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Archbishop Narcissus Marsh and the Foundation of the First Public Library in Ireland

Muriel McCarthy
Marsh’s Library
Dublin, Ireland


Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713) built with his own money the first public library in Ireland, situated close to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The library is now one of the few 18th century buildings in Dublin which is still used for its original purpose. March’s library contains four major collections: the Stillingfleet collection, the Elias Bouthéreau’s collection, March’s own books which also included an Oriental collection as well as mathematics, astronomy and a substantial collection of Latin Judaica; the fourth was bequethed in 1745 by bishop John Stearne, who was a major Irish collector. March’s interest in collecting Irish books and manuscripts was maintained by later generations of librarians of Marsh’s. There are now 25 000 books in Marsh’s including 90 incunabula, 3 100 books printed in the 16th and 11 600 from the 17th century. The catalogue of the entire collection of printed books has been computerized and is now accessible through the Internet.

In 1683 when he was Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin Marsh became one of the first members of the Dublin Philosophical Society. He contributed an early paper to that Society, called ‘An Introductory Essay on the Doctrine of Sounds, Containing some Proposals for the Improvement of Acoustics’. The paper was remarkable because of Marsh’s use of three new words. He used diacoustics to describe the study of refracted sound, catacoustics for that of reflected sound, and most important of all, he was the first scientist to use the word microphone.