Opening the Big Red Box: Tourists visit the new Book of Kells experience

After months of anticipation and controversy, the Book of Kells Experience is finally open – but are tourists happy with it?

Let’s address the elephant in the room, or rather, on the campus – the glaring red, modernist, warehouse-esque construction on New Square, the new Book of Kells Experience. Estimated to have cost €2.3 million, the “pavilion” was built to maintain tourism revenue while the Old Library undergoes reconstruction. Some students love it, more hate it. However, as with many parts of College’s campus, this new building was not made for students, but for tourists. So, what do the visitors for whom it was built think of it?

The new tourist experience on campus offers a 90-minute exhibition using virtual imagery and sounds to take people through the history of the iconic Book of Kells and Old Library.

When asked what she thought of the new exhibition, Rochelle, a tourist from the United States, responded that she “thought it was beautiful,” and “really liked how they brought everything to life and [she] got to see amazing detail.” Her daughter, Claire agreed, stating that it was “really neat how they were able to make it kind of virtual reality”.

The virtual reality elements also stood out to visitor Anne-Marie, who called the exhibition’s immersive experience the “icing on the cake”. She added that the accessibility of the presentation, particularly for children, was another impressive consideration, stating that they could visualise “the whole story of the Book of Kells that they wouldn’t get by just looking at the book in the glass cabinet”.

And it was not just the tourists who were impressed. Anthony, a local tour guide, commended the audio-visual elements, which allow visitors to “see the journey of the Book of Kells”. He described the experience as “fantastic”.

When asked whether the construction of the new experience in such a vibrant box was a worthwhile investment by Trinity, the tourists interviewed by Trinity News overwhelmingly said ‘yes'”

When asked whether the construction of the new experience in such a vibrant box was a worthwhile investment by Trinity, tourists overwhelmingly said “yes” and expressed positive feelings towards the eye-catching appearance of the building. Rochelle admitted that the building is “a bit jarring compared with the contrast of the university itself,” but thought that, as it is a temporary structure, this is not particularly problematic.

This impermanent nature of the structure lends itself to a more forgiving attitude towards the red rebuilding, a view that Anthony and Claire also attested to. While Claire agreed the building may be “a little bit distracting for College students,” she argued that they are likely “used to it by now”.

Some visitors also thought that the building’s design is a suitable reflection of its high-tech contents. While Anne-Marie acknowledged that the new building is “not in keeping with the style of buildings that are in Trinity”, she found that the “outside reflects the modernity of what is inside”.

Tour guide Suzanne expressed a similar position, saying “she can reconcile the red box a little better” now that she’s seen the exhibition. One visitor even compared it to the Louvre’s pyramid: jarring when first built, but now a beloved symbol of Paris.

Tour guide Fiona called the building ‘shocking’, and expressed surprise at how ‘they got away with it’

Yet, while most tourists who spoke with Trinity News liked the design, some were not fans of the cardinal red cube. Tour guide Fiona called the building “shocking” and expressed surprise at how “they got away with it.”

Moreover, there were plenty of tourists who were unhappy with other elements of the exhibition. Many complained that the ticket costs were too high (one standard adult ticket is €21.50, €54 for a family ticket and around €17 concession tickets), while others experienced technical issues. Some felt that the voice-over was unclear and that the rooms were too hot. Others expressed concern about the possibility of overcrowding during the busier seasons. In addition, one tour guide felt the experience was too long, explaining that “90 minutes is quite a big chunk out of a visitor’s day”, especially if they’re only staying in the city for a day or two before visiting other places in the country.

Criticisms aside, tourists generally agreed that the new Book of Kells experience surpassed their expectations. While student discontentment with the new construction is unlikely to die down anytime soon, it is clear that those for whom the experience was constructed mostly love it.