Book of Kells
Book of Kells

Trinity College Old Library Set for Upgrade

Have you visited the Trinity College Old Library in Dublin?

book shelves in the Long Room of Trinity College Old Library
The Long Room at Trinity College. Photo: Lucas Bischoff for Getty Images.

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If you haven’t, be sure to put it on your list of places to visit in Ireland’s capital before it closes in October 2023 for a major upgrade.
The exterior of Trinity College's Printing House, where the Book of Kells will be temporarily on display. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

However, the Book of Kells will still be available for viewing but in a temporary exhibition in the college's Printing House.

In 2020, Trinity College received a number of large grants that included funds from the Irish government, philanthropic sources, and the European Investment Bank, all meant to overhaul its iconic library located in the Long Room, which attracts approximately 520,000 visitors a year.

The funds are being used to reconfigure the 300-year-old building, which holds over 200,000 books, and to protect it from a number of conservation and environmental challenges, including fire, dampness, and pollution, not to mention the passage of time.

There is an urgency to the 3-year conservation project given the catastrophic fire that destroyed part of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in 2019 and also a fire that destroyed centuries of South African heritage in 2021 when a fire broke out at the University of Cape Town's library.
The image of the Virgin and Child in the Book of Kells manuscript now on display. Photo: Failte Ireland.

The main attraction at Trinity College is of course the Book of Kells exhibition and other medieval manuscripts, which are housed in the library, a part of the college that has been in continual use since 1732.

Decanting of the Old Library's books has already begun, which includes the removal of 350,000 Early Printed books, among many other precious items.

Some of those treasures were originally printed on silk and vellum.

Before they can be moved to a climate-controlled storage facility, each book must be carefully cleaned with a specialised vacuum, measured, electronically tagged and linked to an online catalogue record.

All of the Library’s Research Collections housed in the Old Library are being transferred to special storage.

The History of the Trinity College Old Library

The story of the library goes back to the founding of Trinity College in 1592, which was given a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth I.
A sketch of Trinity College in 1837. Photo: Public Domain.

It was built on the site of the Priory of All Hallows, an Augustinian monastery.

The British Crown dissolved the priory in 1538 and the monastery and the surrounding land were granted to Dublin Corporation.

It subsequently allowed for the building of the new college.

The Old Library is actually part of a group of buildings on the Trinity College campus.

The construction of the library began in 1712 and was complete in 1732.

a large building Trinity College Long Room
Trinity College as it looks today. Photo: Brian Morrison, Tourism Ireland.

The other buildings that followed include the Printing House, built between 1733 and 1734; the West Front, built between 1755 and 1759; the Dining Hall, built between 1760 and 1765; and the Provost’s House, built between 1759 and 1761.

Later in the 18th century, the college’s Parliament Square emerged, in addition to the Public Theatre, built between 1777 and 1786, and the Chapel, built between 1787 and 1798.
The Trinity College Chapel. Photo: By Andrew Parnell, Creative Commons.

The building boom around Trinity College was completed in the 19th century, with the emergence of Botany Bay and New Square.

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What to See in the Old Library

When you visit the Trinity College Old Library, you’ll marvel at the Long Room, which is 65 meters (213 feet) long.

bust sculptures and large posters Trinity College Long Room
The Trinity College Long Room. Photo: Brian Morrison, Tourism Ireland/Failte Ireland.

Lined with marble busts, including one of Jonathan Swift, as well as other great philosophers, writers, and men who supported the college, it serves as the main chamber of the library.

Originally, it had a flat ceiling, with bookshelves on the lower level of the great room, as well as an open gallery.

However, by 1860, the Long Room’s capacity to hold books was under great pressure and the roof was raised to accommodate an upper gallery that would house additional books.

Read More: Explore Trinity College on New Tour
These busts, positioned in the Trinity College Long Room, are of the great philosophers and writers of the western world who were connected with the college in some way. The collection began in 1743 with 14 busts. Photo: Brian Morrison, Tourism Ireland.

The reason why the Trinity College Old Library was running out of space was that it had been awarded legal deposit rights in 1801, giving it permission to obtain a free copy of every book published in Ireland and England.

Those legal deposit rights exist to this day.

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The Book of Kells: An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript in Trinity College Dublin

When Can You Visit?

From April through September each year, the Book of Kells exhibition in the Trinity College Old Library is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

sign Book of Kells
Entry sign pointing to the Book of Kells Exhibition, Trinity College. Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

From October through March, the exhibition is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 12 noon to 4:30 p.m.

Tickets to see the exhibition must be obtained online.

For adults, the cost is €18.50 per person (19 years and older). For seniors 60 and older, students with a valid ID, the cost is €15, and for adult groups of 10 or more, the cost per person is €14.

A family ticket (2 adults and 2 children aged 6-17) is €46.

Read More: Dublin's Top 10 Guided Tours

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