Founded in 1771 by Archbishop Richard Robinson as part of his plans to establish a university, Armagh Robinson Library is the oldest library in Northern Ireland, writes EILEEN CASEY.


Armagh is always a pleasure to visit. Neat streets, helpful residents, cultural events and interesting architecture ensure that my frequent trips to one of Europe’s oldest cities never disappoints.

With so many Armagh features to enjoy, I finally found myself outside No. 43, Abbey Street, with its imposing Georgian door, portal to the Library. Located close to the Church of Ireland Cathedral, there is a Greek inscription on the Library entrance which translates to ‘the healing place of the soul’.

When I first stepped over the threshold of the oldest public library in Northern Ireland – into the Long Room – I felt an immediate sense that true treasure awaited. The Library’s elegant Georgian windows illuminate the scene, casting dual elements of light and shade on a world carefully preserved for posterity.

Also, these windows are so fitting for such a classically modelled architectural gem, the building originally constructed to the design of Thomas Cooley. An atmosphere of scholarship exudes from this interior and continues to seep into every pore, every nook and cranny.

Respectful admiration and awe rose up in me, together with a desire to explore further the history of such a fine establishment. The Library was founded in 1771 by Archbishop Richard Robinson in order to display his own collection of books and fine art for public use.

This is surely a setting where bibliophiles find much to savor. Floor to ceiling, walls tastefully lined with rare and beautiful books (some 44,000) cover subjects as diverse as medicine, science, history, law, politics, theology and literature. Also worth exploring are maps and atlases, a cartographer’s delight.

The Library welcomes all visitors, regardless of age or culture, irrespective of the reading choice. Being physically present is itself a sensory experience. Displays of books are pleasing to the eye; largest on the lower shelves, smallest at the top.

One of the most popular jewels in the Library’s crown however, is Jonathan Swift’s own personal copy of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), with amendments written in his own hand. This addition to the library was acquired through auction in the 19th century, by the then Keeper of the Library, William Reeves.

Gulliver’s Travels remains a timeless classic, read and enjoyed throughout the world. It was an immediate success when published. The English dramatist John Gay remarked: “It is universally read from the cabinet to the cradle.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own