News Release

Ulster To Restore Historic Derry and Raphoe Library

7th January 2008

Psalmeus Canones et Decreta...Concilij Tridentini published in Rheims by Jean de Roigny in 1564 is one of the rare volumes in the collection

Over 5,000 volumes in the historic Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library are to be restored and their contents made available to the public. The unique University of Ulster conservation and outreach initiative - funded by a grant of 500,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund - will take three and a half years to complete.

The majority of the collection dates from between the 16th to 19th centuries. The project will simultaneously train a team of skilled book conservators and facilitate a range of education and outreach activities to allow groups and communities across Northern Ireland explore the books’ themes and history. The project will be based at the Shantallow Library in Derry and will be managed by the University of Ulster and the Church of Ireland Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.

  • The Library’s volumes date from between 1480 and 1900. The Library’s core was formed in 1729 by the Archbishop William King, then Bishop of Derry, when he bequeathed to the Lord Bishop of Derry and his successors the books he purchased from the executors of his predecessor, Ezekiel Hopkins.

  • Its contents cover a range of subjects including Protestant and Catholic theological writing and books on Dissent, Quakerism, Judaism and Islam. The restored volumes will aid the study of biblical languages and Greek, Latin, Celtic, Arabic and Portuguese. The library contains many rare political polemics, literature and maps with publications on the classics, ecclesiastical and volumes on civil law, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, gardening, philosophy, science, medicine and history.

Ulster’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard Barnett, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Heritage Lottery Fund’s investment in this unique library. The project will cost almost 740,000 so this grant is essential to its success. The University has already invested in the collection to stabilise its fragile state and it is currently stored in the Rare Books Room at the Magee campus. Thanks to this significant grant we are now able to progress to the next phase in its conservation and towards providing access to its treasures.”

Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Right Rev. Ken Good, added that “The Diocese is thrilled that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given its support. The Library was housed at the Diocese’s former offices at London Street since the early 19th century, in conditions which were far from ideal, so in order to protect the library, the books were handed over on long-term loan to the University of Ulster in 2004. This project will ensure that the books are conserved and that access to it will be guaranteed for future generations.”

Caroline Bendix, a conservation expert who carried out a condition assessment of the Library, underlined its significance: “The collection is a relatively undiscovered historical resource – a Cinderella of the book world. It is one of the most significant libraries in Ireland and gives a fascinating insight into the history of Derry city.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant builds upon many other generous donations received from individual supporters across the world and a number of charitable organisations including the Inner City Trust, the Honourable The Irish Society, the Garfield Weston Trust and The Heritage Council.

HLF Country Manager in Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan said,
“It’s wonderful news that this collection will now be open to the public. There are some fascinating documents just waiting to be explored covering a wide variety of subjects that will appeal to lots of different people.”

Once restored, the books will be a valuable resource for research. It is hoped that the conservation team’s newly developed skills will be retained after the project has been completed in order to offer conservation services for other historic libraries.

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