Ian Paisley’s 55,000-volume library opens to public

The late Ian Paisley’s vast personal library has opened for any member of the public to come and browse through a collection of 55,000 volumes.

Housed in a retail premises on the Upper Newtownards Road just a couple of streets away from the Paisleys’ Cyprus Avenue home, the huge collection of books, along with thousands of pamphlets and photographs, can be read on the site – but not removed.

The library houses a collection of 55,000 volumes

The library houses a collection of 55,000 volumes

The ‘reading library’, which the News Letter visited on Tuesday, is furnished with items from the Paisley family home, with chairs, tables and sofas connected to Lord Bannside’s long careers in church and political life.

The Bannside Library reveals what many people will find to be a surprisingly broad range of reading material. Although about 80 per cent of the books are religious, there is extraordinary breadth in his collection.

For a cleric who was bitterly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church, some of the most prominently displayed and imposing volumes are those of the Catholic Encyclopedia.

There are numerous papal biographies and histories of the Vatican – and not all of them dismissive; one, Andrea Lazzarini’s biography of Pope John XXIII, was approved by the Vatican.

The News Letter's Sam McBride browses through one of the books

The News Letter's Sam McBride browses through one of the books

Scholastic philosopher Thomas Aquinas’s work On The Truth of The Catholic Faith sits alongside the 19th century evangelical Anglican bishop JC Ryle’s Practical Religion and 20th century Congregational clergyman JS Whale’s The Protestant Tradition.

There are many Bibles – from huge antique family Bibles which he bought in second-hand book shops to his personal preaching Bibles, complete with his sermon notes – and many political works, including biographies of Churchill and Chamberlain, Britain’s Second World War prime ministers.

One of the few works of fiction is CS Lewis’s science fiction work Voyage to Venus.

Dr Paisley made many of the preparations for the library in the years between his retirement from politics in 2008 and his death just over a year ago.

The library is housed close to the late Lord Bannside's family home in east Belfast

The library is housed close to the late Lord Bannside's family home in east Belfast

The former First Minister’s artist daughter Rhonda has been behind much of the work over the last three years.

She told the News Letter: “Dad had planned for a long time to do this because his collection had grown and he always thought that when he had time he would like to make it available to a wider audience, so it had been in his mind for years but other things got in the way.

“He was very involved in it because before daddy took ill we already had this archive system in, the place was painted, we had the floor in and we had his desk in. He was already round doing wee bits and pieces and showing me what he wanted done.”

Explaining her father’s vision, she said: “He wanted people to feel that it was an oasis where they could come and sit and have the pleasure of reading in a world that has got just so fast. Dad always felt that thinking time was important.”

She said that the project was really her father’s and that his family are now just implementing his wishes for the library.

Dr Paisley would read in the back of his police car, on aircraft and in his book-lined study. His family recall him phoning home while travelling and directing them to a page of a book on a specific shelf amidst the thousands of volumes to locate a quote which he wanted to use.

She said that most of the collection consisted of books that her father had bought, but a few were gifted to him and he would not have read them.

“We didn’t weed the library – we wanted it to have that eclectic [feel] ... that it was a personal collection.”

The full catalogue will ultimately be available on the website – www.bannsidelibrary.com – so that people can browse the collection before they arrive, and she said that material which her father had written but never published would also be made available online.

This month, the library is free for anyone to visit but from next month it will be free for a period during the week, but with extended opening hours for members. Membership fees have not yet been set but are likely to be in the region of £50 a year.