“This collection is one of the most significant in Ireland. It is important that these texts are preserved so future generations can understand the history of the City. We are delighted to work with the University on this project and we commend their interest, expertise and support.” – The Rt. Rev. Ken Good, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe
The core of the collection was established in 1729 when Archbishop King, formerly Bishop of Derry, bequeathed to the Diocese all the books he had purchased from his predecessor at Derry, Ezekiel Hopkins. Hopkins was Bishop of Derry at the time of the Siege, but he supported King James, and left the city in a hurry a few days after the apprentices closed the gates in December 1688. He had to leave his books behind. The collection received substantial donations of books through the 18th and 19th centuries, and was greatly enlarged when the Diocese of Raphoe was amalgamated with the Diocese of Derry in 1834; the Raphoe books come to Derry around 1881.
The books in the collection dates back to the 15th century, with approximately 700 items from the 16th, 1900 from the 17th and 1400 from the 18th. Printed catalogues were produced in 1848 and 1880, but these are highly unsatisfactory, as they are full of errors, they give abbreviated titles in which words have been changed, and they contain many items no longer in the collection and omit items which are present.
The contents of the Library shed light on the reading habits of the Anglican establishment in the northwest during the 18th century, and marks of ownership on many of the books illustrate their fascinating history. Significant finds already include: a large number of books belonging to George Downham, or Downame, a former Bishop of Derry who died in 1634 just after the completion of the building of the present cathedral; some of Downham’s books belonging previously to the Elizabethan antiquary William Harrison; there is a fine binding belonging to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the court favourite of Queen Elizabeth I; another book once belonged to the playwright Ben Johnson; early printers including the 15th century masters Aldus Manutius of Venice and Anton Koberger of Nuremberg; there is a first edition of Samuel Johnson’s A dictionary of the English language of 1755.