Who Haunts Marsh’s Library, Dublin?

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Guest writer, folklorist and musician DAVE McHUGH looks for spirits between the stacks of the historic Marsh’s Library in his native Dublin

Marsh's Library, Dublin
Who Haunts Marsh’s Library, Dublin?

Where would you find something haunted on these spooky isles? A local graveyard perhaps? Or maybe that creepy house you were always worried about as a kid – the one you would run past? 

Or maybe that field in which it is said lingers a lost spirit, a fairy fort; or perhaps that long closed hospital that always had a funny feeling about it? 

Now, say if I said to you that I am now in a library, researching a library. And that the ghosts of long overdue books resonate within? Is that spooky?

Walk with me my friends, up granite steps, and into this library. A bookish, ghoulish one – not an ordinary one. A very haunted one. 

An old rusty iron-chest in a banker’s shop, strongly lockt, and wonderful heavy, is full of gold…

So wrote Jonathan Swift in his short essay ‘Character of Primate Marsh’.  And indeed this is a chained library. Are books haunted? Can they be unchained? Follow me more…

Swift walked these steps, Bram Stoker, James Joyce – now I.  As I walk from the noisy Dublin street behind me, we are going into one of the few 18th century buildings in Ireland still used for its original purpose.

Marsh’s Library holds a collection of over 25,000 books and 300 manuscripts. There are eighty books printed before 1501, 430 books printed in Italy before 1600, 1,200 books printed in England before 1640 and 5,000 books printed in England before 1700.

But who walked these creaky floors, and coughed a breath in these old walls? 

And who was Archbishop Marsh? And does he still browse the shelves?

Ghosts in Marsh’s Library

Ghosts you ask – in a library? The stories in these books bring characters to life. Why should some not remain? Especially Archbishop Marsh, who’s legacy importantly established  the first public library in Ireland. 

Narcissus Marsh was born in Wiltshire in 1638 ‘of honest parents’, as he wrote in his diary. His name, while unusual, was not so distinctive as that given to either of his two brothers who were christened Epaphroditus and Onesiphorus: all three derive from persons mentioned in St Paul’s Epistles. He took religious orders and in 1679 he came to Ireland to take up the Provostship of Trinity College in Dublin. 

The varnish speaks to me. The scent, the smell of the past. Was that a creak behind me?

 As I smell the old books, and savour the spiritual atmosphere of this place I still get a faint chill. Of something…

Because this library has more than just books as residents. The ghost of an old man has been seen rummaging through the bookcases at midnight.  

A late read? It’s said to be the ghost of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh himself – the library’s founder. Marsh was Archbishop of Dublin from 1694. In 1707 he founded his library, on the grounds of The House of St Sepulchre (the Archbishop’s house). It is not surprising that Narcissus Marsh should return to a place that has such importance to his life – even after his death. 

The story of the Archbishop’s ghostly appearance involves his favourite niece, Grace, whom he had reared from a child.

The story goes that Grace was 19 when she fell in love with a sea captain. Marsh did not approve of this, and was vocal in his opposition to the same. Grace and the sea captain however, ran away and eloped. 

She left a note for her uncle, explaining her disappearance and asking for forgiveness.

This note was apparently placed in one of the thousands of books in the library, waiting for the devastated uncle to read when he was not so bereft. But Archbishop Marsh never found the note…

And, as I gaze at these shelves I wonder about that story. How Marsh’s spirit returns to the library frequently, on an endless search for it. 

The temperature drops, but the sun is shining through the window. Traffic has dwindled. An autumn day in a library leaves me with many questions.

Are the dead still here among these books? Ssssh! Quiet in the library. Dead quiet. 

Have experienced anything strange in Marsh’s Library in Dublin? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

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