Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search



Europe's Diverse Heritage

The Library of James Ussher (d. 1656), considered the most learned man of his time, formed the basis of the Library in Trinity. This included hundreds of manuscripts and rare books with origins from across Western Europe.

Trinity's 600 medieval European manuscripts, many from Ussher's collection, contain works in languages from Latin and Greek, German, Dutch, Spanish, French, and Italian, Provencal, and Vaudois. They embody in microcosm the entire gamut of medieval thought covering all topics from religious scholarship to science. At no time in Ireland's recorded past did its location on the Western fringes of Europe, mean that it was not in tune with all that was happening in the centres of learning on the continent. Scholars in Ireland both taught, and learned from, European thinkers. 

The materials in this part of the collection come from religious houses all over Europe, whose libraries have been dispersed over the centuries. Digitisation make possible the virtual reassembling of these Libraries, adding immeasurably to the overall understanding of cultural life in Europe. Analysis of digital versions results in opening new perspectives and reveals details and layers of work not visible with the naked eye. Global access also allows scholars, working on texts by specific scribes and artists, make comparisons among images from far-distant institutions, and thus build up a corpus of research rich visual artefacts upon which to build otherwise impossible hypotheses.

These European connections are also reflected in the Fagel collection, which is one of the jewels in the Library of Trinity College Dublin's collections. This collection of books, pamphlets and maps was built up over five generations of the Fagel family from the 15th-18th centuries. This fine collection was assembled contemporaneously by the family of bibliophiles many of whom held high public office in the Netherlands. It is enormously rich in French, Dutch and English works and is one of the most important private libraries in early modern Europe. The holdings in history, politics and law are particularly substantial, but virtually every other area of human endeavour is included such as archaeology, philosophy, theology, geography, botany, natural history, literature and the visual arts and much more. Amsterdam was at the centre of the world book trade during the Dutch Golden Age and the Dutch were avid consumers and producers of books. The Library of this powerful family reflects their status in society and the culture in which they lived. The collection was purchased and gifted to Trinity in 1802. When it came to Trinity it expanded the Library's collection by 40% and occupied over a mile of shelving space in the Old Library. Recent work undertaken on the collection has revealed that upwards of 10% of the titles in the collection are the only surviving copies of publications, and some of the maps are the earliest known maps of regions of the world.

The Library of Trinity College is collaborating with the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), the National Library of the Netherlands, in a major conservation and cataloguing project, to register all publications in the Fagel Collection in the catalogue of the Library of Trinity College and in the Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands, the Dutch pre-1800 national bibliography. Work on cataloguing will be underway at the beginning of the academic year 2020/ 21. This essential work will enable digitisation at a later stage. This European partnership between the Library of Trinity College and the  Koninklijke Bibliotheek is an illustration of the power of library networks to work together. The project has been made possible with funding from the Government of the Netherlands. Over 200 years since arriving in Dublin, the Unlocking the Fagel Collection project will open the collection up to a global audience of scholars and to all lovers of cultural heritage. This Dutch and European treasure which is housed in Ireland will be accessible across Europe. The Library has long term aims to digitally reunite the Fagel collection with related library, archive, museum and private collections around the world, using the latest enhanced technologies.