A €90 million restoration of Trinity College Dublin’s world-famous Old Library will see the removal into storage of all 750,000 of its books.
The restoration of the library, built in 1732, will be one of the largest and most costly heritage projects in the history of the State.
It will be part-funded by a €25 million Government grant. A further €20 million will come from philanthropic sources and the rest will be borrowed from the European Investment Bank, based on revenue the Old Library will generate when tourists return to see attractions such as The Book of Kells.
The project has taken on a degree of urgency following the catastrophic fire which destroyed Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in 2019. Last month a fire at the University of Cape Town’s library destroyed centuries of South African heritage.
"It focused minds," said TCD provost Dr Paddy Prendergast. "If an iconic building like Notre Dame can go on fire, it can happen anywhere. We were thinking about the project long before then."
University librarian Helen Shenton said the Long Room has been described as the "front room of the nation" and has hosted many visiting heads of state including the then US vice-president Joe Biden and Queen Elizabeth II.
The Long Room, which provided the inspiration for the Jedi Library in Star Wars, needs fireproofing. External pollution and dust accumulation are also taking their toll on the collections and the fabric of the building.
The library's most famous treasure is The Book of Kells, which now has its own conservatory. It also includes the Book of Durrow, the Book of Armagh and the Brian Boru harp, the symbol of Ireland.
The Long Room, which is 65m long, contains 350,000 books which will have to be removed, catalogued, cleaned and then put back on to their shelves. Many will be digitised at a later date.
The work will see environmental control and fire protection measures on site modernised. Architects Heneghan Peng will lead the design team and there is to be a new reading room and an expanded exhibition space afterwards. The project is set to take three to five years and the Long Room is to shut for three years.
Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien, whose department is grant-aiding the project, said Trinity's library is a building of international importance containing treasures admired across the world. He said Taoiseach Micheál Martin had taken a personal interest in the project to preserve the Old Library for centuries to come.