In Armagh 2009

Touching the past

When you walk into The Armagh Public Library, the aroma of parchment, old leather and the printed word all mingle together.

After taking in the fragrance of the collection, you begin to glance around. Books cram the limited shelves and are neatly organized with the biggest on the bottom shelves and the smallest at the top. About 35,000 books of assorted topics catch your eye as you spin in a circle.

ourladyThe Hours of Our Lady illuminated manuscript.

The books are from the 17th and 18th centuries. They cover theology, philosophy, travels, history, medicine, law and local history. Your eyes will be drawn to the prestigious books the library contains, such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, a first edition with Swift’s own annotated notes in the margins, John Gerson’s De Praeceptis Decalogi, and Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World.Many other important books grace the shelves such as, the Breeches Bible and The Hours of Our Lady, an illuminated manuscript.

The library holds duel status as a museum and displays many artifacts. Displays line up along the wall space without bookshelves and on top the freestanding shelves in the middle of the gallery, containing St. Patrick’s bell, the city’s wax seals, and the Silver Maces, which were presented to Armagh when it became a city in 1656.

You hear the books and manuscripts calling out to you and reveal their riches inside. The hunger of curiosity takes over and you are compelled to brush your fingers along the spine of a book. You hesitate though, most books like these are not out in the open; they are snug behind glass panels or roped off. Your fingers itch to touch the past.

“What makes us unique is that the books in this library are freely available to the public,” says Patrick Rooke, Dean of the Church of Ireland and Keeper of the library. “Other libraries with collections like ours have limited access for researchers only, but have a variety of people who come in to use our library for research, to look up genealogies or just to see our treasures.”

The past is yours for the reading. Click on the entrance to the library on the left to touch more on the past and present of the Armagh Public Library.