First Local Authority Public Library in Ireland

The 150th anniversary of the opening of Ireland ’s first local authority public library - the Free Public Library in Dundalk, County Louth, was marked in 2008. The library was opened in 1858. Before this event, the residents of Dundalk had access to various collections of books and reading spaces. Prior to 1844, there were two such ‘libraries’ in existence in the town; the Repeal Reading Room and Library in Clanbrassil Street and the Literary Society’s library of some 500 volumes in the Free School. The collections of both of these libraries were later donated to the Mechanics’ Institute when it was founded in 1844.

The Institute’s library was housed in a room in the Market House and a librarian was appointed at the annual salary of 10. The library flourished, so much so that the librarian’s salary was raised to 15 p.a. and an assistant was appointed. In 1848, the Mechanics’ Institute had 211 members, ‘of whom 15 were professional men, 106 were persons in trade, 45 were young men in shops, and 45 were classified as mechanics and tradesmen’ ( R.G. Morton, Mechanics’ Institutes and the attempted diffusion of useful knowledge in Ireland , 1825-79. Irish Booklore, 2(1) 1972 ).

The Institute continued in existence until 1853 when its library, which had grown to some 2,000 volumes, was given to the Dundalk Literary and Scientific Institute where was housed in the old Methodist Chapel in Market Street .

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