The Washington Post

ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Filmmaker illuminates the lure of ‘Kells’


IN THE SPIRIT OF St. Patrick’s Day, Comic Riffs reflects on one of the more striking Irish-themed films of recent vintage: the stunningly lush animation that is “The Secret of Kells.”

Comic Riffs caught up Tomm Moore, the Irish director of the 2010 Oscar-nominated film, to share his thoughts on the lasting allure of the 9th-century “Book of Kells,” the artistic pride of Ireland that offers perhaps the greatest illuminated manuscripts in history.

“ ‘The Book of Kells’ is a sort of visual-culture backdrop here in Ireland,” Moore tells Comic Riffs. “Before the euro, we handled coins and notes everyday with designs from its pages, its patterns have found their way into every strata of culture here, from tattoos to high-quality jewelry, signs on pubs to official government buildings and fixtures.

“It was a wish to adapt this visual culture to animation that brought us to research its roots,” Moore continues, “and that was when we encountered the stories and legends around ‘The Book of Kells.’ “

[GOOGLE DOODLE: “Kells” inspires St. Patrick’s Day logo]

Moore is struck by how “Kells” — in which Celtic monks illustrated the Gospels — mixes the faiths of Church and folk ritual.

“The stories from that time are fascinating — a sort of blend of old pagan beliefs with Christianity, and so saints are often given the powers and legends of figures from mythology that preceded them,” Moore says. “Often they share names and sacred pagan sites became Christian sites. St. Patrick’s Reek in Mhaigh Eo (Cro Padhraig) was once Croms Reek, for example, or St. Bridgid’s legends that are obviously build on an earlier deity.

“This blending, and the fact that the book contained so many multicultural influences, is what inspired my colleagues and I to make the film.”

Moore underscores how central the book is to Ireland’s rich history. ”There is one story I always think of from an later period that seems to show how emblematic the book became to Irish culture — Queen Victoria signed it!” the filmmaker says. “Seems a pretty symbolic act to me.”

And that illuminated allure continues undimmed today.

“I’m delighted to say the influence is still being felt as we had a young fan visit the other day with her parents,” Moore relates. “They were from Kansas City, and had made their first trip out of the U.S. to Ireland based on seeing ‘The Secret of Kells!’ “

Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.

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