#39 A Quick Observation

Did you know a TCD library building, that used to face the Berkeley, is now in UCD? Archivist Ellen O’Flaherty from our Manuscripts & Archives Library takes up the tale:

When the New Library was completed in 1967 its west side faced – across Fellows’ Garden – a small building of Portland stone in the style of a classical Grecian Doric temple. This building was known as the Magnetic Observatory, and was built in 1837 by the architect Frederick Darley, under the auspices of Provost Bartholomew Lloyd, for the purposes of conducting experiments in magnetic research.

The Magnetic Observatory – late 19th or early 20th century. From the College Archives.

All the materials used in its construction had to be devoid of magnetic influence, and so, copper, brass and gun-metal were substituted for iron. Lloyd’s son Humphrey was Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at the time, and the building was his laboratory. One of Lloyd’s particular interests was geomagnetism, and he, with the astronomer Edward Sabine, established a global network of magnetic observatories. Together they were the first to confirm the link between solar activity and magnetic disturbances here on Earth.

At the time of its construction the Observatory stood in what was then the garden of the Provost’s House. Thirty years later – in 1867 – Humphrey himself became Provost of Trinity, and lived in that house until his death in 1881. An earlier post referred to the then Taoiseach Eamon de Valera formally opening the Magnetic Observatory as a manuscripts room in 1957, the building having been used as a map store since 1912.

de Valera opening the new manuscripts room in 1957; still from “Building for Books”.

So, for a few short years, from the completion of the New Library in 1967 until 1971, when the Observatory was removed to make room for the construction of the new Arts and Social Science Building, Fellows’ Garden was bounded on three sides by Library buildings – the New Library, the Old Library, and the Manuscripts Room and 1937 Reading Room.

In 1978 the newly constructed Arts Building was opened, containing another library, in the form of the Lecky Library. The New Library was renamed the Berkeley, and Fellows’ Garden was now Fellows’ Square.  In 2010 a dedicated building to house the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute was constructed between the Arts Building and the 1937 Reading Room; another bold, Modernist design. This currently houses our Digital Resources & Imaging Services department – arguably, Fellows’ Square is bounded on all four sides by Library and Library-affiliated buildings!

Soon after its dismantling the Magnetic Observatory was gifted by TCD to University College Dublin, and it was rebuilt, stone by stone, on the latter’s Belfield campus between 1974 and 1975. After a refurbishment in 2003 which saw the building converted into a cinema, it now houses the Frank O’Kane Film Centre.

Image: John Jordan

Perhaps this little architectural gem fits in better aesthetically in leafy Belfield than it did in Trinity, surrounded by trees and with fountains in front of it. Let us know if you spot any forest nymphs nearby.

Image: John Jordan