Standing in the shadow of St Patrick’s Cathedral is Marsh’s Library, the first public library in Ireland, established in 1707. The library was built for Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, the Church of Ireland Archbishop for Dublin who donated his own library, which included the contents of one of the finest private libraries in England at that time, owned by Bishop Edward Stillingfeet. The first librarian of Marshs, a Huguenot refugee from la Rochelle Dr Elias Bouhereau, also donated his personal library. The building was designed by Sir William Robinson who was also the architect of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which now houses the Museum of Modern Art, along with Lismore Cathedral, St Michan’s Church and Ormonde Bridge, now known as O’Donovan Rossa Bridge in Dublin to name but a few.
The library contains over 25,000 books from the 16th-18th centuries, in addition to around 300 manuscripts and 80 books/incunabula from before 1501. The books range in content and language, with everything from Hebrew to Arabic. One of the most notable manuscripts is a volume of the ‘Lives of the Irish Saints’ in Latin dating to around 1400AD.
The library is absolutely fantastic and still open to researchers free of charge. The beautiful bookcases are made of Baltic Oak. As you can see from the pictures some of the bookcases and books themselves contain bullet holes from the Easter Rising of 1916 when the nearby Jacob’s biscuit factory was occupied. Another interesting feature is the three wired/caged rooms, these came into use in the 1770s as a response to thefts in the library.
As with many of these old places there are ghost stories attached. The ghost of Archbishop Marsh is meant to haunt its corridors searching for a lost note between the books. The story behind the note relates to the niece of the archbishop named Grace who he reared from a very young age. At nineteen Grace fell in love with a sea captain, Marsh did not approve of the relationship and Grace ran away and eloped, she didn’t want her uncle to become aware of her imminent departure too soon so placed a note in one of the books explaining her disappearance and asking for forgiveness. The note was never found, and its said the Archbishop is still searching.
Another unusual story relates to an Egyptian Mummy named ‘Maurice’ by staff. He was discovered in a library cupboard in the late 1880s, he was dated to around 1500 BC and no-one is fully sure how we got to be there. He is now in storage in Trinity College Dublin.
GPS: 53.33917, -6.27044