By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN – – With one of the four volumes of the priceless Book of Kells going on display in Australia, the County Meath monastic town of Kells has launched a campaign for an exhibition there along with other treasures which have been removed from the area.
A heritage center opens in the former courthouse building in Kells in three months and the town also wants to put on display other County Meath treasures, which have found new homes down the centuries. These include the Crozier of Kells in the British Museum, an ancient manuscript held by the Royal Irish Academy and a jewelled box in the National Museum.
A special temperature controlled case is being installed in the expectation that the Book of Kells will return to the town.
Kells Urban District Council may take legal action to try and force Trinity College to release a volume of the Book of Kells, which is a top tourist attraction and major money-spinner for the university.
The 8th Century Book of Kells is the country’s most popular treasure with tourists, attracting more than 500,000 a year.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
"There is a very strong feeling among our townspeople and throughout the county that the Book of Kells should return to its native home. It has come to the stage now that the feeling is so strong that our council will certainly consider taking legal action," UDC chairman Brian Reilly said.
"We feel that if the Book can be transported across the world, there is absolutely no reason why part of the Book, two of the Gospels, can’t come here, even on a temporary basis."
It is hoped that all of the Kells treasures can come "home" for a one-month millennium exhibition that will highlight the area’s rich heritage.
There have been discussions about the possibility of a volume of the Book of Kells going to the town but Trinity College has refused to allow it up to now.
Trinity has maintained that there was no question mark over its ownership of the Book. The university says a former Bishop of Meath, Henry Jones, gave it to the college in perpetuity in the 17th Century.
Brian Kennedy, director of Australia’s National Gallery and a former assistant director of the National Gallery in Dublin, has been seeking a visit from the Book of Kells for some time.
The only previous time the Book of Kells travelled abroad to go on view was in the 1980s when it did a tour of three U.S. cities.
The Book was also brought to London in the 1950s for restoration. It was split into the four gospels, but it never went on show there.