SCARCELY a day passes in the city of Dublin that dozens of citizens and visitors do not climb the oak staircase within the nearly four-centuries-old Trinity College Library. They enter the majestic, arched Long Room, pass along the galleries to a desk in the center, part a pair of curtains to peer into a glass-enclosed display case. They are there to see Ireland's most precious treasure, the Book of Kelts.

Since the middle of the 17th century, this illustrated Latin manuscript of the four Gospels has lain in the library. It is surrounded by a Caesar's ransom of rare editions—a first edition...

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