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Some of Ireland’s greatest stories and characters, including the world’s favourite vampire, started in a little-known library with secrets of its own. Mairead Fanning takes us on a tour.
Text by: Mairead Fanning
Country: Ireland

ave you ever caught a sudden glimpse of a ghostly figure or a disembodied orb? Maybe you have experienced an inexplicable chill or quickened your pace when passing a crumbling building. For centuries, people across the globe have blamed these supernatural phenomena on witches, warlocks, ghosts, ghouls and goblins in tales as old as time.

In Ireland, the prolonged dark and damp winter weather provided the perfect backdrop for writing such ghost stories and nursing a culture of storytelling. Ireland has produced its fair share of creative minds including James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde. Today, many are surprised to hear that one of the most famous figures of literary history, Count Dracula, was also penned by an Irish author, Bram Stoker. Many of these world famous writers used one of Dublin’s best kept secrets—Marsh’s Library—for their research.

Located just a stone’s throw away from the capital’s Christ Church Cathedral, Marsh’s Library remains one of the few 18th century buildings still used for its original purpose. The library was built by Archbishop Narcisscus Marsh and houses an impressive collection of books and manuscripts. It’s estimated that the library’s towering oak bookshelves are home to 300 manuscripts and more than 25,000 books, including original works by Galileo and Cervantes. The collection contains scriptures in a variety of languages, including Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

The library is recognised as one of Europe’s first “public” libraries, although at the time of its establishment, neither women nor anyone without a gentleman’s status was permitted entry. A select number of “notable women” were eventually allowed access to the library in the 1840s. The library attracts just 23,000 visitors a year, compared with the 1.25 million who flock to the Guinness factory, Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction.

Ireland is known as “the land of the Saints and Scholars” because of the considerable number of talented writers it has produced. Marsh’s library provided the creative fuel to ignite many of these brilliant literary minds. The extensive library logs show that James Joyce browsed Marsh’s library’s shelves, as did “Gulliver’s Travels” author Jonathon Swift. Swift made the most of the library’s impressive collection of maps to conjure his own imaginary world. Another author of considerable literary fame, Stoker, also drew inspiration from the gothic atmosphere and gloomy surroundings of the library to create the towering figure of Count Dracula. The librarian’s visitors’ log registers his scrawled signature over a period of a year and a half. The log book also provides us with an illuminating insight into the literature that Stoker was researching when writing “Dracula”, his gothic masterpiece.

Like Swift, Stoker took advantage of the library’s extensive range of maps to research the geographical landscape and makeup of the faraway lands of Transylvania. In a fascinating twist, Stoker used some of the same source materials that Shakespeare used to write “Macbeth”. The text in question was penned by a close acquaintance of Shakespeare and discusses dark magic and witchcraft. It’s fascinating to consider that Shakespeare and Stoker used the same source material to pen their masterpieces almost 300 years apart.

The building itself has a couple of eerie stories up its sleeve, the most famous of which involves the library’s founder and onetime archbishop of Dublin, Narcissus Marsh. Marsh was a committed bachelor and never had any children of his own but was fond of one of his nieces, Grace. In fact, Marsh decided to bring Grace with him from England upon accepting the position as archbishop at Dublin’s Christ Church. Legend tells that shortly after arriving in Ireland, Grace fell head over heels in love with another member of the clergy. Marsh strongly disapproved of the match and forbid Grace from seeing her lover. Despite her uncle’s wrath, Grace continued to meet with her lover in secret and eventually eloped to England leaving a distraught Archbishop Marsh behind. To this day, it is claimed that when the clock chimes midnight, Marsh’s tormented ghost appears to roam the passageways and alcoves of the library. It is said that Marsh’s spirit searches for a handwritten note from Grace justifying her sudden disappearance.

Another curious event in the library’s captivating history occurred at the beginning of the 20th Century when one librarian made a most astonishing discovery, an Egyptian mummy. The unfortunate librarian made the unexpected find when clearing out the dusty corners of some of the library’s oldest vaults. The chief librarian was justifiably startled and decided to get rid of the mummy as soon as possible. As time passed, people lost interest in the story, and little was known of the mummy’s whereabouts. It is only in the last 20 years that the story has risen to public consciousness once more. It was while scrounging deep in the pits of Trinity College, Dublin’ s oldest and most prestigious university, that the mummy’s whereabouts were rediscovered. Today, it reposes alongside other Egyptian mummies in the Egyptian Exhibition at the National Museum in Dublin. However, historians remain dumbfounded as to how an Egyptian mummy ever came to reside in Marsh’s library in the first place.

Dublin, Ireland’s capital city, boasts a lively tradition of dance, music and storytelling as well as outstanding sites of historical interest. Tourists from all over the world fall in love with the city’s quirky corners, winding cobblestone streets and captivating architecture.

Marsh’s library remains one of the most interesting attractions in Dublin city. Today it plays an important role in Dublin’s annual Dracula Festival which occurs on Halloween, October 31st. On this day, the library hosts a range of activities from children’s workshops to reenactments of extracts from some of Stoker’s other works, including “The Judge’s House”. The role that Marsh’s library has played in the Irish tradition of storytelling cannot be overstated. Its gothic architecture and eerie ambience sparked many creative minds to publish great works. However, perhaps the most enthralling aspect of the library’s charm is the various inexplicable events that have occurred throughout its murky past.


● Tourism is a growing industry in Ireland and employs approximately 220,000 people, mainly in Dublin and in the surrounding areas.

● In 2015, an estimated 9.3 million visitors came to Ireland, generating revenues of about €4.7 billion.

● Ireland’s capital city, Dublin, took its name from the Gaelic dubh linn or “black pool” which refers to the point where the city’s River Liffey formed a deep pool at Dublin Castle.

● The origins of the city stretch back over 1,000 years but the city was established as a Viking stronghold around 841AD.

● The first Vikings arrived on Irish shores around 790 AD and Dublin became a trading point halfway between Viking settlements in Scandinavia and Constantinople.

● Today, archaeologists still come across remainders of the original Viking settlement, including cooking utensils, weaponry and, on one occasion, an almost intact Viking longboat.

● “Dracula” was published in 1897, eight days after Stoker released the stage play at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Stoker ran the theatre and directed many plays alongside his wife, Florence Balcombe, an actress.

● According to The Telegraph, more than 1,000 novels and 200 films have been made about Dracula. Writers of popular TV series, such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” also drew inspiration from Stoker’s work, as did the prolific American author Stephen King.

● Stoker’s lineage on his mother’s side includes the legendary Sheriff of Galway, who hanged his own son. Stoker used this material to create his fiction.


Marsh's library, Dublin's best kept secret

Marsh Library is one of the few 18th Century buildings in Ireland that is still used for its original purpose. Many scholars do research there today just like many illustrious Irish writers did in the past. Some of its famous authors include James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde. According to many people, the library is also home to ghosts, ghouls, and other supernatural beings. But rather than scare patrons away, the gloomy atmosphere has inspired some great works of literature. Bram Stoker used the library to do research on his masterpiece, Count Dracula. Surprisingly, he used some of the same source material as Shakespeare used to write Macbeth 300 years earlier. The building was founded by the archbishop of Dublin, Narcissus Marsh. He was a bachelor who never had any children but was very fond of one of his nieces and took her to live with him in Dublin. She fell in love with another member of the clergy. The archbishop disapproved of the match and so she eloped with her lover. Legend says that at midnight, the ghost of Marsh roams the passageways and alcoves of the library looking for his niece. Another unusual story that gives the library its haunted reputation was the discovery of an Egyptian mummy in one of the library's oldest vaults. It was discovered by a librarian at the beginning of the 20th Century and then lost again. It was rediscovered 20 years later in Trinity College, Dublin's oldest and most prestigious university. Today, it reposes alongside other Egyptian mummies in the Egyptian Exhibition at the National Museum in Dublin. However, historians still don't know how the mummy appeared in Marsh library in the first place! Marsh library continues to play an important role in the Irish tradition of storytelling, not just as a source of research, but also as a source of inspiration thanks to its eerie ambience and the inexplicable events of its murky past.



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