Wednesday 21 April 2021

Northern Ireland’s Oldest Public Library marks 250th Anniversary

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Armagh Robinson Library, the oldest public library in Northern Ireland. The Library was founded in 1771 by Richard Robinson, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, at a cost of £3,000. Two years later it was incorporated by an Act passed by the Irish Parliament for ‘settling and preserving a Publick Library in the City of Armagh for ever’. It was built to the design of the English-born architect Thomas Cooley, whose original drawings are still held in the Library.

Interior of Armagh Robinson Library. Photo courtesy Brian Mason

Today the Library has some 45,000 printed volumes, the earliest dating from the 1480s. In addition, the Library has manuscripts (going back to the 12th century), Roman and medieval coins, medals from the reign of the French King Louis XIV, antiquities and fine art. The latter includes Archbishop Robinson’s collection of 4,500 prints and engravings, dating from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries.

To mark the anniversary of the Library's foundation, its Director, Dr Robert Whan will present an online lecture exploring the history of the Library and some of its many treasures. This will be held online on Thursday 29 April at 7.30pm and is open to all. Although free of charge, you need to book here or email.

Speaking ahead of the public lecture, Dr Whan said: “Armagh Robinson Library occupies a unique place in Northern Ireland’s cultural and literary landscape, being the earliest purpose-built library for use by the public in the north of Ireland. While the books and fine art collections provided by the Library’s founder have been added to, the ethos of making them freely available to all has remained at the heart of the Library’s continued service for two and a half centuries. This 250th anniversary lecture is an opportunity to find out about the building and collections provided by Archbishop Robinson, how they have been used, and expanded over the years.”

Silver medal by John Kirk (after Isaac Gosset) struck to commemorate the opening of the Library, 250 years ago, in 1771. The medal features a side profile of the Library’s founder, Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, 1st Baron Rokeby. On the other side is the front elevation of the Library as it was originally built, three bays wide. It carries the Greek inscription, ‘TO THΣ ψYHΣ IATPEION’ – the Library’s motto:‘The Healing Place of the Soul’. Photo courtesy Dix Noonan Webb.