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Postcards from the Past, The Book of Kells - Dec 1997


Dear Niamh,

I woke up this morning from a wonderful dream of the past when fairies lived. This is what I dreamt of …

My name was Angus-O’Mhurchú , but being a monk I was simply addressed as Fr O’Mhurchú. I was only about twenty-one and was in training in a monastery in Kells, Co Meath.

The day dawned bright and sunny, birds sang sweetly and bees worked noisily collecting nectar. As the light winds brushed against my face, I knew this was a promise of fine things for the remainder of the summer. By that I meant crops of the monastery would be nourished and so by Autumn when the time came to harvest and sell them we would get a good price.

This meant we could buy more velum – to continue writing the New Testament. I knew that our supply of velum had been dwindling for the past two months and here in the monastery not having any beasts of our own we couldn’t make any velum ourselves. I also secretly hoped that we would buy more food.

Even though mushy porridge isn’t as nice as a fine bowl of Irish stew or cabbage and bacon it was all we had and even our small supply had been rationed. I was gathering leaves to make the natural paint for the New Testament – (that is the Book of Kells) I headed towards the scriptorium, I knew it was off limits, but I just couldn’t help myself. I loved watching one of the other monks delicately and with utmost care, illustrating, designing and illuminating each page.

As I entered the dimly lit room I was smothered in incense. The scriptorium was a very sacred place as all the teachings of Jesus and his apostles were written in there, yet it was commonly used. Just then a hand grabbed my shoulder and violently swung me around. It was the head monk, Fr. Ó’Cheallaigh. He was dreaded throughout the whole monastery for his stemness and temper.

“Tis Fr. Ó’Murchú that’s in it. I can’t remember assigning you here, — no in factI didn’t assign you here. You shall repent for three whole days in solitude in the church, for your disobedience, without food or Water. May God have mercy on you”. “Please Fr. Ó’Cheallaigh – forgive me.” I said, down on my knees. Alas my pleas were to no avail, for they fell on deaf ears.

“Make that a week”, Fr. Ó’Cheallaigh said and smiled smugly to himself. I trudged away with a heavy heart. The Book of Kells would live forever, but my story would not. I then thought “Is this the right calling for me? …”NO!”. I threw off my crucifix and ran out through the gates. I could hear protests from Fr. Ó’ Cheallaigh, but I didn’t care – I was FREE.

As I was just about to trip on a pot-hole I woke up to the calls of my mother. “Get up Sinead, it’s 9.45 – you’re late!”.

Speaking of my mother, – “she’s calling me again – for dinner. Shut-up Mum”! She thinks I’m studying for my end-of -year tests. God help mell I can’t walk away from them as easily as Fr. Ó’Mhurchú walked away from his miserable life as a monk”, – in my dream.

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Written by Sinead Kelly

Published here 16 Feb 2023 and originally published December 1997

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