Marsh’s Library: Oldest Library in Ireland

Marsh's Library Dublin

Updated On: April 08, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Sometimes, when we think we’ve discovered all the amazing places in Dublin to visit, we come across the little gem that is Marsh’s Library. The beautiful Marsh Library is the oldest in all of Ireland.

That alone should be enough to make you want to discover all the incredible stories and books found inside. It has even seen many famous visitors over its time, from renowned writers like Bram Stoke and James Joyce. It is one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Dublin, Ireland.

Even though it is the oldest Library in Ireland, it has been magnificently preserved through its three amazing centuries in Dublin. It looks nearly untouched and is just as captivating as you would expect from a historical library.

Let’s explore the fascinating history of Marsh’s Library…

Marsh’s Library History

Marsh’s Library | Dublin | Ireland | Dublin City | Things to Do in Dublin

The exceptional Marsh’s Library was founded by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh in 1701. Officially opening a few years later in 1707. It is located behind Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It has the title of being one of the first free public libraries to be introduced in Europe.

The Dublin Library came nearly 50 years after the Manchester Chetham’s Library. Chetham’s library is considered the oldest English library in the entire world.

Marsh’s library was designed by the talented architect Sir William Robinson. It was one of the last buildings he designed in Ireland. It’s also one of the last remaining 18th-century buildings in Dublin that is still used for its original purpose.

The Library Collection

Much of the library’s original collection, which Archbishop Marsh donated, is still on its shelves. Marsh’s library offers an outstanding collection of over 25,000 books, 300 manuscripts, and maps dating back to the 15th century.

Some of Marsh’s donations to the library included the former collection belonging to Bishop Edward Stillingfleet, which has over 10,000 volumes. The collection was considered one of the finest in England. Marsh bought the collection for 2,500 pounds at the time.

The first person known as the Marsh Library keeper was Dr Elias Bouhereau, a refugee from France. He fled to Ireland after the Revocations of the Edict of Nantes and donated much of his collection to the library.

In the same year as its opening, Marsh’s Library was formally incorporated by an Act of Parliament known as ‘An Act for Setting and Preserving a Public Library for Ever’. This Act looked after the houses and books, placing them under trustees known as Governors and Guardians of Marsh’s Library. The trustees were made up of religious and state officials, and their successors still oversaw them.

Marsh's Library Dublin
Marsh’s Library Dublin

More Recent History of Marsh Library

The first female keeper of the library was Muriel McCarthy in 1989. McCarthy continued the job for 20 incredible years before her retirement in 2011. The most recent library keeper is Dr Jason McElligott, who studied at the University College in Dublin.

When Farmleigh House, a former residence of the Guinness family, was sold to the Irish State, its library, Benjamin Iveagh Library, was donated to the Marsh Library in Dublin. You can view the catalogue on the Marsh Library site.

Many people have come from all around the world to check out this incredible historic library. The library seems to be growing in numbers and popularity. In 2013, it saw 16,000 tourist visitors, rising to 17,187 in 2014 and again in 2015 with 23,000 visitors.

Marsh’s Library Design

Books at Marsh's Library
Books at Marsh’s Library

When you step inside Marsh’s Library, you’ll be truly captivated by its two long galleries shelved with unique collections of books.

The library design is elegant. As you climb its ancient stairs, you’re transported into a room with stunning dark oak bookcases and more books than you could imagine reading. It’s like something straight from a movie; the Harry Potter films come to mind.

Many of the original designs and fittings of when Marsh Library first opened are still evident today from the seating and the shelving. There were also bullet holes in some of the bookcases from the Easter Rising in Ireland when the hotel next to the library was taken over.

Famous Ghost of Marsh’s Library

The historic library is home to more than just books. It is believed that a ghost of an older man roams through the library. This ghost happens to be of the founder, Archbishop Narcissus Marsh. It is no surprise that Marsh would return to a place hugely crucial in his life after death.

The story of Archbishop Marsh’s appearance in the library involves his niece, Grace. Marsh played a vital role in her life, raising her from the time she was a child. But when Grace fell in love with a sea captain, Marsh grew very concerned for her and disapproved of the relationship. He tried his best to prevent them from seeing each other, but ultimately, that only brought them closer.

The couple made up their minds to run away and elope. Grace was just nineteen then, but before she left, she had written a letter to her Uncle asking for his forgiveness and explaining why she chose to leave. She left the letter in one of his books located at the Marsh Library.

While he was alive, Marsh never came across the letter written by Grace that might have helped him deal with the loss of her. So, the popular theory is that his ghost roams the library in hopes of finding the lost letter.

Famous Visitors

In addition to its ghostly visitors, many famous people have spent time here, including Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, and James Joyce. You can even check out their signatures in the visitor’s book.

Bram Stroker loved to visit and read the variety of collections at the Marsh Library while studying at Trinity. It is documented that the books he enjoyed reading were based on religion, witchcraft, and travel.

When you visit the library, you can check out an illustrated booklet that gives you a guide to the library’s most interesting stories and facts. If you find yourself in Dublin soon, add this incredible place to your list of places to visit.

Preservation and Conservation

Central to Marsh’s library’s mission is the preservation and conservation of its collections for future generations. The library employs a team of skilled archivists, conservators, and librarians who work tirelessly to safeguard its treasures and ensure their long-term accessibility. This includes using state-of-the-art conservation techniques, such as temperature and humidity control, acid-free storage materials, and digitization initiatives to enhance access to its collections.

Marsh’s library also actively engages in outreach and educational programs to promote literacy, scholarship, and cultural awareness. Through exhibitions, lectures, and public events, the library seeks to foster a deeper appreciation for its collections and their significance in the broader context of Irish and European history.

Education and Outreach

Marsh’s Library is more than just a repository of books; it is also a vibrant centre for education and learning. The library hosts a variety of educational programs, lectures, and exhibitions aimed at engaging visitors of all ages. From guided tours and workshops to public lectures and literary events, there is something for everyone to enjoy at Marsh’s Library.

In addition to its onsite activities, Marsh’s Library also offers educational resources and outreach programs to schools, universities, and community groups. The library seeks to promote literacy, lifelong learning, and a greater appreciation for Ireland’s literary heritage through partnerships with local institutions and organisations.

Visiting Marsh’s Library

For scholars, researchers, and bibliophiles alike, visiting Marsh’s Library is an unforgettable experience. Upon entering the library, visitors are transported back to an era of intellectual curiosity and enlightenment, surrounded by centuries-old books and manuscripts in a setting of timeless beauty.

The library’s reading room, with its oak-panelled walls, soaring bookshelves, and antique furnishings, provides an inspiring environment for study and research. Here, visitors can peruse rare books and manuscripts, consult with knowledgeable staff, and immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of Ireland and beyond.

Marsh’s library is open to the public for guided tours and independent study during designated hours. Admission is free for scholars, students, and researchers, while general visitors are welcome for a nominal fee. Whether exploring the library’s collections, attending a lecture, or simply enjoying the serene ambience of its historic surroundings, a visit to Marsh’s Library offers a unique opportunity to connect with the past and discover the enduring power of knowledge.


Marsh’s library is a beacon of intellectual tradition and scholarly excellence in an age of rapid technological advancement and digital innovation. For over three centuries, it has served as a guardian of knowledge, preserving Ireland’s cultural heritage and enriching the lives of countless individuals through its unparalleled collections and educational programs. As it continues to inspire curiosity, spark imagination, and ignite a passion for learning, Marsh’s Library remains an enduring symbol of Ireland’s enduring commitment to the pursuit of wisdom and enlightenment.

Also, if you have visited this Dublin tourist attraction, share your experience with us below!

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