Inside Marsh’s Library, Dublin, Ireland. (booksquotes66.com)

Inside Marsh’s Library, Dublin, Ireland. (booksquotes66.com)

BookNotes: Marsh’s Library through the centuries

Not only does the library have all of its original seating, tables, and shelving, but it does not have any books newer than 1799.

Mike Selby

Two weeks ago, Rev. Roy Byrne tripped over a book in his rectory (Church of Ireland), and it was one he did not recognize. It was a 400-year-old ‘Book of Common Prayer,’ which had “Marsh’s Library” stamped inside it. That was why it wasn’t familiar to him; it didn’t belong to the rectory at all.

Rev. Byrne returned the book to Marsh’s Library, which is located in central Dublin. They were happy to have it back — it had been missing for 177 years.

Byrne’s kindness wasn’t unique though — people from all over Ireland had been returning seriously overdue books they have found in basements, attics, and thrift stores.

The library — Ireland’s oldest public one — was a favourite of thieves during the latter half of the 18th and early half of the 19th centuries. Preventive measures were taken, with bars and cages welded over the windows and doors, and reading rooms featuring locked doors and guards. Yet they still lost over 1,200 books during this time period.

And time is very special to Marsh’s; as they have worked very hard to be frozen in it.

Not only does the library have all of its original seating, tables, and shelving, but it does not have any books newer than 1799.

The building itself is named after its founder, Narcissus Marsh, who was the Archbishop of Dublin. A few years before his death in 1707, he donated his private collection of 25,000 books and hundreds of medieval manuscripts to the people of Ireland. An act of Parliament provided the land and building for it.

Besides its insistence on remaining in the 18th century, there are other unique features to it.

An Egyptian mummy was discovered in what was thought to be a box of books in 1888 (sent there by accident instead of Trinity College years earlier). The eastern most wall and many of the books shelved against it are riddled with bullet holes from the Easter Rising. And one of the remaining cages used to prevent theft has a replica of James Joyce’s skull hanging from it.

One book which hasn’t been stolen is the 1599 edition of ‘The Life & Reign of King Henry IIII’ by Sir John Hayward (note the odd use of IIII instead of IV.) The previous owner of the book had penned a poem opposite the book’s title page:

“If I this loosse: and you itt finde / I hop yow will nott bee unkind

Butt itt restore to mee againe / And I will thank you for your pains

I will sett downe my name to shew / wherby the oner you might knowe”

It is then signed by a Richard Barrett.

Marsh’s Library also appears in the 2012 children’s picture book ‘The Lost Library Book’ by Amanda Bell. Her book begins “Once upon a time, a man wandered into a junk shop and found a dusty, battered book with a strange diamond pattern on the front. Inside, the pages were covered in letters from an alphabet he didn’t understand, but the ancient manuscript had cast a spell on him, so he bought it anyway.”

The book in question is ‘Galeni Librorum’ — a Swiss medical textbook published in 1538. Bell didn’t have to do much imagining for her book; it was the true story of her husband. He found the lost book on a shelf of a Dublin junk shop, and bought with some other items. He knew it was old, but didn’t think it would valuable or of interest to anyone. Once back home he saw the “Marsh’s Library” stamp, and returned to its rightful home.

The Library was happy to have it back again, but this time they didn’t believe it had been stolen. The director stated it was probably “an informal case of a librarian lending a book out to an eminent scholar, who got run over by a horse and cart, or something, and wasn’t able to return it.”

Just another day in Marsh’s Library.

Mike Selby is Information Services Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

Columbia Basin Trust is asking residents across the region to test their internet speeds so the Trust can better identify which areas aren’t meeting service expectations. (Columbia Basin Trust file)
Columbia Basin Trust asks residents to test internet speeds

Several communities across the Basin region, including Moyie, are asked to take the test

South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services was responding to a fire at the corner of 2nd St. N & Victoria Avenue Wednesday morning. Trevor Crawley photo
UPDATED: Fire department response prompted by mischief, not fire

Motorists, residents advised to avoid corner of 2nd Street North and Victoria Avenue.

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Most Read