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Trinity College Feared Notre Dame-Style Fire Would Destroy Book of Kells

August 25, 2021 5:15 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

Reposted from the Irish Examiner

Trinity College warned of the risk of a fire like that which struck Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral in an application for €25m in Government funding to redevelop its historic Old Library.

It said a “litany of destructive fires” at historic buildings around the world illustrated the risks of deterioration and damage to the library, which houses the Book of Kells.

The university wrote directly to Taoiseach Micheál Martin seeking financial support and saying the fire at Notre Dame “underscores the urgency of the project”.

It said it had been 50 years since any major work had taken place at the Old Library and that it was now in “vital need” of upgrading.

A submission to Government said: “Fire prevention and suppression systems in the Old Library, especially in the wood-lined, cathedral-like Long Room, must be updated and improved.

Trinity also warned the damage to Ireland’s reputation if anything were to happen to the library’s famous Long Room or the Book of Kells would be “incalculable”.

It said Trinity’s location in the heart of the city and surrounded by “very busy roads” was already causing damage to the library’s collections.


The submission said that due to pollution, the 300,000 volumes on exposed shelving in the Long Room were “coated in dirt, dust, and particulate pollution”.

It said: “This is deleterious to the books and represents a potential fire hazard.” 

The university said the ongoing environmental harm to the precious collection of manuscripts was a “quiet disaster”.

The submission said research facilities at the library were also sub-optimal, meaning some volumes could not even be accessed during certain times of the year due to humidity and temperature.

It said reading spaces were “cramped and lacking in environmental control” and that many major world universities with historic libraries were currently undertaking major restoration programmes.

Visitor experience

Trinity also said the visitor experience for those wanting to see the Book of Kells was designed nearly 30 years ago and intended for 250,000 visitors a year. It said a new revitalised space would bring visitors through the history of the book in an “imaginative and contemporary way”.

“Currently, the visitor enters the exhibition through a shop, which is small, cramped, and wasteful use of space in a beautiful historic building,” the submission said.

Details of how much Trinity plans to spend on the refurbishment project have been withheld under Freedom of Information, apart from the €25m it sought from Government.

The university would also be using its own resources, as well as seeking philanthropic support, with an undisclosed amount of money already pledged.

The Taoiseach said he supported the commitment of €25m in funding spread out over five years.

The Taoiseach wrote: “I believe that this project is an unmissable opportunity to preserve what is a vital part of our national and indeed global heritage and that it should proceed as soon as possible with full Government support.” 

In response, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said he too supported the plan “notwithstanding the challenge” the investment would have on budgets for built heritage in his department.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing said it had been happy to support the plan, which was of “global significance” and a once-in-a-century project.

He said: “Trinity has been a custodian of this national treasure for centuries, caring and protecting it for all our benefit.

“It is iconic but also fragile and in need of protection. Its contents have educated centuries of scholars and – protected appropriately – that unique collection can continue to do so far into the future.”

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