The Royal Irish Academy is an all-Ireland learned society and was founded in 1785. The following year it was granted its royal charter, and its aims were ‘the promotion and investigation of the sciences, polite literature, and antiquities, as well as the encouragement of discussion and debate between scholars of diverse backgrounds and interests.’ The Earl of Charlemont, who described himself as a ‘lifelong learner’ was, appropriately, the first president. Today there are over 400 members, and some of the notable honorary members in previous years have included Charles Darwin, Max Planck and Albert Einstein.
The Academy’s first residence was at 114 Grafton Street (across from the Provost House, Trinity College), but it moved to its present address (19 Dawson Street) in 1851. The new premises had more space to accommodate the growing collections of antiquities, and the Reading Room and Meeting Room were added between 1852-54. Much of the collection was subsequently transferred to the new National Museum of Ireland in 1890, and included the Cross of Cong, the Tara Broach and the Ardagh Chalice.
The library’s unique collection of manuscripts (over 1,500) began when it was presented with the fourteenth-century Book of Ballymote. There are many other famous manuscripts in its care, but the most precious is the Cathach (Psalter of St Columba). This is the oldest surviving Irish manuscript and dates from the sixth century. The library is a research library for members, students, international scholars and members of the public. It holds the largest collection of Irish-language manuscripts, and archives on Irish history, archaeology and 19th century Ordnance Survey records. The library also holds the collection of Thomas Moore, the Irish singer and songwriter, who penned The Last Rose of Summer and The Minstrel Boy. His harp is on show in the library.
In the grand Meeting Room you can find chandeliers and benches from the Irish House of Lords which was abolished over two hundred years ago. Now that’s living history!