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A library in Dublin that most people overlook

Photo by Madeleine Masoudi for Circular

Marsh’s Library in Ireland is just as worth seeing as the Book of Kells in Trinity College. Marsh’s was the first public library in Ireland and has been used as a place of literature since 1707.

One of the side streets next to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin City takes you into a totally different atmosphere. Walking down the path, you can escape the hustle and bustle of the main St. Patrick’s street. You come across a very enchanted and mysterious gate door with the inscription “Marsh’ Library”. 

Most people would not discover this place or intentionally look for it unless you really love books or libraries or a history student.

Marsh’s library has been open to the public since 1707 and for 150 years was the only public library that was independent of any institution. It was named after Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, who was a dedicated scholar and a strong advocate of education and public learning.

The idea of opening a public library was sparked during his time at Trinity College. He realised there were insufficient resources and limited access for people.

As a result of Marsh’s pioneering work, there are now 22 public libraries where books can be borrowed for free.

In the first gallery of the library contains 10,000 books, which are still in the same place as they were more than 300 years ago. Mr Marsh, whose portrait hangs over the doorway, acquired them from a well-known English clergyman, Edward Stillingfleet.

On the left, Mr Marsh collected his personal books in different languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and Syriac. His collection of oriental manuscript was taken over by Oxford after his death. On the right are collected plays and poems as well as the greatest number of books about Irish affair.

The writer James Joyce was one of the visitors in 1902 and made himself comfortable in the very same chair to read literature. And books and manuscripts can still be read today, however in a different reading room.

If you can’t have enough of Marsh’s library and want to immerse yourself in the world of historical books take a look at this short visual insight.

Most well known library in Ireland

To Old Library in Trinity College Dublin with its most famous historical books, the “Book of Kells”, is a must-see. These are handwritten copies of the four gospels of the News Testament from the 9th century. They are so well known for their unique colourful decorations and painting in the manuscripts. In Ireland’s oldest university, you will also see the oldest harp in Ireland, “Brian Boru Harp”.

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Which library is next to visit?

If you would like to visit Marsh’s Library, you can do so from Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:30 to 5:00 (Saturdays from 10:00 – 5:00) for €4 as a student. You will find the library in St Patrick’s Close (D08 FK79). For more information visit the website.

Trinity Library is open 7 days a week, from 9:30 to 16:30 (Mondays to Saturdays; Sundays from 10:00 – 16:00). The visit costs €17.40 and Trinity College recommends booking online. This includes “The Book of Kells Experience”, which takes you on an immersive journey through the history of the handwritten copies. Their website can be visited here.

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