Carnegie's Gift

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Rathmines LibraryWhile researching the development of public libraries in Ireland for another project, I discovered a connection between this evolution and my home through the Carnegie Grants. I am from Pennsylvania, the same state in America where Andrew Carnegie operated his iron and steel works. Carnegie had worked his way up from a factory job to amass a fortune at the head of the American steel industry. Because of his humble roots, he was determined to give back some of that fortune. In Ireland, his charitable work had a tremendous impact on the Library Movement. Eighty proposed libraries received grants, of which sixty six were actually built. In Co. Dublin, grant money funded the creation of twenty one public libraries including the Pearse Street (then Great Brunswick Street), Charleville Mall, and Pembroke libraries that are now a part of the Dublin City Library network.

At first these grants came directly from Carnegie himself, as was the case for the first beneficiary in Ireland, the community of Newtownards, Co. Down, in 1897. The availability of these grants was never advertised by Andrew Carnegie, due to his personal philosophy of helping those who help themselves. Communities would hear of his charitable giving through the newspaper and write to Mr Carnegie asking for information about the grants and would receive an application form in reply. This policy led to the concentration of the sixty six libraries in six areas; the Belfast area, the Dublin area, Waterford, East Cork, West Limerick, and Kerry. These forms would ask for the district's population, specifics of any existing library services, and other similar information to determine the need for funding. Finding the provided information met the standards for distributing the grants, money would be promised with several conditions. To receive a grant, a community had to adopt the Libraries Act, provide a free building site, establish a rate of one penny in the pound for library maintenance, and produce a satisfactory design. These conditions could cause problems from time to time, and as a result, some communities never received the promised funding.

View photos of our Carnegie Libraries on flickr.

The Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (CUKT) was created in 1913 to oversee the distribution of funds. The trust looked to foster library growth through ways other than library buildings as Andrew Carnegie had done. The CUKT also ensured that the outstanding grants promised by Carnegie would be paid. Beginning in 1915 the Trust awarded grants to rural libraries, as they were deteriorating due to a lack of funds and mismanagement. Another initiative the CUKT pushed was the creation of county libraries, starting in 1921 and running until 1950. The Trust also helped to maintain an available supply of books. Many of the libraries constructed with Carnegie Grant money used those funds up on the building, leaving little room in the budget to acquire materials such as books, newspapers, and magazines. As such many relied on donations to expand their catalogues. The CUKT worked to provide books for libraries; awarding grants to urban libraries and establishing a Book Repository in 1918 that maintained a steady stream of new books to the shelves. In 1923 the Irish Central Library for Students was created by the Trust to help those in rural areas, running it until 1948.

About our Guest Blogger

Written by Ian Spotts, a Boston University student studying at DCU. He is interning at Dublin City Library and Archive through an arrangement with EUSA.


Casteleyn, Mary. A History of Literacy and Libraries in Ireland. Brookfield, Vermont: Gower Publishing   Company Ltd., 1984. Print.

Grimes, Brendan. Irish Carnegie Libraries A Catalogue and Architectural History. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1998. Print.

Neylon, Maura and Monica Henchy. Public Libraries in Ireland. Dublin: University College Dublin, 1966. Print.

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