“It is clear that the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library is of national importance, and of immense local significance. It is a survival of the great period of Irish Episcopal library formation – Archbishop King and Bishops Marsh, Forster, Bolton and Hopkins being just the best known names involved – when such libraries formed the centres of the intellectual life of the Protestant hierarchy.” – Dr Nicholas Pickwoad, book conservator and historian
The University of Ulster and the Church of Ireland Diocese of Derry and Raphoe have agreed to house the historic Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library in the care of the University in the purpose-built Rare Books Room in the Learning Resource Centre on the Magee Campus of the University.
The 5,600 printed books and pamphlets range in date from around 1480 to 1900 and cover an impressive range of subjects including theology, the classics, ecclesiastical and civil law, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, gardening, philosophy, science, medicine and history. The majority of the books are from the 17th and 18th centuries – a very significant time in British and Irish history, the Williamite Revolution and its aftermath. The Library also represents local heritage and the intellectual links between the City of Derry and the wider world during an important period in the City’s history. Experts in the field of historical books have attested to the Library’s importance as a source of research into local and national history.
Most of the books are in their original bindings, offering a unique opportunity to study aspects of their construction, to appreciate them as artefacts, and to learn about their history and the history of the book trade. Many of the books have inscriptions or signatures of their early owners, which add to their historical value.
For many decades the collection was stored in unsuitable conditions; cramped shelves and an environment susceptible to fluctuations of temperature and humidity caused deterioration in the books and their bindings, and left them difficult to handle without incurring further damage.
Since the books were moved into the University in 2004, further deterioration in their condition has been halted by accommodating them in a more appropriate environment. However, the collection requires considerable investment to help conserve it and promote its historical benefits and make it available to the wider community.
The conservation team appointed to conserve the historic Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library collection is now into the second year of the project. A recent report broadcast by RTÉ’s Nationwide programme gives a fascinating overview of the work involved in rescuing these historic books. View the clip here.