Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Marsh's Library: A Treasury of the European Mind

In Dublin right next door to the cemetery grounds of St. Patrick's Cathedral, and tucked away just beyond a small gateway, is Marsh's Library. Founded in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, in a building designed by the Surveyor General of Ireland, Sir William Robinson, Marsh's Library was the very first public library in Ireland.

Today, the library is one of a very few 18th century buildings left in Dublin that is still being used for its original purpose. In fact, many of the books in the library are still kept on the same shelves chosen for them by Archbishop Marsh and by the library's first librarian, Huguenot refugee, Dr. Elias Bouhéreau.

The library holds some 25, 000 books and manuscripts dating from the 15th to the 18th century and covering such a wide variety of subjects — classical literature, mathematics, science, politics, music, medicine and law — that it has been fittingly referred to as a treasury of the European mind. There are bibles printed in almost every language, along with books in Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and Russian, and a significant collection of Latin Judaica.

The library is principally comprised of works from the collections of four individuals. The most significant of these is that of Edward Stillingfleet, the Bishop of Worcester, whose collection of over 10, 000 books was considered to be the finest private library in Europe in the period. It was purchased by Marsh in 1705 at the cost of £2,500.

John Sterne, the Bishop of Clogher, bequeathed his private collection to the Marsh library in 1745. Among those treasures is Cicero's Letters to his Friends. Printed in 1472, it is the oldest book in the library. The library's oldest manuscript also comes from Sterne's library; it is The Lives of Saints, which is written in Latin and dates to around 1400. The private collection of Narcissus Marsh, and that of the first librarian, Dr. Bouhéreau, complete the library.

Within the library, horizontal curios line one side of the central aisle, displaying all manner of fascinating materials. Also there are small cage-like enclosures in which the scholars of the day were required to sit when they were conducting research. A scholar could not simply peruse the shelves and choose the volume he required. Instead the librarian would retrieve the desired books and deliver them to the caged pupil for study.
Interior looking out, and the final staircase to the library.
The red hall is dominated by a portrait of Narcissus March.
Visitors to the library are not allowed to take photographs inside the library itself — thus all the outside views — however, I did manage to snag a shot just over a patron's shoulder before the door was closed to me. The last image on this page is the listing of librarians which hangs above the door into the library. Perhaps the name of one of your ancestors is among them.

You can get a glimpse of some of the treasures held by Marsh's library, and have a look at a 'study cage', by visiting the Pinterest or Facebook pages of the library.

Did any of your ancestors serve as a librarian at Marsh's Library?

Click on images to view larger versions.


  1. What a place, bit like the Bodlian Library in Oxford only a little smaller. Nice work

    1. It is indeed quite a place Bill. Thanks for your comment. I love the Bodlian library at Oxford, and back in the day used to dream of having an office nearby and close to that of Tolkien. Ah, to dream.


  2. That library sounds like a treasure. I'd love to browse there!

    1. Thanks for your comments Colleen. The library is indeed a treasure, and a place perfect for walking back into the past.


  3. I have to add this to my " next time in Dublin" list Jennifer. Thank you.


Comments on this blog are always deeply appreciated; however, in the spirit of true collegiality, I ask that you do not write something you would not say to me in person.

This blog is CAPTCHA free, but because of spammers, comments moderation is in operation for posts older than two days.

Any comments that are mean-spirited, include URLs which are not connected to the post topic, contain misinformation, or in any way resemble advertising, will be removed.

Cheers, Jennifer

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...