NI’s oldest public library marks 250th anniversary

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Armagh Robinson Library, the oldest public library in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 6:00 am
Interior of Armagh Robinson Library

The Library was founded in 1771 by Richard Robinson, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, at a cost of £3,000.

Robinson had it incorporated in 1773 by having an Act passed by the Irish Parliament for ‘settling and preserving a Publick Library in the City of Armagh for ever’.

The Library was built to the design of the English-born architect Thomas Cooley, whose original drawings are still held in the Library. Today the Library has some 45,000 printed volumes, the earliest dating from the 1480s.

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Silver medal by John Kirk (after Isaac Gosset) struck to commemorate the opening of the Library, 250 years ago, in 1771. Silver medal by John Kirk (after Isaac Gosset) struck to commemorate the opening of the Library, 250 years ago, in 1771

In addition, the Library has manuscripts (going back to the 12th century), Roman and medieval coins, medals from the reign of the French King Louis XIV, antiquities and fine art.

The latter includes Archbishop Robinson’s collection of 4,500 prints and engravings, dating from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries.

On Thursday, April 29 at 7.30pm the Library’s Director, Dr Robert Whan, will give an online lecture on ‘Armagh Robinson Library – 250 years’.

This will provide an overview of the history of the Library and an insight into some of the treasures that it has.

Drawing by the architect Thomas Cooley showing the front of the Library, as it originally appeared

The free talk will be delivered by Zoom.

To book a place please go to or email [email protected]

Speaking ahead of the public lecture, Dr Whan said: “Armagh Robinson Library occupies a unique place in Northern Ireland’s cultural and literary landscape, being the earliest purpose-built library for use by the public in the north of Ireland.

“While the books and fine art collections provided by the Library’s founder have been added to, the ethos of making them freely available to all has remained at the heart of the Library’s continued service for two and a half centuries.

Portrait of Richard Robinson, the Library’s founder

“This 250th anniversary lecture is an opportunity to find out about the building and collections provided by Archbishop Robinson, how they have been used, and expanded over the years.”

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Exterior view of Armagh Robinson Library

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