Last Updated on 4th January 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
In the heart of Dublin, there’s a place where Bram Stoker once studied, James Joyce once researched, and where Jonathan Swift was known to frequent from time to time. Nestled down a small side street filled with cherry blossom trees, Marsh’s Library is the prettiest, quirkiest, and oldest public library in Ireland…
A quick history of Marsh’s Library
First opened to the public in 1707, the library was constructed at the behest of Narcissus Marsh, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin at the time. Marsh donated many of his personal collection in order to grow the library and is now interred in the graveyard of nearby St Patrick’s Cathedral.
The first librarian was a certain Dr Elie Bouhereau, who was a Huguenot refugee hailing from La Rochelle in France. Today traces of the Huguenots can be found throughout Dublin, including in the Huguenot Cemetery of 10 Merrion Row. When Bouhereau joined the library as the librarian, he donated his own personal set of books to the collection.
During the Easter Rising, shots were fired at the library and some of the Baltic oak shelves were damaged. These bullet holes can still be seen in several of the books, as well as in the shelves of the Old Reading Room. Today, the library is home to over 25,000 tomes, as well as 300 manuscripts. Most books date from the 16th, 17th, and 18th-centuries.
Book theft in the Library
Over the years, theft has been a major issue for the library. In total, it’s thought that over a thousand books, manuscripts, and prints have been stolen. In order to prevent this, wire cages were created in the library, some of which can still be spied to this day.
These ‘lock in reading rooms’ were designed so that people could study the rarer manuscripts and books without being able to pinch them! After all, as you may well know, books can sometimes be more valuable than a house!
Visiting Marsh’s Library, Dublin
Of all the unusual places you could hope to find on a wander around the city, this hidden place of books truly is a gem. Located not far from St Patrick’s Cathedral, this destination is one visit you won’t want to miss on any trip to the Irish capital!
Rolling ladders, original carvings, and vintage seating: once inside Marsh’s Library, there are two long galleries filled with bookshelves, as well as a small reading room in the heart of it all. The library is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Last year Marsh’s Library welcomed well over 26,000 visitors. So popular is this literary space becoming, that academics have since moved into another room to study, away from the prying eyes of the public.
Today, you can visit the library for yourself for a nominal sum of just €5 full price, even less if you’re a student or can purchase another concessions ticket (€3)! Tickets can be purchased online in advance or at the door. Guided tours take place on a daily basis at 15:00.
The best time to visit the library is mid-week and earlier in the day if possible so as to be able to enjoy the serene space with as few a crowds as possible. For more Ireland inspiration, be sure to check out our top Dublin travel tips and also our guide to the top hidden gems of Ireland.
Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.