Back in March, I was lucky enough to spend a weekend with my husband’s Irish cousins in Dublin.
For my husband, his dad, and his cousin, it was a big rugby weekend. The men in my family are big Ireland rugby supporters (I can’t bring myself to tell them the hero in my novel First Aid for a Broken Heart plays for England), and that weekend Ireland smashed Scotland.
But tickets are expensive, so I watched the match on TV with my mum-in-law and cousin’s wife. You get much better close-ups of players getting their shorts ripped off that way.
Anyway…the day of the match, my mum-in-law and I had a girl-date. As a belated birthday treat for me, she took me to the Chester Beatty Library, and I’ve been urging people to go ever since.
Here’s the story:
Chester Beatty was a New Yorker, born in 1875. He studied mining and started his career shoveling rock in mines before going on to become an engineer and then consultant.
But Chester’s main passion was collecting. As you’d imagine, he started off with minerals as a kid, but as an adult he branched out into European and Persian manuscripts.
He also loved traveling, and on a trip to Egypt he found some decorated Korans in the bazaars. Soon he began adding Japanese and Chinese paintings to his collection. Over his lifetime he amassed thousands of manuscripts, scrolls, paintings and prints. There are over 6,000 items in the Islamic collection alone.
In 1950, Chester moved to Ireland and built a library so people could enjoy his collection. When he died, he bequeathed it to a trust, to protect it for the public’s enjoyment.
And friends, it is STUNNING.
Imagine ancient manuscripts from all over the world, books that are decorated and luminous pieces of art. The oldest date from around 2700 BC. There are Bibles from Ethiopia, an illustrated Life of the Prophet Muhammed from Turkey and papyrus manuscripts from ancient Egypt.
Living in a time when anyone can publish a book, it was wonderful to remember that the written word was once considered sacred and a work of art – even though that meant that only a social elite would ever see it.
And someone who loves to travel, I was thrilled to see how cultures around the world have all displayed their passion for books throughout history.
If you get a chance to visit Dublin, make sure you schedule a few hours for the Chester Beatty Library. And I can recommend lunch and tea at the library’s restaurant. Plenty of choice for vegetarians.
Have you ever been to the Chester Beatty Library? Which of the collections would appeal to you the most? Do you collect anything?