have broken part of the Town Walls eastward of the South Gaol, and therein fixed a door and door-case, ordered, that said door, be removed, and the breach stopped with stones and mortar, and that Jehosaphat Huleatt oversee said work.” [Council Book of the Corporation of the City of Cork 698]

This Photostat offers a detailed account of a town survey that is useful for understanding administration and development of 18th-century Cork. It also offers an insight into the life and work of a specific individual.

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A Printed Pilgrimage

In conjunction with UCC’s Dept. of Geography, the Irish Research Council and UCC Library an exhibition on Modern Irish Pilgrimage: Journeys of Belief and Belonging is on display on Q floor, UCC Library. This post is the second of two on the exhibition and focuses on the material that is currently on display on Q floor. Richard Scriven, the initiator of the exhibition, discussed last month his role in creating the exhibition.


Storyboard Design

In Richard’s blog post he mentions how the storyboards were designed with a combination of text and photos taken during his research with an image ghosted onto the design of the storyboard. As each storyboard would then be unique I suggested using a top image to unify the boards. This had been successfully used in the recent exhibition on Cervantes. Richard was amenable to this and an image was chosen from the title page vignette of Religio Sociniana, seu, Catechesis Racoviana maior by Nicolaus Arnoldi, a 17th century preacher. The vignette depicts a pilgrim climbing a mountain towards three allegorical female figures symbolising the Church, religious and family life. Around the image is the motto “Ad augusta per angusta” meaning “To holiness via tribulation.”

Top Image on Storyboards


Selecting Material for Exhibition Cases

Richard had already chosen some items to place in one exhibition case and these focused on pilgrimage in Ireland. This meant that once the storyboard image was selected, it provided a jumping-off point for the other exhibition case.  This exhibition case was divided into three to discuss some of the different aspects, be they temporal or location. One of the key things to remember when choosing items for placement in a case is that they’re visually appealing and not too much text is chosen! When I was choosing items two students from the MA in Medieval History who were then on placement in Special Collections as part of HI6091 assisted me.


Medieval Pilgrimage

Special Collections has a wide selection of reference and monographic material on medieval pilgrimage. When the MA History students and I chose these we wished to show a sample of the variety of items. The ones we chose were:

John Wilkinson et al, eds. Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099-1185. The translations in this book are of western accounts of pilgrimage, written between 1099 and 1185. The collection shows the gradually developing way in which western Christians understood the Holy Places. The Hakluyt Society publishes scholarly editions of voyages of discovery, histories of navigation, exploration, nautical travels, maritime history and geographical discovery. The Society is named after Richard Hakluyt (1552–1616), a collector and editor of narratives of voyages and travels.

Detail from the cover of Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades

John Wilkinson, trans. Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades. This volume contains the translations of 22 texts dealing with Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Wilkinson introduces the sources and divides them into into personal accounts, second hand accounts, guidebooks, and descriptions. He deals with the different characteristics of each genre and document. Also included is a gazetteer listing all the place names with variant spellings that appear in the sources with references to all their most important occurrences.

Nicole Chayeron. Les pèlerins de Jérusalem au moyen âge: l’aventure du saint voyage d’après journaux et mémoires. Chareyron describes the life of a pilgrim and the activities and circumstances pilgrims found themselves in when on pilgrimage.

Detail from Les pèlerins de Jérusalem au moyen âge


Santiago de Compestela 

Dust-jacket on The Way of Saint James

The destination of the Camino de Santiago, aslo known as the Way of St James, is Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwest Spain. The city’s origins are the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the city’s cathedral. Saint James the Great was the son of Zebedee and was one of Jesus’ apostles. He is the patron saint of Spanish people.  The city has been been the destination of a Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century. In 1985 the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela as designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Maryjane Dunn and Linda Kay Davidson’s The Pilgrimage to Compostela in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays links to the previous section whereas James Bentley’s The Way of SainJames: A Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is a travel account including photographs of his journey to Santiago de Compestela.

The last item in this section is map produced by the Spanish Ministry for Tourism: Santiago de Compostela: España. The cathedral is the centre of the map. The building of the current cathedral started in the 11th century and continued sporadically until the 18th century.

Map showing Catedral de Santiago de Compostela


Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah

Within the last section is the three volume set of Richard F Burton’s Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and MeccahRichard F Burton (1821 – 1890) was a noted British explorer and writer of his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas. The Royal Geographical Society approved his travel to Mecca and Medina, and he undertook the journey in the spring of 1853. It was a journey few Europeans knew about and it was this journey that first made him famous. He published his account of the journey in this book. He planned it whilst travelling in disguise. His journey was not without controversy. British people considered him to be a bold British explorer however Muslims viewed his journey as blasphemy as the journey was forbidden to non-Muslims.

Burton’s description of Hajj in Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage

Within the exhibition Journeys of Belief and Belonging Richard talks about Hajj on the story board ‘Modern Pilgrimage.’ Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca and is mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey. It is one of the five pillars of Islam. The word ‘Hajj’  means to intend a journey’ and it connotes both the outward act of a journey and the inward act of intentions. Although Medina contains the tomb of Muhammed in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi or The Mosque of the Prophet, journeying to Medina is not part of Hajj. Volume three of Burton’s Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage is open at Burton’s description of Hajj.

Volume one of Burton’s Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage is open to show a ‘View of El Medinah taken from the Harrah (or ridge) west of the town.’ This is a copy of a lithograph by Hanhart, a noted lithographic publishing firm.

‘View of El Medina taken from the Harrah (or ridge) west of the town’ in Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage



Arnoldi, Nicolaus. Religio Sociniana, seu, Catechesis Racoviana maiorFranequeræ [Franeker]: typis & impensis Idzardi Alberti & Joannis Janssonii, bibliopolae Amstelodamensis, 1654.

Bentley, James. The Way of Saint James: A Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. London: Pavilion, 1992.

Burton, Richard F. Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah, in three volumes. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855-1856.

Chayeron, Nicole. Les pèlerins de Jérusalem au moyen âge: l’aventure du saint voyage d’après journaux et mémoires. Paris: Imago, 2000.

Dunn, Maryjane and Linda Kay Davidson, eds. The Pilgrimage to Compostela in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays. New York: Garland, 1996.

Leslie, Shane. Saint Patrick’s Purgatory. Dublin, Ireland: at the Sign of the Three Candles, 1961.

Wilkinson, John, et al, eds. Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099-1185. London: Hakluyt Society, 1988.

Wilkinson, John, trans. Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades. Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 2002.

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Curating ‘Journeys of Belief and Belonging: Modern Irish Pilgrimage’

The River-side welcomes this guest post from Dr Richard Scriven, Dept. of Geography on his experience curating the exhibition ‘Journeys of Belief and Belonging: Modern Irish Pilgrimage’  as part of his Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship.  To listen to Richard discuss the exhibition on Shush! Sounds from UCC Library click here.


The exhibition ‘Journeys of Belief and Belonging: Modern Irish Pilgrimage’ was part of my Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship run in conjunction with UCC Library. Initial contact was made with the Library in October 2015 as I was preparing my application to the IRC fellowship scheme, and after securing the funding grant planning and preparation began in September 2016 for an April 2017 launch. The curation process was a very worthwhile and beneficial collaborative project, which equipped me with new skills and experiences.


Exhibition Proposal

Inspired by other exhibitions in the UCC Library, including the ‘Sir Henrys@UCC Library’ and the ‘Dante Alighieri Inferno: A Suite of Lithographs’ projects, I planned for the inclusion of an exhibition as part of the public engagement programme in my postdoctoral fellowship. Community engagement is about researchers communicating their work not only to others in their field – usually through peer-reviewed journal articles and conference presentations – but also to a broader range of audiences. The exhibition, based on my doctoral research into pilgrimage in Ireland, aimed to inform and educate the public about the role of pilgrimage, while also highlighting the importance of socially and culturally relevant research. Once UCC Library had agreed, in principle, to host the exhibition, it became a major pillar of my proposal and contributed to my successfully achieving the competitive grant.



Early in my fellowship I met with Crónán Ó Doibhlin (Head of Research Collections and Communications, UCC Library) and Elaine Harrington (Assistant Librarian, Special Collections) to discuss the process, including:

  • Provisional timeline for project
  • Collaborative approach
  • Budget (co-funded by the Irish Research Council and the UCC Library)
  • Format (a combination of a series of storyboards and material selected from the library’s collections to be exhibited in display cases)
  • Exhibition space and possible layouts of storyboards and display cases.

Both Crónán and Elaine had expertise in supporting the curation process based on their work on successive exhibitions based in the UCC Library in recent years. Also, previous exhibitions, as well as ‘Cervantes “Prince of Wits” (1616-2016): Life, Work Legacy’ which was running at the time, served as good examples to guide our conversation. In addition, they have a well-established relationship with Optima Signs (Little Island) who have designed, produced, and installed storyboards for previous exhibitions.


Collating the Storyboards

The storyboards were populated by text and images from my research on pilgrimage in modern Ireland. Within the postdoctoral fellowship, the aim of the exhibition was to highlight the significant role pilgrimage still plays in the emotional and spiritual lives of thousands of individuals and in the social life of communities. Evocative photographs were chosen from those taken during my ethnographic fieldwork at some of Ireland’s main pilgrimage sites, Lough Derg, Co Dongeal; Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo; Knock, Co. Mayo; and, holy wells in Munster. Commentary provided a contextual understanding, highlighting the role of pilgrimage and how it is being studied in geography and in the social sciences more generally. Quotations from people interviewed during the research added personal stories revealing how pilgrimage is a rich spiritual and emotional journey for many. Implicit in writing up the text was the need to frame my message for a general audience, ensuring that the ideas being discussed could reach a broad range of people. The use of my own images and text greatly facilitated the process as it can be a challenge to source images from other sources, and the associated copyrights.

This photo was used on the ‘Croagh Patrick’ storyboard.


Selection of Library Materials

Several texts from UCC Library’s collection accompanied the storyboards in display cases, furthering the link between research on pilgrimage and the role of the library as a support mechanism. In coordination with Elaine, I chose a number of titles from Special Collections to illustrate historical accounts of pilgrimage which served as both background to the exhibition and a means of illustrating continuity, and change, over time. These included Patrick L. O’Madden’s Cruach Phádraig: St. Patrick’s holy mountain (Three Candles, 1929), Hanly and Dáithí P. Hanly’s Guide: The Church of Our Lady Queen of Ireland, Knock (Veritas, 1979). These along with other text were displayed adjacent to the storyboards, with short commentary on some items provided by Elaine. Elaine will discuss more about these items next month.

Three of the items on display as part of ‘Journeys of Belief and Belonging.’



The text and images, in a raw format, were shared with Optima Signs who designed the storyboards. Based off their experiences of working with the UCC Library on previous exhibitions, they had a firm understanding of the format and styles which worked best in the setting. After several suggestions and clarifications on the text and images, Elaine and I visited the Optima Signs offices to view the draft designs and to make a decision. Brian Carty and his teams produced an excellent design which complemented the images and subject matter. An effect of ghosting one of the images onto the base of the storyboard served to enliven them and create an aesthetic continuity. They shared PDF versions with us for final proof-reading and addressing any remaining issues.

Storyboard #2 in the exhibition sequence.


Printing and Mounting

Optima Signs were very efficient in printing and mounting the storyboards in under a week in time for the opening, the date of which had been set a few weeks before. The storyboards were excellently rendered and presented in a manner which availed of the exhibition space. Again, their familiarity with the setting and the guidance of Elaine was invaluable in this regard.


Concluding Comments

Curating this exhibition was an extremely beneficial exercise for me as an early career researcher. It enabled me to collaborate with UCC Library and Optima Signs to communicate my work in a new medium. The expertise and experience of Elaine and Crónán, and the team at Optima Signs, was especially important in completing the project. I also gained valuable skills in producing this exhibition, which will stand to me in future endeavours.

Exhibitions and other forms of public engagement need to be encouraged and supported by universities, funding bodies, and researchers. For me, the exhibition is an integrated part of my postdoctoral fellowship, which is recognised by the Irish Research Council, UCC, and UCC Library. This type of institutional support is essential to nurture an environment that prompts and furthers community engagement practices.

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The Book of Kells: Image and Text / The Carpet Page

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

The Carpet Page

In the Book of Kells, the carpet page on folio 33r is positioned opposite the miniature of Christ enthroned, folio 32v and followed by a blank folio 33v that in turn faces the splendidly decorated Chi Rho monogram on folio 34r.

But what is a carpet page?

The Carpet Page, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 33r © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

The name ‘carpet pages’ is given to manuscript pages that consist largely of ornamentation with complex patterns of geometrical and zoomorphic interlace decorated with vivid colours. Carpet pages usually feature in front of the Gospel text. It is worthwhile to consider their location and the very name of the pages. The name and origins of these pages possibly lie in their resemblance to rugs and prayer mats. Lawrence Nees suggests that the origin of the term ‘carpet page’ is relatively modern. The earliest mention of the term is found in a 1940 essay by Ernst Kitzinger who describes the ornamental page in the Lindisfarne Gospels as filled with ‘carpet-like-patterns’. Prayer mats were used in Christian and Muslim worship in the East, and Bede (c.672-735) also mentions the use of such mats in Northumbria. Prayer mats marked a transition space and provided a devotee with place for prayer and meditation. In manuscripts, carpet pages mark the transition from preliminary texts to the Gospels or the transition between each Gospel account, thus preparing the reader for the sacred text.

The Carpet Page, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 33r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

Carpet pages in Insular manuscripts often experiment with different forms of the cross. In the Book of Kells we see a carpet page containing a double-armed cross with eight circles set at the intersections and terminals of the cross shafts. A visual emphasis on the number eight in relation to the cross can be understood through sacred numerology, as expounded by Church Fathers including St Augustine (354-430). The number eight represents Resurrection and salvation as Christ rose on the eighth day of the Passion week. According to exegetes this week also known as Holy Week begins the previous Sunday, making Palm Sunday the first day and Easter Sunday the eighth day of the week. The number also alludes to baptism that was prefigured in the cleansing of the world during the Flood when eight members of Noah’s family were the only humans to survive the Flood (Genesis 7:7). The Book of Genesis 17:10-14, states that circumcision should take place on the eighth day of a male’s life to mark the covenant with God. According to Augustine, baptism is the circumcision of the heart and baptism and Resurrection become part of the salvation process.

The Book of Kells is curious in that it only contains one carpet page, though parallels are found in other Insular manuscripts such the Book of Durrow, and Lindisfarne, Durham and Lichfield Gospels. It has been suggested that each Gospel in the Book of Kells would have originally been preceded by a now lost decorated page. The motif is already fully developed in the Book of Durrow, which dates to the late seventh century and is also housed in Trinity College Dublin (MS 57). As Jonathan J.G. Alexander notes, the similarity between the two carpet pages suggests that the Durrow example may have been the model for the Kells folio.

Reliquary of the True Cross, c.1500, Victoria and Albert Museum, Sacred Silver and Stained Glass Room © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The double-armed cross is unusual in Insular carpet pages and survives only in the Book of Durrow and Kells. This form of the cross originated in eastern Mediterranean art and had a very specific meaning referring to the shape of a reliquary of the True Cross, that contained the fragments of the Cross on which Christ was crucified along with the titulus (the title board). Fragments of the True Cross were highly prized throughout Christendom. In Ireland, a relic of the True Cross was enshrined in the Cross of Cong commissioned by the High King Turloch O’Connor (1106-1156), while another famous Cross relic was housed in the Cistercian Holy Cross Abbey, Co. Tipperary.

The carpet pages of Durrow and Kells were intended to represent the True Cross and allude to Christ’s Passion. Patristic traditions linked the Incarnation and salvation with the theology of the Cross. This link is visually expressed in the position of the Kells carpet page, folio 33r in the proximity of the Chi Rho monogram on folio 34r that proclaims the birth of Christ (Christi autem generatio).

The Carpet Page, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 33r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

A myriad of intricate details are contained within the sections between the arms of the cross and its border. Concealed within the intricately laced patterns are minutely executed interwoven depictions of lions with protruding tongues and long manes, snakes, peacocks and human figures. The animals allude to salvation: snakes that shed their skin are linked to renewal, peacocks whose flesh does not decay represent everlasting life, while lions allude to the Resurrection but also to Christ who descended from the tribe of Judah symbolised by a lion and is described as the Lion of Judah in the Book of Revelation 5:5.

On a side note, the figure of the Lion of Judah inspired C.S. Lewis in representing Aslan the lion in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Natasha Dukelow


Further reading

Alexander, Jonathan J.G., ed., A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, vol. 1: Insular Manuscripts, 6th to the 9th Century (London: Harvey Miller, 1975).

Brown, Michelle P., The Lindisfarne Gospels and the Early Medieval World (London: British Library, 2011).

Hitchens, Megan M., ‘Building on Belief: The Use of Sacred Geometry and Number Theory in the Book of Kells, fol. 33r’, Parergon 13/ 2 (1996), pp. 121-136.

Herren, Michael W. and Shirley Ann Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity: Britain and Ireland from the Fifth to the Tenth Century (Woodbridge:  Boydell Press, 2002).

Livesey, Nina E., Circumcision as a Malleable Symbol (Heidelberg: Mohr Siebeck, 2010).

Nees, Lawrence, ‘Ethnic and Primitive Paradigms’, in Celia Chazelle and Felice Lifshitz, ed., Paradigms and Methods in Early Medieval Studies (New York: Springer, 2016), pp. 40-56.

O’ Reilly, Jennifer, ‘Exegesis in the Book of Kells; The Lucan Genealogy’, in Felicity O’Mahony, ed.,  The Book of Kells: Proceedings of a Conference at Trinity College Dublin, 6-9 September 1992 (Aldershot: Scolar Press for Trinity College Library Dublin, 1994), pp. 334-397.

Simpson, Raymond, The Lindisfarne Gospels (Stowmarket: Kevin Mayhew Ltd, 2013).

Sullivan, Edward, The Book of Kells (London and New York: The Studio, 1914).

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The Book of Kells: Image and Text / The Temptation of Christ

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

The Temptation of Christ

The temptations of Christ are described in the Gospels of Mathew (4:1-11), Mark (1:12-13) and Luke (4:1-13). Following forty days of fasting in the desert, Christ is tempted by the devil three times. The final temptation takes place at the Temple in Jerusalem and aims to test Christ’s divinity by asking him to throw himself from the Temple to verify whether the angels would protect him. The Kells scene described as the Temptation of Christ is set within Luke’s Gospel (folio 202v). It shows Christ on top of the box-like structure flanked by two angels above, with a black winged figure of the devil possibly holding a lasso placed to the right. The illustration contains curious features that raise a number of questions. Why is Christ’s unusually large body emerging from the Temple? Who is the small figure in the door and who are the other human figures? What is the meaning of the angels and the devil?

The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 202v © Trinity College Dublin

The most prominent figure in the Temptation miniature is the enlarged Christ placed atop the Temple. A particularly influential treatise on the significance of the Old Testament Temple was written by the Anglo-Saxon exegete Bede (c.672-735). Bede interprets the Temple as having multiple and spiritually intertwined meanings. It was God’s house built by King Solomon in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6:1-17), that as Bede says is ‘a figure of the holy universal Church’ made of the faithful, who act as the living stones with Christ as its cornerstone. As argued by Jennifer O’Reilly, the Temple in exegetical tradition was not just an earthly location but a spiritual concept beyond spatial or temporal limits. The Kells Temptation miniature visually expresses these ideas by showing Christ and the Temple becoming one.

Two angelic figures flanking the head of Christ, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 202v (detail) © Trinity College Dublin

The permanent Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem replaced the portable Tabernacle carried by the Israelites for forty years in the desert, as the place of the meeting between God and his people (Exodus 7:16). The holiest area of the Tabernacle contained the Ark of Covenant with the tablets of the Ten Commandments and could only be attended by Aaron, the high priest and his descendants (Exodus 25–31 and 35–40). According to St Paul, the Church was the new Tabernacle ‘set up by the Lord, not by man’ with Christ becoming the new high priest (Hebrews 8:2, 4:14). Two angelic figures featured above Christ’s head may further link the Kells image to the Tabernacle. Their number and position allude to the cherubim placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant from where God’s voice was to be heard (Exodus 25:22).  They may also allude to Luke 4:10-11 where the devil tempts Christ and states that the angels should come to his aid if he leaps from the Temple. The framed figure in the doorway may depict the priestly figure of Aaron in the Tabernacle, King Solomon, the builder of the Temple or Christ himself.

The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 202v  (detail) © Trinity College Dublin

The angels and Christ are comparable to other figural representations in the Book of Kells, while the structure of the Temple recalls box-shaped Irish shrines such as the eighth-century Ranvaik’s casket. The skinny devil is however decidedly different, and his depiction can be related to some Byzantine representations. He appears to be using a lasso to ensnare Christ, who in turn is pointing a scroll at the devil. This image recalls the notion of a monastic community under attack, which is described in a treatise of the sixth-century monk, John Climacus. Later representations of John’s text show monks being lassoed from a ladder ascending to heaven. The Kells image and these Byzantine depictions represent elongated black devils holding a lasso.

A human figure with a shield, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 202v (detail) © Trinity College Dublin

Opposite, at the other side of the Temple, is a human figure holding a shield that symbolises the spiritual protection provided by the word of God as expressed by the Psalmist who says: ‘His truth shall compass thee with a shield’ (Psalm 90:5, cf. Ephesians 6:10-18).

Donncdha Carroll


Further reading

Connolly, Seán, trans., Bede on the Temple with ‘Introduction’ by Jennifer O’Reilly (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 1995).

Farr, Carol Ann, The Book of Kells: Its Function and Audience (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).

Hourihane, Colum, ed., From Ireland Coming: Irish Art from the Early Christian to the Late Gothic Period and Its European Context (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Meehan, Bernard, The Book of Kells, An Illustrated Introduction (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2012).

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The Book of Kells: Image and Text / The Chi Rho Page

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

The Chi Rho Page

The Chi Rho Page, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 34r. Opening of St Matthew’s Nativity Account, Matthew 1:18 © Trinity College Dublin


The Chi Rho page in the Book of Kells is perhaps the most elaborate and enigmatic illumination in the manuscript. The page is rich in multi-layered symbolism intended to engage its monastic audience with a range of Eucharistic and Christological themes.

A Chi Rho is formed by overlapping the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ: chi (X) and rho (P). The Kells initial also contains the third letter of Christ’s name, iota (I). When compared to other Insular manuscripts that similarly embellish the Chi Rho initials, the Kells page puts a distinct emphasis on Christ’s name with the chi alone nearly filling up the entire page. At the bottom of the page the text continues and contains the words autem generatio. The entire page celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation as it opens the Nativity story described in the Gospel of Matthew: Christi autem generatio sic erat (‘Now the generation of Christ was in this wise’, Matthew 1:18).

The verse is lavishly decorated, as if it were beginning a separate Gospel. In patristic tradition, the Incarnation was seen as an integral part of salvation that was fulfilled in the Crucifixion: Christ had to become incarnate to die on the Cross for the sins of humanity. The Kells miniature makes a visual connection between Christ’s birth and death by employing the magnificent X cross and smaller cross shapes.

Moths, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 34r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin


Hidden within the intricate decoration are insects and animals. At the top of the page two moths feature within a spandrel of the letter chi. According to the early Church Fathers, moths symbolise the Resurrection due to their natural metamorphosis.

Two mice, nibbling on the Eucharist host beset by cats, with two other mice sitting on top of cats. The black otter is visible at the left of the image. The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 34r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

At the bottom of the page a pair of cats pin down the tails of two mice that nibble at the Eucharistic host, while two other mice sit on the cats’ backs. Different suggestions have been made to explain these animals’ presence, ranging from mundane to theological. The scene may depict an actual nuisance caused by mice in the monastery. The image may allude to unworthy receivers of the host, represented by the mice, and the punishment that awaits them, presented by the preying cats. On the other hand, the cats can signify the devil lying in wait for human sinners (the mice) who are saved by the Eucharist. To the right of this image there is a small black otter with a fish in its mouth, which corresponds to stories about Irish monks being supplied with fish by otters. The Life of St Kevin recounts how his monks were fed with salmon provided by an otter, while the Navigatio Sancti Brendani (The Voyage of St Brendan) tells of a hermit sustained by fish and firewood brought to him by an otter.

Lozenge at the centre of the chi (X) shape, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 34r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

The animals on the Chi Rho page, according to Suzanne Lewis, can be understood as representing three parts of creation: earth (cats and mice), sea (otter) and sky (moths).  Placed around Christ’s initials these animals underline Christ’s role as creator. The lozenge shape displayed in the centre of the monogram is connected to the quaternities, discussed in an earlier blog post on the four Evangelist symbols. The quadrangular world created by Christ the Logos is expressed through this lozenge shape and alludes to the fourfold nature of the Gospels, brought to the four corners of the world. As argued by Jennifer O’Reilly, ‘the underlying unity of this quadripartite world was seen to flow from its divine Creator made known in Christ’. The inclusion of the lozenge in the centre of the chi (X) shape demonstrates this link between Christ as creator and his creation. The lozenge motif recurs in the Book of Kells and is represented on the Virgin and Child miniature on Mary’s right shoulder with the Christ Child pointing at it.

The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 34r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin

The design also conceals three angels, while the curving upper terminal of the rho ends in a human head with tousled yellow hair. If you would like to know more about the symbolism behind this, read Michelle Brown’s paper on ‘Bearded Sages and Beautiful Boys’.

Natasha Dukelow


Further reading

‘Bethada Náem nÉrenn, Life of Coemgen (1)’, CELT  Corpus of Electronic Texts,  <http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T201000G/text007.html>.

Brown, Michelle, ‘Bearded Sages and Beautiful Boys’, in Elizabeth Mullins and Diarmuid Scully, ed., Listen, O Isles, Unto Me: Studies in Medieval Word and Image in Honour of Jennifer O’Reilly (Cork: Cork University Press, 2011), pp. 278-291.

Henry, Françoise, The Book of Kells: Reproductions from the Manuscript in Trinity College Dublin (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974).

Lewis, Suzanne, ‘Sacred Calligraphy: The Chi Rho Page in the Book of Kells’, Traditio 36 (1980), pp. 139-159.

Mussetter, Sally ‘An Animal Miniature on the Monogram Page of the Book of Kells’, Mediaevalia 3 (1977), pp. 119-20.

O’Reilly, Jennifer, ‘Patristic and Insular Traditions of the Evangelists: Exegesis and Iconography’, in Anna Maria Luiselli Fadda and Éamonn Ó Carragáin, ed., Le Isole Britanniche e Roma in Etá Romanobarbarica (Rome: Herder, 1998), pp. 49-94.

Simms, George Otto, Leaves from the Book of Kells (Dublin: A.P.C.K., 1962).

Sullivan, Edward, The Book of Kells (London and New York: The Studio, 1914).

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The Book of Kells: Image and Text / The Virgin Mary

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

The Virgin Mary

The Virgin and Child, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 7v © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

The miniature on folio 7v of the Book of Kells is the earliest surviving representation of the Virgin in a western manuscript, as noted by Martin Werner. Devotion to the Virgin Mary is well attested in Ireland and her cult developed there during the early Christian period. Peter O’Dwyer argues that the earliest reference to the Virgin in Irish writings is found in an Old Irish prophecy dated to c. 600. Mary’s cult was also well established within the Columban monastic network, as seen in her depiction on the shaft of St Martin’s Cross at Iona.

Photograph of St Martin’s Cross, Iona, 1901, Victoria and Albert Museum, Prints & Drawings Study Room © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Kells image depicts a tender moment between mother and child but the miniature’s original monastic audience would have been acutely aware that the image was not only a point of emotional connection as modern viewers may understand, but was also intended to be read in terms of the doctrines and mysteries surrounding the Incarnation of Christ.

Mary’s mantle is purple, the colour of royalty, and she wears a brooch in the shape of a lozenge with four smaller lozenges contained within it. The shape occurs on other Kells pages such as the Chi Rho page. The dominant position of the Virgin demonstrates the high respect with which she was treated, and her portrayal as enthroned celebrates her majesty. The halo around her head bears three crosses that link her to the Trinity, and suggests not only Mary’s sanctity but also her role in salvation. Mary plays an integral part in the Incarnation, through which the second person of the Trinity (Christ) becomes flesh for the redemption and salvation of humanity fulfilled through his Crucifixion. Interestingly, Christ is destitute of a halo. As this symbol indicates divinity, its presence around Mary’s head in the Kells miniature celebrates her as the Mother of God, while the lack of the halo around Christ’s head emphasises his humanity.


Six profile heads set in the margin, looking to the left, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 7v (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

In the right margin of the miniature, six profile heads look across, signalling that the image and facing page should be read in conjunction. The depiction of the Virgin and Child offers an appropriate preface to folio 8r with the text of the breves causae of Matthew, which presents a summary of his Gospel, and begins with Nativitas Christi in Bethlem (‘The Birth of Christ in Bethlehem’). The angel on the lower left of the miniature holds a flabellum (a fan used to protect the Eucharist from flies) with a twelve-petal rosette. This motif is picked up on the following page, as it defines the shape of the initial letter on the facing Nativitas text, and according to Bernard Meehan, former Keeper of Manuscripts, TCD, it represents the Star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:7-11).

The draping of Mary’s clothing in the Kells miniature clearly reveals her breasts. The triple dots on her robes follow a Near Eastern tradition of using the motif to denote garments of the highest quality. However, here the triple groupings seem to allude to the Trinity and as they are white, the dots according to Meehan represent the mother’s milk. This Irish Virgin is shown as a fertile and nourishing mother. Milk, in exegesis stood for the milk of Christian instruction, where it represents the initial stages of evangelical teaching before one can move onto solid food (cf. Hebrews 5:12).

Isis nursing Horus, Egypt, 332-30 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, www.metmuseum.org

The miniature displays knowledge of various iconographic traditions of depicting of the mother and child. The Kells image shows parallels with early Coptic (Christian Egyptian) images, which themselves engage with earlier non-Christian depictions of the Egyptian goddess Isis nursing Horus.

Front cover of the Lorsch Gospels depicts Christ sitting upright on his mother’s lap, flanked by the figures of John the Baptist and the prophet Zacharias. The panel below depicts the scenes of the Annunciation and Nativity. The panel above depicts a medallion with the glorified bust-length figure of Christ. Carolingian Gospel Cover, Aachen, c. 810. Victoria and Albert Museum, Medieval & Renaissance Gallery © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In early Christian monumental mosaic depictions of the Virgin and Child or in Carolingian ivories, Christ was presented sitting upright on Mary’s knee and both showed serious expressions as the Christ Child blessed those he looked upon with his fingers raised. The Book of Kells miniature instead has the Christ Child looking up at his mother, while reaching out to her with his left hand and embracing her arm with his right hand. As well as a God, we are also presented with a child seated on his mother’s lap. It seems that the illuminators of the Book of Kells had exposure to the iconographic models that favoured more intimate depictions of the mother and child.

Christ is depicted as having two left feet, while the Virgin is depicted as having two right feet. That representation is sometimes regarded as an error on the illuminators’ behalf, but this explanation seems unlikely, especially when one considers the high status of the Book of Kells and the immense care taken in its production as well as the spiritual symbolism of feet in the Bible. References to God’s feet or footstool allude to the divine power and glory (cf. Psalm 18:9, 132:6), while the washing of feet is regarded as the act of hospitality and humility (cf. Genesis 18:4, John 13:1-17).

Natasha Dukelow


Further reading

O’Dwyer, Peter, Mary: A History of Devotion in Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998).

O’Reilly, Jennifer, ‘Introduction’, in Seán Connolly, trans., Bede on the Temple (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995).

Rosenau, Helen, ‘The Prototype of the Virgin and Child in the Book of Kells’, Burlington Magazine 83 (1943), pp. 228-231.

Werner, Martin, ‘The Virgin and Child Miniature in the Book of Kells, Part I’, The Art Bulletin 54/ 1 (1972), pp. 1-23.

Werner, Martin, ‘The Virgin and Child Miniature in the Book of Kells, Part II’, The Art Bulletin 54/ 2 (1972), pp. 129-139.

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The Book of Kells: Image and Text / The In principio Initial

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

The In Principio Initial

The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 292r, Opening of St John’s Gospel, In principio (letters traced) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

This post focuses on the text and imagery of folio 292r, which reads In principio erat verbum (‘In the beginning was the word’, John 1:1).  The first three letters of the text are the largest and most elaborate. The I and N share a vertical shaft in the far left of the image. The diagonal of the N is then formed by linking that shaft to another by means of two circles and a cruciform shape. Sitting at the top of the image is a human figure robed in purple and clutching a book. The figure has been identified as a deacon holding a Gospel book, but also as an image of God the Father or the creating Logos. As pointed out by Małgorzata D’Aughton, the position of the figure above the circle parallels images of Christ seated on the globe of the world as in the fifth-century mosaic found in the baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, Naples or the later San Marco mosaic in Venice, which was inspired by a fifth- or sixth-century manuscript illustrations of the creation of the world. The iconography of the creation provides an appropriate context for the Kells page that glorifies the Word that existed at the beginning (John 1:1).  The opening words of the Gospel of John evoke the opening words of the Book of Genesis that reads In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram (‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’, Genesis 1:1) as the two texts emphasize the role of the word in the process of creation. In the Book of Genesis, God calls the universe into existence and then names all created things and beings (Genesis 1:1-31).

The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 292r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

The letter P is the last of the three largest letters on the folio. The vertical shaft of this letter is joined to the second vertical of the N, while the loop is an independent rectangular shape. The second human figure is positioned above the loop of the P. He is shown seated, drinking from a cup, while a monstrous face of a lion, stares at him, mouth agape. This human figure has been identified as a Christian, who is saved from evil by drinking the Eucharistic wine. It may also, as argued by George Henderson, be a representation of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he asks his disciple Peter, whether he, Jesus, can refuse to drink from the chalice prepared for him by the Father (John 18:11). This passage features at the opening of the Passion account and is directed at Peter as he attempts to prevent the arrest of Jesus.

The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 292r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

The next line includes letters R, I, N, and C that are formed by serpent-like creatures and are relatively easy to read, as well as the letter I formed by a human figure grappling with the letter C. Imagery of wrestling or grappling in Biblical and patristic texts often relates to a struggle against evil. One such text is St Paul’s verse in the Epistle to the Ephesians that describes Christians as ‘wrestling not against flesh and blood but against the world rulers of present darkness’ (Ephesians 6:12). The Kells image may evoke this theme. The remaining letters that appear at the bottom of the page in two lines are the easiest to read; they spell out the letters P, I, O, E, R, A, T, V, E, R, B, U, and M. These letters are executed in a clear style without any decoration in a dark hue that contrasts them with the lighter background.

The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 292r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

Connor White


Further reading

Krasnodębska-D’Aughton, Małgorzata, ‘Decoration of the In principio Initials in Early Insular Manuscripts: Christ as a Visible Image of the Invisible God’, Word and Image 18/2 (2012), pp. 105-122.

Farr, Carol Ann, The Book of Kells: Its Function and Audience (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).

Henderson, George, From Durrow to Kells: The Insular Gospel-Books, 650-800 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

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The Book of Kells: Image and Text / The Canon Tables

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

The Canon Tables

In the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) created a series of ten canon tables to demonstrate the harmony of the Gospel accounts by cross-referencing corresponding sections within the Gospels. Eusebius elaborated on a method used in the third century by Ammonius of Alexandria, which took Matthew’s Gospel as the key reference point and compared passages from other Gospels to those in Matthew’s account. The Eusebian canon tables show which sections of the Gospels are common to all four accounts, which stories feature only in three or two Gospels and which are distinctive to each Gospel narrative.  The canon tables can be found in Insular Gospel books including the Book of Kells, where they precede the text of the Gospels.

The Canon Table, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 5r © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

In the Book of Kells, the canon tables are placed within elaborate architectural structures, with columns supporting an arch. They span eight folios and are followed by two folios of canons set in a grid format. The four Evangelist symbols depicted within the arches are used to embellish the tables but also act as a visual aid by signifying the Gospels that are being compared. As readers looked across the page, they could discern, for example, which section number in Matthew’s Gospel corresponds to which section number in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or John.

The Canon Table, The Book of Kells, TCD MS 58, folio 5r (detail) © Trinity College Dublin. In Sullivan, The Book of Kells, 1914.

For the tables to be used, the corresponding sections have to be signified throughout the Gospel text which is not the case in the Book of Kells, confirming that the manuscript was intended for ceremonial display, rather than for everyday liturgical use. However, the very presence of canon tables in the Gospel manuscript such as the Book of Kells expresses the harmony between the Evangelists and their writings. By comparing the similarities between the distinctive Gospels, the tables reiterate the notion of a single divinely inspired narrative of the four texts. Jennifer O’Reilly argued that the canon tables demonstrate how the four Gospels revealed individual and complementary facets of the same truth in four different ways. The tables provide the reader with a visualisation of textual similarities found in the Gospels and combined with the images of intertwining symbols depicted in the arches, they emphasise the harmony of the accounts.

Kate O’Brien


Further reading

Friend, A. M., ‘The Canon Tables of the Book of Kells’, in W. R. Koehler, ed., Medieval Studies in Memory of Arthur Kingsley Porter, 2 vols (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), vol. 2, pp. 611-641.

Mullins, Elizabeth, ‘The Insular Reception of the Eusebian Canon Tables‘ (PhD thesis, University College Cork, 2001).

Mullins, Elizabeth, ‘The Canon Tables in Boulogne, Bibliotheque Municipale, MS 10’, in Diarmuid Scully and Elizabeth Mullins, ed., Listen O Isles, Unto Me: Studies in Medieval Word and Image in Honour of Jennifer O’Reilly (Cork: Cork University Press, 2011), pp. 302-312.

Netzer, Nancy, ‘The Origin of the Beast Canon Tables Reconsidered’, in Felicity O’Mahony, ed., The Book of Kells: Proceedings of a Conference at Trinity College Dublin, 6-9 September 1992 (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1994), pp. 183-195.

O’Loughlin, Thomas, ‘Harmonizing the Truth: Eusebius and the Problem of the Four Gospels’, Traditio 65 (1980), pp. 1-31.

Sullivan, Edward, The Book of Kells (London and New York: The Studio, 1914).

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