Belfast Telegraph

Rare treasures found at Armagh Robinson Library

By Ivan Little

Northern Ireland's oldest library, where a bizarre armed robbery of a first edition of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels made headlines around the world 18 years ago, is writing a new chapter in its story.

The former Armagh Public Library has undergone an extensive transformation and has been renamed after Richard Robinson, the Archbishop who founded it beside the Church of Ireland Cathedral in the city in 1771.

The Armagh Robinson Library is also set to reveal a series of new stories and discoveries about its history ahead of its 250th anniversary in four years' time, with the aim of attracting thousands of new visitors.

In December 1999, two armed, masked men tricked their way into the library and held an assistant at gunpoint as they took a valuable first edition of Gulliver's Travels and a dozen other historical volumes.

Police north and south of the border launched a major investigation into the crime, with RUC sources indicating that they believed the 18th century book had been stolen to order on behalf of a collector.

The former Church of Ireland Primate, Dr Robin Eames, issued a public appeal for the return of the book, which was unique because it had been annotated in the margins in his own handwriting by Swift, who was once the Dean of Armagh and was said to have been angry over mistakes in the first edition and made corrections and amendments for the second.

Twenty months after the robbery occurred, the book was recovered in Dublin and handed back to the library, which launched its rebranding last night at a special function.

Experts from across the UK have spent months delving into the library's collections and have uncovered hidden gems like rare casts of Louis XIV commemorative medals from 1690 and fine art prints by famous artists such as Englishman William Hogarth and Italian Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

The library's collections, which include rare architectural books by Sir Christopher Wren, who designed St Paul's Cathedral in London, have been said to be of huge cultural and heritage significance to the whole island of Ireland

Paul Mullan, the head of the Heritage Lottery Fund which financed the project, said: "The library is an amazing repository of heritage within a fantastic heritage building, which was created through the vision and foresight of Archbishop Robinson.

"At Heritage Lottery Fund, we think the UK's heritage is precious.

"That's why we invest National Lottery players' money to help protect and sustain it for future generations.

"Heritage organisations, such as Armagh Public Library are adapting so they can not only survive in these challenging financial times, but thrive."

The current Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, who is the chairman of the library's governors and guardians, said they were grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for all its assistance.

He added: "We are delighted with the treasures and stories that have been uncovered and we look forward to sharing these with our visitors."

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