Dundalk Free Library - Early 1900s

The Irish County Council Gazette reported, ca 1900, that the Free Library ‘now possess the respectable number of eight thousand volumes – a larger number than that of the books in the public libraries of our greatest cities.’ The Gazette expanded on its theme: ‘…the throwing open of its library and newsroom on Sundays, show Dundalk far in advance of other and more pretentious cities.’

A further comment was prescient in its observation on library charges being a barrier to social inclusion: ‘The enforcement of the payment of subscriptions for the privilege of removing books for home reading may not be altogether commendable, but it is almost a necessity in Dundalk owing to the smallness of the amount produced by the library rate’. It went on to add that: ‘…the subscriptions are always cheerfully paid.’ Some years later, a visitor from one of those ‘more pretentious cities’ came calling and, much to his surprise, was sent packing…

Lennox Robinson had been commissioned by Sir Horace Plunkett to visit all of the libraries in Ireland which had received grants from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust. Wrongly believing that the Dundalk Free Library was one such library he went there in 1917. Writing in his report to Plunkett, Robinson described the encounter in his own, inimitable fashion: ‘The only place I was received with real abuse was at Dundalk , which possesses a library which I thought was a Carnegie benefaction. It turned out to be a very old-established free library which had applied to Mr. Carnegie for money to rebuild some years ago but had not been successful in its application, so it was with immense relish that a rather acid-faced lady librarian told me exactly what she thought of Mr. Carnegie and his works. I tried to sooth her down by saying that Mr. Carnegie had relegated his duties to a Trust unimpeachable in its integrity and wisdom. I mentioned your name as being the Irish representative. It had, alas, no effect. She snorted, “Hm, Mr. Horace Plunkett? That’s the fellow runs the agricultural society. We don’t think much of Mr. Horace Plunkett here.” I fled…’ ( Glimpses at the rural library problem in Ireland . Part II. (Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, 1917), p. 5). Dundalk Free Library may therefore have also had the misfortune, unwittingly and most undeservedly, of contributing to one of the first misogynistic stereotypes of Irish librarians to appear in print!

By 1932 Dundalk Library’s stock had grown to about 21,000 items (Adult lending: 15,000; Juvenile: 2,000; Special collections; 2,000; Reference; 2,000) with annual issues of 14,820. There were 283 registered borrowers of whom ca 271 (78%) were considered to be active borrowers. There was an annual subscription of 2/6p for those wishing to borrow books although students were exempted from this charge and use of the reference library was free. The lending library was open each evening from 6 to 8 pm (except Thursday and Sunday) whilst the reading room opened daily from 10 am to 10 pm; 1 pm to 7 pm and 8 pm to 10 pm on Sunday. There were two members of staff; the librarian and a caretaker, who lived on the premises ( Cumann Leabharlann na hEireann’s Survey of Libraries. Questionnaire for Dundalk Library completed by S. Comerford, Secretary and Librarian, November 8 1933).


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