The big house library in Ireland

Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s Libraries Curator, has just published The Big House Library in Ireland: Books in Ulster Country Houses.

Possibly the most romantic library anywhere: The Mussenden Temple, on the Downhill demesne, Co. Londonderry, where the Earl-Bishop of Bristol kept a collection of books in the 1780s. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

In 1850 there were about 2000 country houses in Ireland. By the end of the twentieth century only a few hundred of them remained intact and only a handful of those still had their collections of books. The National Trust looks after most of those that do survive.

Historical evidence: Bureau-bookcase in the Library at Springhill, Co. Londonderry, the house of the Conyngham family. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

In this richly illustrated book Mark charts the history of those houses and the families that inhabited them through the evidence found in their libraries.

Page from John Gerard's 'The Herball of General Historie of Plantes' (1633), showing the balsam mint, with a pressed leaf of the plant, at Springhill, Co. Londonderry. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Books can convey all sorts of stories, not just through their content, but also through their bookplates and ownership inscriptions, the handrwitten marginal notes and doodles and even the ocassional pressed flowers and other insertions.

Celtic-Revival-style binding of 'The Cabinet of Irish Literature' (1880) in the library at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The book is available through Amazon.

5 Responses to “The big house library in Ireland”

  1. Vic Says:

    If I had a Mussenden Temple, I would never leave my library.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes, but imagine the pressure to write Byronic poems and think Wordsworthian thoughts all day… But perhaps that comes naturally to you? :)

  3. graham daw Says:

    such an enticing cover,being immersed in a library like that must be bliss.

  4. Janet Says:

    What a fantastic publication! So glad it it available on Amazon!!!!!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Graham, it shows the importance of a good cover image, doesn’t it?

    Janet, yes ironically books are easier to distribute worldwide than TV series, as we discussed earlier.

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