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Clare County Library: History of the Library Service

Library Headquarters, Mill Rd., Ennis
Library Headquarters, Mill Rd., Ennis

Ennis was the first town to adopt the 1855 Public Library (Ireland) Act. This decision was unanimously taken at a public meeting held on 16th October, 1855.

A circular was distributed in January, 1856 appealing for funds and outlining the advantages of a Free Public Library.

The Grand Jury provided the site of the old Convict Depot, Jail St. and designs furnished by J. Petty were approved, at a cost of 860. The gentlemen of the County, no doubt in response to the circular, subscribed 500 while the penny rate would produce the sum of 24-14-0.5.

However, the library project was later abandoned and the building became the Town Hall and later part of the Old Ground Hotel.

It took three quarters of a century before the next move was made to establish a Public Library Service in Clare. On the 16th January, 1930 Mr. P. Hogan T.D., moved that "the Council adopt the Public Libraries (Ireland) Acts and that any resolution to the contrary be rescinded." An amendment was proposed "That the Council do not adopt the Acts referred to". After a poll the Amendment was defeated by 12 votes to 10. It was then decided to raise a rate of .5d in the to finance the Library Scheme. On the 2nd October, 1930 the L.A.C. (Local Appointments Commission) were requested to recommend a person for appointment as Librarian and Secretary. A condition of appointment was that the Librarian be given accommodation in the Central Book Repository and that he should pay 25 per annum in consideration of this accommodation.

On the 12th November, 1930 the Commission administering the affairs of the Ennis Urban Council.

(1) adopted the Public Libraries Acts for Ennis Urban District and (2) transferred the powers and duties of the Urban District, acquired under the public Libraries Act 1855-1920, to the County Council.

In March 1931 Mr. D. Foley, at the tender age of 23, was recommended for the post of Librarian. Initially, the Council refused to appoint Mr. Foley and proposed to delay his appointment for six months pending the improvement of his knowledge of the Irish language. However, under the threat of legal action from the Department of Local Government, a special meeting was called on the 9th July, 1931 and it was agreed to appoint Mr. Foley. He took up duty on the 2nd September, 1931.

The County Library Headquarters was established on some shelves in the public section of the Council Chamber, Ennis Courthouse. It was transferred to the Clubhouse, Club Bridge and early in 1933 transferred to No. 7 Bindon Street. Due to the limited accommodation, a large portion of the book-stock was stored in the District Court Room, Courthouse.

The Headquarters made its final move on 1st July, 1943 to its existing location. This building, built in 1780, was the Co. Surgeon's residence who was attached to the old County Infirmary which has stood on the site now occupied by the Mid-Western Health Board Clinic.

The County Library was administered by a County Library Committee which consisted of County Council members and co-opted members. This committee had delegated powers until August, 1942, when the County Management Act, 1940, came into force.

The first custom built library in County Clare was opened in Ennis in 1975 and proved an immediate success. In fact it had a remarkable effect on most of the libraries built in provincial towns since, and proved a landmark in branch library development in Ireland.

The provision of purpose built service points has continued at pace:

Ennis 1975
Ennistymon 1981
Kilrush 1981
Newmarket-on-Fergus 1983
 Shannon 1983
Tulla 1987
The Manse (Local Studies) 1988
Corofin 1992
Killaloe 1994
Headquarters (Renovation) 1994
Miltown Malbay 1995
Lisdoonvarna 1999
Sixmilebridge 2000
Scariff 2007
Kilkee (Cultúrlann Sweeney) 2012

During this period part-time libraries were set up in Kilmihil (1990), Kildysart (2003), Cranny Virtual Library (2003) and Kilmihil (2003), while the part-time libraries set up in Scariff (1975) and Sixmilebridge (1981) were later replaced by full-time, modern facilities (see above). In Kilkee the Sweeney Memorial library was taken over by the council in 1985, and was refurbished in 2012 to create Cultúrlann Sweeney.

Library development via partnership:
Commencing with the purchase of the Tulla Market House in 1983 and the subsequent renovation using a social employment scheme under ANCO and a grant from the EEC Environmental scheme, Tulla Library opened in 1986. This was followed by the Corofin Branch Library built in partnership with the Clare Heritage and Genealogical Centre in 1992.

Two years after the opening of Corofin the ground floor of the new building that replaced the old Lough House in Killaloe was purchased and completed and fitted out by the library staff (1994). The following year it was the turn of Miltown when the library agreed to renovate the old woodwork room in the disused vocational school. Again the work was done in co-operation with the local community and FÁS and Miltown had a modern, multi purpose community library. The whole school project took off and has now resulted in a wonderful complex entitled West Clare Resources Centre.

In 1995 the offer of the Iron and Magnesia Pump Room for library purpose by Lisdoonvarna Fáilte was accepted. Linking up with the Lisdoonvarna Community Council the library set up an informal joint committee to renovate the Pump House and create a public park. Again using the facilities of FÁS a new library was developed. Some children on holidays from Dublin christened the building the “Gingerbread Library” as they were fascinated by the location and the unique size and lay out of the facility. The library opened to the public in 1999.

In 2003 with the co-operation of Clare VEC a new public library space was included in the new St. John Bosco’s Community College in Kildysart. The Department of Education funded the cost and Clare County Council funded the furniture and fittings and bookstock. The then Minister for Education, Mr. Noel Dempsey, remarked, at the official opening, that he welcomed this type of co-operation as it made perfect sense and that others should look at this result of a partnership between his Department, Clare County Council and Clare VEC.

The Sixmilebridge Library Project was a unique partnership that has been used as a case study in the University of Limerick for community development. Led by David Deegan, the Sixmilebridge Church Conversion and Restoration Committee raised funds and worked voluntarily at week-ends in a project that involved the setting up of a limited company that delivered the wonderful award winning Kilfinaghty Public Library, Sixmilebridge.

The imposing tower of this converted Church of Ireland building is visible from every angle of the village of Sixmilebridge. From the outside, it looks just like a church, but the interior has been converted with impeccable taste, into a state-of-the-art library that any city would be proud of. At night the tower, now illuminated, shines like a beacon of hope and achievement telling other communities that if such a mammoth task could be achieved by such a small community like Sixmilebridge, what could larger communities do, to conserve important buildings in their own area?

Library Headquarters:
The refurbished Library Headquarters was officially opened by the Minister for Environment, Mr. Michael Smith, T.D., on 1st September 1994. The library project involved the renovation of the former County Surgeon’s residence, known as Bellevue, which was first built in 1780.

Mr. Smith said that Local Authorities are frequently faced with the problem of whether to restore an old building or build anew, and must take a balanced view of the cost, possibly having regard to available funds. However, he believed the balance had been well and truly established in this Ennis project transforming a late 18th century building into a modern Library Headquarters, while retaining the best of the original features.

The official opening came sixty three years to the day after Clare’s first County Librarian, Dermot Foley, took up duty. The Library then had a number of locations ranging from a sawn-off portion of the County Council Chamber to the old Country Club. In 1943 it moved to its present location. The adult lending library was housed in a portion of the ground floor and in the early fifties the hallway was used as a Children’s Library. The first floor was taken up by the County Librarian as a residence. In 1975 the De Valera Library was opened and all branch activity ceased at Library Headquarters.

The building houses acquisitions, cataloguing and departments, schools and part-time branches department, exhibitions room, conference and training room, administrative office and office of County Arts Officer. The stock room at the rear is fitted with compact shelving capable of holding 30,000 volumes. An artistic feature has been included at the front which enhances the appearance of the building while expressing its purpose. It consists of a green limestone slab incorporating a bronze design representing the spine of an old book. Also included is a bronze book fastened to the exterior stone seat. This feature was executed by Rachel Joynt, who created the pavement arts in Dublin the footsteps of Molly Malone.

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