A volume of the priceless Book of Kells has been damaged.

The twelve hundred year old Book of Kells is bound in four separate volumes, the four gospels of the new testament. The manuscript, the Gospel according to Saint Mark, was damaged while en route to Australia to be displayed in Canberra. The book is temporarily on display at the national gallery in Canberra

It is unknown exactly where the manuscript was produced but at one stage it was in a monastery in Kells in County Meath. When the monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII, the book passed on to the Bishop of Meath who donated it to Trinity College Dublin.

There is a current campaign to have the Book of Kells put on permanent display in Kells County Meath. Some say that the reports of damage to the manuscript are a ploy by Trinity College Dublin to highlight the importance of preserving the manuscript at its current home in the college. However, Chief Librarian at Trinity College Bill Simpson refutes such claims. He also says that there has been a change to the condition of the manuscript but he would not describe it as damage.

One or two fragments of the pigment have become detached from the velum, but when I talk about fragments, we’re talking about literally microscopic fragments.

While the damage may be minor, it is something that Trinity College, as the custodian of the manuscript, treats very seriously. The manuscript will be fully inspected when it returns to Ireland and immediate action will be taken.

Last month, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had the opportunity to visit the Canberra national gallery where the manuscript is on display. This is the fourth time that the manuscript has been allowed out of Ireland.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 14 April 2000. The reporter is Colm Connolly.