The Liberties’ ancient library is bringing schoolchildren in again 

Marsh’s Library has opened for in-person visits, with activities and workshops to engage younger audiences in its history and founder. 

“It’s been tough obviously – we’ve all been in the same boat really,” Julie Burke, head of school tours in Marsh’s Library. “We’ve focused on doing events online and trying to upload interesting things for the children. 

“We’ve been trying to get involved with events such as Maths Week and Science Week, providing activities that can be sent out or given to children for homework etcetera.”  

The Inside of Marsh’s Library. Photo by Chloe Seymour

School tours are not a new initiative for the library – they were ongoing pre-Covid – but Burke is hopeful they can expand to attract larger audiences, such as secondary school students, after restrictions are further eased. 

“Tours are still virtual, unless it’s a small group of less than ten children. We might get a change soon. Maths Week is coming up just before the easing of restrictions so that will unfortunately be online, but we are brainstorming ideas at the moment.” 

Marshs library was founded by Archbishop of Dublin, Narcissus Marsh. Building began on the library in 1703 and was completed to its full extent by 1707, when it was founded. 

 The Library boasts over 25,000 in total and some of these books were donated by Marsh himself. The contents of his collection consisted of over a massive 10,000 volumes, many being rare copies of literature. It is Ireland’s oldest public library.

The library had several ‘regular’ school groups for tours such as the mini-figure hunt before the first lockdown, but this has since stopped as the library is not able to hold outdoor events. “The workshops that were included as part of some tours involved a more in detail look at the books and printing etcetera,” Burke says. 

Its local heritage, it fits well with studying local history in the curriculum, it teaches them about important Irish writers and helps to celebrate them. 

Julie Burke, head of school tours in marsh’s library.

“We are really adaptable; we can do pretty much anything that someone wants to do, we have many subjects, topics, and images that can be used by schools. It will be nice to get back into that soon.” 

Burke says she hopes a space in the downstairs of the library can be renovated into a classroom once the library has access to more resources. 

“The tours, such as the mini figure hunt were great at getting the children engaged and involved in the history of the place and the historical figures that have connections, such as Jonathan Swift. 

Children’s Exhibition Competition Submissions (Photo by Chloe Seymour)

“Its local heritage, it fits well with studying local history in the curriculum, it teaches them about important Irish writers and helps to celebrate them. We have a great relationship with Dublin 8 schools, who would regularly get involved in our events and attend for tours. The children really get a sense of their locality, its history and they get to feel a sense of pride about it too.” 

The library has a variety of tours and activities available for classes – from a general tour with a look into the history to a ‘Hairy Scary tour’ which includes their very own comic book publication as well as a Lego mini figures hunt and workshop. 

The Lego tour includes 12 original Lego mini figures of individuals from the library’s past and a workshop into the history of the library and individuals such as Bram Stoker, James Joyce and an Egyptian mummy! 

With visits from general tourists, the library is on its way to reopening fully. “We don’t charge for school tours – they’re solely for children and library entrance is free for under-18’s, so it would be a break in our own rules.” 

“In financial terms, we really do rely on donations,” Burke says. “We have a small entry fee for visitors – with that gone it’s been very tough.”