Marsh's Library

Marsh's Library was the first public library in Ireland. It was built by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh in 1701.

This video is designed as a resource for primary and post-primary students up to Junior Certificate.

Marsh’s Library

Tucked away behind St Patrick’s Cathedral in St Patrick’s Close, and hidden behind a pretty garden and entrance gate, is Marsh’s Library.

It was the first public library in Ireland and was built by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713) in 1701. At that time there were only few public libraries in England and it was a very new idea to have libraries at all. Archbishop March wanted to open a library for what he called “publick use, where all might have free access seeing they cannot have it in the College’ (which translates as a free public library for everyone, the same as public libraries today). Now there are 21 public library buildings in Dublin City and you can get books and go on the Internet for free.

Marsh’s library was designed by Sir William Robinson (who also designed the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham). The interesting thing about Marsh’s library is that it has always been used as a library, so it still has the same purpose since 1701.

This is one of the very few eighteenth-century buildings left in Dublin that is still being used for its original purpose.

Marsh’s Library contains many old and very valuable books which were either bought by Archbishop Marsh or given to the library by other book collectors. The library contains mostly books on religion, medicine, law, science, mathematics and music because these were the areas people were most interested in back then.

The inside of the library has changed very little since 1701. Walking in the door is like stepping back in time - spooky! Many of the books are still kept on the same shelves where they had been placed in the eighteenth century.

As books were very expensive then, the ones on the lower shelves were chained to a rod so that they could not be stolen. If you wanted to read one of the most valuable ones, you had to go to a small room at the side of the library where you would be locked in so that you could not steal the book. These rooms are called the ‘cages’ and are still there today.

Archbishop March left strict instructions how the library should be run and he also gave the following rules for the use of the library: ‘All Graduates and Gentlemen shall have free access to the said Library on the Dayes and Houres before determined, Provided They behave Themselves well, give place and pay due respect to their Betters, But in case any person shall carry Himself otherwise (which We hope will not happen) We order Him to be excluded, if after being admonished He does not mend His manners’. So if you did not behave, you were barred!

But there is also a ghost in the library and this is how it came about: One day, when Archbishop Marsh lived on his own in his bishop’s palace, his niece Grace came to visit and stay with him for a while. She was only nineteen years of age, and she fell in love with a clergyman from Castleknock. She ran away with him and got married secretly. Archbishop Marsh was very upset and his niece felt guilty, so she wrote him a long letter explaining her actions. She left it in one of his books but the Archbishop could not find it. And so every evening his ghost revisits the library to search through the books for the letter … but only when the library is closed.

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