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Exhibition of Rare and Historic Books Provide Rich Social Commentary

2 December 2011

Some of the conserved rare and historic books and pamphlets held at the University of Ulster will be displayed in a unique exhibition to mark the completion the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library Project. 

The exhibition in the Chapter House Museum of St Columb's Cathedral from December 7 to December 19 marks the culmination of a £500,000 Heritage Lottery Funded project to conserve the Church of Ireland’s Diocesan Library.  

The books form part of Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Collection. This collection, most of which dates from the 16th-19th centuries, contains many books of national and international importance and is considered to be one of the most significant diocesan libraries in Ireland. 

The first stage of the project saw the collection handed over on loan to the University of Ulster in 2004 and transferred for storage in a purpose built Rare Books Room at the Magee campus. The next stage focused on ‘Conservation and Outreach’.

Outreach officer Mary Delargy explains the historical significance of the collection.

“Books from this period are generally richly annotated and since most of the books in this collection have never been rebound, they still have their original notes in the margins and on the inside cover. This gives us a fascinating insight to life during this time which is why the collection is considered to be one of the most significant diocesan libraries in Ireland.

“The Library Project has made an enduring contribution to the understanding of the social, religious and political climate in the North West and the region’s place within the history of these islands in centuries past.”

Prior to 2004, the collection had been stored in far from ideal conditions in the Diocesan offices so when it was handed over to the University for safe-keeping, many of the books and pamphlets were in a very poor condition.

Mary continues: “The books had been neglected for hundreds of years and subjected to damp and all kinds of pollution such as tobacco smoke and dust and grime. The conservation phase of the Library project involved the painstaking cleaning and repairing of the collection by a team of conservators. The work was carried out at a special studio in Shantallow Library where the conservation team was based for the duration of the project.

"Over the past few years, many local people have benefited greatly by visiting the studio, watching the experts at work and gaining an awareness of a written information heritage that they have then been able to use in various study projects of their own.” 

The Chapter House exhibition to mark the completion of the Library Project will give visitors an opportunity to learn more about the different types of work undertaken by the conservation team and some of the challenges involved in conserving such a historic collection.  

“The Library Project has been exciting and hugely beneficial for everyone involved. It has conserved and publicised a collection that, before this, was relatively unknown to modern scholars.

"Part of its legacy is a wider public appreciation of the collection’s importance and the assurance that the books are now preserved and appropriately housed for access by scholars and public,” adds Mary.

The Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Library Project takes place in the Chapter House Museum from Wednesday December 7 to Monday December 19 (Monday –Saturday, 9 am until 5 pm.  Admission is free. 

One of the texts which will be on display in St Columb's Cathedral, Londonderry, 17th century copy of Britannia Sive Florentissimorvm Regnorvm Angliæ, Scotiæ, Hiberniæ, et Gvilielmo Camdeno, London, 1607