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16TH February 2010

Culture

The Book of Kells, U2 and How to Rise Above the Noise


(Dublin, Ireland) A few years ago, like 1205 years or so, a few monks decided to get their message across with a literary show of the century. Look, it was the eighth century so the term” big show” was relative. But back in its day, the Book of Kells was a sensation. Today it is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland where it is catalogued as MS 58.

I was early for lunch with clients in Dublin, so I ducked into Trinity to see what I could see. The Book of Kells (less widely known as The Book of Columba ) is an ornately illustrated manuscript, produced by Celtic Monks around AD 800. It is one of the most lavishly illuminated manuscripts of the mediaeval period. Because of its technical brilliance and great beauty it is considered by many scholars to be one of the most important works in the history of medieval art. It contains the four gospels of the Bible in Latin, along with prefatory and explanatory matter decorated with numerous colorful illustrations, illuminations, and poems. My favorite of the latter was Pangur Ban, named for a monk’s cat.

Faelidsem cu ndene dul hi nglen luch inna gerchrub;
hi tucu cheist ndoraid ndil os me chene am faelid.

Or, if you have a Gaelic translator…

see it at Trinity- it's nice!He is joyful with swift movement when a mouse sticks in his sharp claw.
I too am joyful when I understand a difficult question.

Hey- just the way I feel when I figure something out- like a cat that finally caught the mouse.

With that, I headed for lunch: proper fish/chips with my client friends. Yes, Guinness to wash it down. Tastes like milk after awhile. As luck would have it our meeting was over in decent time, and I was offered an introduction to a most interesting bus driver presently holding court around the block at a hotel named the Clarence. If you haven’t figured it yet, the “bus driver” was Paul McGuiness. The group he drove around before they had driver’s licenses was U2. He’s now their manager and yes we did end up with sweet tickets. Irish are like that: happy to share the fun of their wonderful country with just a shrug of the shoulders and a little smile.

Ticket in hand, I began to notice what I hadn’t before: the whole city pulsing with excitement and pride. People were singing in the street- before the concert. Street corners, bus stands, pubs, and barber shops (great place for a hot shave, BTW) all launch into “Still Haven’t Found what I’m Lookin’ For” or “With or Without You” when played on the radio. It was like they had a stake in what a band of four guys had achieved- and perhaps they did. Dublin had mothered along a group that is in the Pantheon of “Most Influential Bands of All Time” with perhaps the Stones and The Beatles. They have that much juice, they deserve it, and Dubliners love to celebrate their son’s success.

Dublin on this night seems like a very big family, and U2 does their part to pay the respect back. With this kind of support, I half expected Bono & Co. to coast on their home field, Croke Park . Au contraire: they pushed it and to me, broke new ground. The song Yahweh was the coup de grace. Bono starts out with a headband around his eyes, kneeling, totally vulnerable. He rises, staggering, like so many hostage tapes we have seen and moves dangerously close to the stage edge (ok, he has an IFB earpiece, so his producer can call him off).

He finds the mike, and launches into the first verse, adjusting the headband. But by now, the focus is sharper, and I can make out the symbols on the cloth. In the chorus, he points to each in sequence and cries out: Jesus (cross), Jew (Star of David), Mohammed (crescent), You. He says it over and over, and in case I didn’t get it there is plenty of video reinforcement on the 70 foot stage wall behind him.  wearing the headband

It is clear to me he issues a challenge. We are all neighbors in this world. We are at present having trouble getting along. Maybe we can learn to do better. What are YOU going to do about it?I don’t know for sure how many of the 125,000 people at Croke Park that night got the same message. Or how many have figured out some way to do something about it. I can, however, speak for myself as I usually do. I’m working on it, partly because U2 rose above the noise, not unlike the Book of Kells did 1,200 years ago.

If you go
» Hotel Clarence – Main Embankment
   Temple Bar – hard to miss
   Trinity College – likewise
   La Paloma Spanish Restaurant – Asdills Row

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