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urgency Trinity College warns Notre Dame-style fire could destroy Book of Kells in €25m funding application

University applied for €25m Government funding to upgrade their historic Old Library


Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Old Library in Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Paul Sharp

Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Old Library in Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Paul Sharp

Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Old Library in Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Paul Sharp

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

They 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”.

They 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 for 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.

“The collections contained in the Old Library are, collectively, the most valuable, and at the same time, the most vulnerable assets in the university.”

Trinity also warned that 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”.

They said that 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 submission 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.

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.

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They said a new revitalised space would bring visitors through the history of the book in an “imaginative and contemporary way”.

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

They said they would be using their own resources as well as seeking philanthropic support with several million (the exact figure has been redacted) already pledged.

In a letter from Mr Martin to Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, 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, Mr 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 they had been happy to support the plan, which they said was of “global significance” and a once-in-a-century project.

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