Experts celebrate Derry’s historic library

Keynote speaker, Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, University of the Arts, opening of a two day conference marking the final phase of the Derry & Raphoe Diocesan Library Project, held at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster.
Keynote speaker, Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, University of the Arts, opening of a two day conference marking the final phase of the Derry & Raphoe Diocesan Library Project, held at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster.

World experts in book preservation have gathered in Derry to mark the final phase of the restoration of one of Ireland’s most significant collections.

The two day ‘Historic Libraries in Context; the Derry & Raphoe Diocesan Library - Past, Present & Future’, was held on Tuesday and Wednesday at Magee.

Joe McLaughlin, the University of Ulster’s Archivist and Rare Books Curator says the conference allowed experts in conservation to “identify future avenues for research” as well as share ideas and knowledge.

“We hope to generate an interdisciplinary discussion about the current and possible future uses of such libraries and the curatorial and preservation issues that have been raised over the course of the project.”

The conference marks the final phase of the three-year restoration of the Church of Ireland Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Collection, which dates back to the 15th century, which draws to a close in December.

By that time more than 5500 books and documents will have been restored.

Mr McLaughlin says the project brings a lesser known collection to a much wider audience.

“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 contents are in fit condition for access by scholars and public.”

Keynote speaker at this week’s conference was the archivist responsible for preserving some of the Christian world’s most historic documents.

Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, Director of the Ligatus Research Unit of the University of the Arts, London, is also project leader with St Catherine’s Monastery Library Project.

Located on Mount Sinai, St Catherine’s is beleived to be the site where Moses saw the burning bush.

The library houses some of the most precious documents of the early Christian period.

The oldest volume in the Derry Diocesan collection is a Latin Breviary printed in Venice in 1483, although the core of the collection was formed in 1729 by Archbishop William King, formerly Bishop of Derry.

Until being handed over for restoration to the University of Ulster in 2004, the collection had been housed in the Diocese office in London Street.