Trinity College’s iconic Old Library to undergo €25 million restoration

The Irish Government has announced €25 million funding for the restoration of one of the country’s best-loved heritage sites, the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin. The Old Library is home to the famous Long Room and precious manuscripts, including the 9th century Book of Kells.

“This landmark restoration project will use leading technology and preventive conservation, providing optimum environmental conditions for the 18th-century building and its precious collections. With the aid of this Government funding we are safeguarding our heritage for generations to come,” An Taoiseach Micheál Martin said.

It marks the most significant funding award for the cultural heritage sector this year.  

The Government announcement follows Dublin City Council’s planning permission for the Old Library Redevelopment Project last Autumn, and the historic unveiling of the new Book of Kells Treasury and displays which forms the first component of these redevelopment plans. 

Old Library

The Old Library Redevelopment Project is a multi-million euro project. In addition to Government funding, Trinity has made it a focus of the philanthropic fundraising campaign, Inspiring Generations, and will additionally be providing substantial resources to it. 

The award-winning architects Heneghan Peng, who successfully conserved and revitalised the National Gallery of Ireland, are leading a world-class design team in this transformative development.  

The Old Library is one of Ireland’s iconic treasures, and a globally recognised cultural landmark. It combines heritage and scholarship in its unique dual role as a world-class library and a national cultural institution.   

Its precious collections, spanning millennia have been in the care of the Library of Trinity College Dublin for over 400 years. But it now faces significant conservation and environmental challenges. External pollution and dust accumulation are taking their toll on the collections and the fabric of the Old Library building. There is a need to modernise environmental control and fire protection measures.

This ambitious redevelopment project will draw on the best 21st-century design and technology to safeguard the Old Library building and conserve its precious collections for future generations. It includes urgent structural and environmental upgrades; and the redevelopment of facilities in line with the best library and museum experiences around the world.  

Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton said: 

“We take our role as stewards of the Old Library very seriously. Its rare and important works have inspired generations of students, academics and visitors. This is a critically important redevelopment project that will safeguard it for future generations. It will enable us to both conserve this magnificent 18th building and its collections, as well as make it more accessible to our scholars and public in an historic building reinterpreted for the 21st century.” 

Central to the redevelopment plans will be the conservation and protection of the 18th century building, and its precious manuscripts and research collections.

It will include the development of a new state-of-the-art Research Collections Study Centre for students and scholars both nationally and the world over. It will also re-envision the Library’s treasures with a one-of-a-kind immersive exhibition.  

Conservation of the Old Library and its historic collections 

The Old Library currently houses 350,000 early printed books, and 20,000 manuscript and archive collections which have been collected over the course of 400 years. 

The university proposes to upgrade environmental controls and fire protection measures while protecting and conserving the architectural character of the protected structure.   

Similar to renovation projects at the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland, Trinity’s Old Library redevelopment plans is addressing these necessary 21st century upgrades through an integrated and holistic design and planning process.  

Research Collections Study Centre for students and scholars 

Academic activities will remain at the heart of the Old Library, and the Long Room will continue to be at the heart of a fully functioning library.  

A new Research Collections Study Centre will provide national and international scholars with a secure, accessible, and inspiring environment to intimately study the unique and distinct collections.

Located in the beautifully colonnaded ground floor, the Research Collections Study Centre will overlook Library Square, one of the original historic courtyards at Trinity College. In parallel, a Virtual Trinity Library is also planned which will provide digital access to the unique and distinct collections of the Library across the world. 

A reimagined Treasures Exhibition 

Last Autumn saw the unveiling of the new Book of Kells Treasury and display which forms the first component of the redevelopment plans. This will be developed further in a new Book of Kells exhibition re-interpreting the precious manuscript to respond to increasingly diverse and engaged visitors.   

It will showcase the manuscript’s history, making, and symbolism in a new gallery. The redesign of the exhibition by world-renowned Opera Amsterdam and Studio Louter will guide visitors on an immersive journey that places the manuscript in the context of Europe, Ireland, and Trinity College. 

New visitor facilities, orientation, and public spaces 

The current visitor entrance in the Old Library will be relocated to a new more welcoming entrance and exit via the Berkeley Podium, which is located adjacent to the Berkeley Library. At the same time, the current retail facility will be relocated to the Berkeley Podium, alongside visitor amenities and space for rotating exhibitions. In its totality, the project supports and enhances both public access and academic scholarship in the Library. 

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I'm a freelance content creator and a journalist who has a strong desire to do as much as possible in the time I've got left on this planet. I got a taste for storytelling when I interned in Storyful many moons ago and since then have worked for places like WorldIrish (now Irish Central), Her.ie and Lonely Planet. I am constantly curious.

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