Tag Archives: marsh’s library

IMMA – A Modern View

IMMA - a delight

IMMA – a delight

I don’t know how I had not managed to visit IMMA before, but I’m sure glad that I did. The place, although it concentrates on the Modern there is much history to learn. It’s a terrific place to visit, and I expect you’ll need a second one to ‘get it all in.’

The Irish Museum of Modern Art was established by the Government in 1990 as the first national institution for the collection and presentation of modern and contemporary art. It was opened officially by An Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, on 25th May 1991 and since then it has become an influential presence in both Irish and international art. It is recognised for its extensive and informative exhibitions that attract half-a-million visitors each year.

The site where the building stands has an interesting history. James Butler, Earl of Ormonde and Viceroy to King Charles II was granted permission to build a place for ‘old soldiers’. He was impressed with the building Les Invalides erected by France’s Louis XIV and selected William Robinson (he also designed Marsh’s Library) as the architect. The old hospital on the site that dated back to the days of Strongbow was removed, and the foundation stone was laid in 1680. The work was completed in four years and what you now see is Ireland’s best preserved 17th century building. Much work by the Office of Public Works (OPW) in the 1980s has really made the place ‘easy on the eye’, and it is no surprise they received a Europa Nostra in 1986.

Art in the open air

Art in the open air

 Apart from the building you must visit the 18th century formal gardens. It was a treat walking past the neatly trimmed hedges, fountains and many, lovely statues. There are art works at different points around the grounds and you can always consider your next move the friendly restaurant. The mixture of ‘old and new’ works very well – it’s a delight.

Formal Gardens

Formal Gardens


The road to....

The road to….

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Marsh’s Library – The Oldest Public Library

First Gallery

First Gallery

Although I had passed by it many, many times over the years I had yet to open the door and step inside. Marsh’s Library  (beside St Patrick’s Cathedral) is one of those places that is little known, but has a lot to offer.

It was commissioned by the wonderfully named Narcissus Marsh and opened its doors in 1707. It is one of the  few  early  18thcentury (Enlightenment) buildings in the city still being used for its original purpose. Considering the changes that have occurred in the last three centuries, it is a testament to the building and to what it offers that have helped it survive.

Open the door and you step back in time. The stillness and quiet rule here, and the tall dark oak shelves are crammed with books that were old when Marsh got permission to build Ireland’s first public library.

It is laid out in two galleries (First & Second) joined by a reading room in an ‘L’ shape. It is interesting to think that most of the books are resting the same places that Marsh chose. At the end of the Second Gallery are the ‘Cages’. These were to prevent theft of the smaller books which would have been expensive, and very difficult, to acquire. And here you can test your Quill Power by writing in the old style – very interesting.

Centuries of learning

Centuries of learning

Some of Dublin’s greatest writers spent time here, researching and enjoying books that were unavailable elsewhere in the city. It is thought very likely that Jonathan Swift’s most famous work Gulliver’s Travels owes a lot to books on Formosa and Japan – published in the early 1700s. James Joyce and Bram Stoker also visited, and the place features in Joyce’s Ulysses.

Of a more contemporary note there are bullet marks in the shelves and books, leftovers from the Easter Rising. They, thankfully, are the only scars it bears from the conflict and show that even somewhere like the old library was not safe. The place, however, is, as someone wrote ‘living history’ and long may it continue to enthral and excite booklovers.

Marsh's Library on St Patrick's Close

Marsh’s Library on St Patrick’s Close

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Filed under Dublin, James Joyce