Marsh's Library, situated in St. Patrick's Close, adjacent to St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland is the oldest public library in Ireland. It was built to the order of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh in 1701 and has a collection of over 25,000 books and 300 manuscripts.
The library was built for Narcissus Marsh, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, and formerly Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1701. The design was by the then Surveyor General of Ireland, Sir William Robinson, also the architect of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Marsh donated his own library, which included the former library of Bishop Edward Stillingfleet, of over 10,000 volumes, regarded as one of the finest in England, which he had bought for 2,500 pounds.
The Library was formally incorporated in 1707 by Parliament, which vested the house and books in a body known as the Governors and Guardians of the Library, comprising religious and state dignitaries and officials, and their successors still oversee it. Narcissus Marsh died in 1713, and is buried just beyond the library, in the grounds of the cathedral.
In 1745, John Stearne, Bishop of Clogher, bequeathed his books to the library; these included a volume from 1472.
In 1989, Muriel McCarthy became the first female Keeper, holding the position until her retirement in 2011. She has published a history of the library. The current Keeper is Jason McElligott.
Recently, reader and visitor facilities have been enhanced, a bindery and conservation facility added, and the catalogue fully computerised, and published online.
The library contains over 25,000 books from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, in addition to around 300 manuscripts, and around 80 books (incunabula) from before 1501. Subjects covered include medicine, law, science, travel, navigation, mathematics, music, surveying and classical literature, and especially theology.
The Marsh collection includes works in oriental languages, and in Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and Russian, as well as an important collection of Latin Judaica. The Bouhéreau collection relates especially to France, and French religious controversies, and also medicine.
Among the manuscripts is a volume of the Lives of the Irish Saints in Latin from ca. 1400, as well as 16th century madrigals and other musical pieces, and manuscripts on theological, legal and medical matters.
Books and periodicals relating to Ireland and published in the last hundred years are held in a separate room from the main collection.
The library still features its original fittings, including seating and shelving. The bookcases are made of dark oak with carved and lettered gables. There are three wire alcoves where readers would be locked in with rarer books
The library is one of the last 18th century buildings in Ireland still used for its original purpose. It is open to visitors for a fee of €3.00, or €2.00 for students and senior citizens. Researchers are admitted free of charge, as long as they have made prior applications.
The Library holds exhibitions, and occasional conferences, and has published a range of material, primarily related to exhibitions and the catalogue.
As a charitable institution the library accepts donations, which are recorded in a special ledger.
References and notes
- Library history and governance, at March's Library's official website
- Narcissus Marsh, at Marsh's Library's official website