There he was, far from the press of humanity on bustling shopping streets, peering intensely and for a prolonged period at a single book. In low lighting conditions.
God be with the days when there would be a woman from Eason’s wandering by with a stern warning: “No reading! You have to buy it instead.”
God be with the days, indeed, because far more holy and awe-inspired times caused them to create the vellum volume that Micheál was eyeing up incessantly.
The world-famous illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells.
The Taoiseach chose to go to Trinity College and its famous Long Room to see Ireland’s most famous ancient artefact.
Outside the umbrellas were jousting on Nassau and Grafton streets, bags swung recklessly in every direction as consumers vied for bargains on the day of the great unlock-in for gastro pubs and restaurants.
Micheál apparently wanted to stress for the rest of us that Christmas is not all about Mammon. He would have as many of us as possible continue to lead monastic lives.
In order to keep the Vikings – sorry, the virus – at bay.
So he found himself channelling the mystic founder of the party he now leads, the revered Éamon de Valera, who saw a nation satisfied with frugal comforts (even the crossroads dance was off this year).
He said it afterwards in the Exam Hall – watched beadily by a portrait of the Virgin Queen herself, Elizabeth I, from whom most wise heads kept their two-metre distance unless they wanted to lose them, as did some of her suitors.
Micheál, a former altar boy, read diligently from the Book of Quells – proper distancing, limited social contacts, no hugs – until he could have urged us to wear a cough and catch a mask in our elbow and it would have sounded the same.
“People’s aspirations over Christmas are grounded in realism, They realise it will be a different Christmas. But they’re looking forward to a relaxing time with family and friends, to get out there in the open air, get a bit of exercise, watch a few good films, do different things. They know that it’s going to be different to last year.”
Or you could stay up all hours in a distant, dark place with only a burning candle and a world of spiders for company, working on your own patiently-painted copy of a gnostic gospel. One felt he was nodding to a few people who might feel a vocation to go off in this direction.
Because those dedicated scribes had the right idea. They didn’t talk but observed strict silence, such that the only droplets were the few getting through the beehive roof, or trickling down from the capstone of the round tower. Not forgetting to pull up the ladder after themselves.
“My sense of people’s commitment and personal behaviour is they are strongly working to make sure that they and their family don’t get the virus,” said Micheál piously.
“That’s my sense, talking to people, talking to my own friends, I get that sense strongly that there’s a desire by and large to know and adhere to the guidelines over the Christmas period.” Here ended the lesson, although he just shouldn’t be talking to so many people – unless it’s on the phone, which it probably is, because the guidelines are as sacred scripture to our tonsured, ascetic Taoiseach.
So what did he think of the Book of Kells? “Incredible, really. A jewel in the crown for this country. Extraordinary act of artistic excellence on display. Iconic.”
Oh for the rasping voice of the woman from Easons: “You’re not allowed to read the iconics. The tills are over there.”