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By Denise Gary
Photos by Denise Gary
One of my earliest childhood memories is reading a giant copy of Aesop’s Fables with my father. Every night, I craved to experience more of the exciting adventures and illustrations magically contained inside the covers of that magnificent book. Another early memory is of my first visit to a bookmobile with my mother—a voracious reader who passed away in 2005 before Kids Need to Read had come into being. The unusual smell; the sight of so many books in one place; the idea that I could take home an armful of books filled me with wonder! It speaks volumes that my most distant memories are of books and the enlightening truths they revealed of humanity. It is no surprise then that my siblings and I share a lifelong love of reading, adventure, and discovery.
Earlier this year, my ninety-year-old father called me up to tell me he wanted to take me to Ireland in October, just the two of us enjoying new adventures with our terrific guide, Jimmy. That is Jimmy on the left and my dad, Charlie, on the right.
I barely had time to renew my passport and off we went! I could go on and on about the trip, but this story is only about one particular moment of our most wondrous and memorable journey. Dad had been to Ireland long ago with Mom and he had a surprise planned for me: Trinity College Library in Dublin. I knew nothing about the library, but Dad explained they restore ancient books there. How wonderful, I thought, but I had no idea what an exceptional experience awaited me.
The downstairs level of the building is dedicated to the Book of Kells! The Book of Kells!!! My poor father waited patiently as I read every sign and studied every display on the history and creation of this stunning illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels. It was created c. 800 at a monastery in Ireland and/or Britain. Every tidbit was fascinating!
After my studies were complete, we entered the room where the library displays two of the four volumes at a time. Each volume is under glass, one open to a gorgeous full-page illustration and the other open to text pages, which also contain small, ornate artwork. It felt a privilege to view a book of such incredible age and masterful work. To think the monks handmade every sheet of vellum (pages made from calf hides), transcribed every letter, and incorporated such intricate and meaningful art was difficult to comprehend. I stood there as long as I could in an attempt to absorb and fully appreciate the skill and beauty laid before me. It felt impossible to do so without touching the pages! No photos are allowed of the Book of Kells, but the entire manuscript can be viewed on the Trinity College Library’s Digital Collections Repository—a poor substitute for seeing the book in person, but every sheet fortunately available to everyone. There is also a facsimile displayed elsewhere in the library and photographs are allowed, but I found it to be vastly inferior to the original. The nuances of the craftsmanship and pigments are lost in the replica.
After viewing the Book of Kells, we headed upstairs to see the library. We were taken up in a service elevator, as my dad was unfortunately hobbled with a bulging disc at the time and could not manage the stairs. When the man taking us up found out I was the co-founder and director of a children’s literacy organization, he smiled and informed me our timing was perfect. The library currently had a special exhibition of children’s books! It was as though it was meant for me! As this gentleman was talking, I suddenly caught a glimpse of the library’s contents through the glass of the elevator and my jaw dropped wide open! “Oh my god, look at those old books,” I blurted out!
Then I popped out of the doors into pure glory! Surely, there were angels singing! Or was that in my head?! It was the most magnificent library in which I had ever (choose a cliché) stepped foot … laid eyes … twirled about while singing The Sound of Music! Ancient books filled “The Long Room” on shelves extending upward two floors to the vaulted timbered ceiling.
Busts of famous writers and philosophers capped the ends of each shelf.
The atmosphere was warm and rich.
“An astounding repository of human knowledge, desire and imagination,” I thought to myself. My dad smiled in delight, as it was obvious his crowning excursion was a hit. Looking back on my pictures, I can see the joy written all over my face!
As my dad chatted up other visitors, I wandered about.
In the midst of so many books, I was surprised to discover the medieval Trinity College harp, one of the three oldest surviving Gaelic harps, and the national symbol of Ireland.
Running through the center of The Long Room were cases of precious children’s books on display.
The oldest I found was from 1648.
A Star Wars graphic novel was part of the collection, complete with a Jedi library looking very much like Trinity College Library.
The theme of the exhibit was “Mythology and Children’s Literature,” and the information cards provided the mythological roots of contemporary children’s tales.
I smiled as I thought of the children who had delighted in these wonderful books. How many of them had enjoyed reading them with their fathers and mothers? How many of them had developed a close bond with their parents while enjoying these treasures so thoughtfully chosen and carefully displayed before me? The same kind of bond I had developed with my mother and father. The bond I was now sharing with my beloved father who had brought me here as an act of love.
You, too, can ensure you develop a bond of reading with your children, or the children of friends and relatives. Your act of love will serve them well throughout their lifetimes, and will create warm and lasting memories for each of you. Make reading an absolute and joyful part of your lives. Make the time! Intelligence, wonderment, fulfillment, affection—one thing is certain; you will never regret time spent on this ancient and most vital activity.
With love to my father, Charlie Viosca.
- Charlie Viosca on December 31st, 2015 2:17 pm
Having been there with you; this brought much happiness and love to my heart. So glad I took you to that wonderful library which so few are privileged to see. You appreciated it more than I thought you would.
The first time I was there there were rows of people restoring the ancient books that you do not see now.
- Charlie Viosca on December 31st, 2015 2:17 pm
Gary Mlodzik on
December 31st, 2015 4:12 pm
Beautiful pictures! What a fantastic Daddy- Daughter adventure. I’ll bet Eoin Colfer is thrilled having his book on exhibit under glass. Loved his Half Moon Investigations book but Artemus Fowl is by far more popular. Sure glad you were able to make the trip.