This subscription library was founded in 1788 and holds an important collection of Irish cultural and political books and records.
Founded in 1788 by a group known as the Belfast Reading Society, the Linen Hall library is the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscribing library in Northern Ireland. When it was founded, its general aim was to advance knowledge “and excite a spirit of general inquiry” in the visitor.
The Library nearly went bust during the Troubles. City-centre bombings, and investment in public libraries elsewhere in the country meant that the Library received neither the money nor the subscribers it needed to keep going. In 1980 its funding was withdrawn and a fight to save the Library began, mostly because of its important stock of Northern Irish material, like periodicals and newspapers from as far back as 1738, maps and Irish language resources. The library building has moved several times; it used to be where the Belfast City Hall is now, just across the road from its current building..The new building, which is part of the row of Victorian buildings on Donegall Square, was bought in 1996 and the library was officially opened again in 2000.
The library is unique in that its collections focus mostly on Irish studies, politics and culture. You can take a guided tour to learn about the history of the library, or try one of the specialist tours on rare archive material or the Ulster Scots collection. However, you might just prefer to wander in, pick up a book and settle down for an hour in one of the chairs dotted amongst the mahogany bookshelves. Look out for art exhibitions and special historical talks, too, which run frequently throughout the year.