Censorship, Concerts, Cards and Carnegie

There are three Carnegie libraries in County Wicklow, namely Greystones, Eglinton Road, Bray & Enniskerry.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1835. His father was a hand weaver. With the introduction of steam looms, hand looms became out dated and the Carnegie family emigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1848. Andrew’s father got work in a cotton mill factory belonging to a Scotsman. Andrew had now left school (aged 13) and was given a job as a bobbin boy in the factory and by 15 he was a messenger boy. It was noticed he was bright and he was encouraged to take evening lessons in accountancy.

At this time, a local dignitary, Colonel James Anderson, announced that he would open his personal library of 400 volumes to boys every Saturday afternoon. A book could be borrowed and exchanged for another every week. Andrew took advantage of this opportunity to educate himself and this experience was to mould his life. He would later state: “It was from my early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be supplied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community that is willing to support it as a municipal institution”.

Early Working Life

In 1853 Andrew started work as an assistant and telegraph operator to Thomas A Scott, superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Scott introduced Carnegie to the world of business investment. By 1859 Scott was vice-President of the company and Andrew succeeded him as superintendent (aged 24).  The scarcity of iron increased greatly in the early 1860s due to the American Civil War and in 1864 Carnegie opened a rail making business in Pittsburgh. 2 years later he established the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works. Both these businesses led to Carnegie’s great wealth. He succeeded in winning a large bridge contract for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, making the complete track. He also invested in the Columbia Oil Company & Pennsylvania Oil, among others. By 1868 his annual income from investments was $56,000. He  retired from the railway business (where his salary had been only $2,400 and concentrated on his investments. In 1901, Carnegie Steel was sold to J.P.Morgan for $500 million.

The First Library Endowments

In 1881, Andrew Carnegie made his first gift of a free public library to his native Dunfermline. By his death in 1939 he had part funded 2,500+ libraries in English speaking companies, including 66 in Ireland, of which 60 are still In use today.  Between 1897 and 1913 Carnegie promised over £170,000 towards 66 libraries in Ireland.

James Bertram became Carnegie’s private secretary in the late 1890s. His job was “to assist Carnegie distribute his wealth”. He held this post for almost 20 years and managed much of the funding provided through the Carnegie Trust.

Grants were only given for libraries which were to be owned by the community, maintained by the community and for the use of the community. Carnegie felt there should always be well off people in a community who could donate a site in return for the grant. Carnegie did not formally promote his scheme, but dealt with each enquiry he received from a public body. Bertram made many of the decisions. Delgany was refused a library because its estimated income would have been less than £20 per annum. Also, as Carnegie did not initiate offers of loans, but rather responded to requests, the map of Carnegie libraries is not evenly spread.

Other Moves Towards Public Libraries

There was, however, a movement towards public libraries prior to Carnegie.

Marsh’s library, which opened in 1700 approx, may be regarded as the first public library in Ireland. The Royal Irish Academy, King’s Inns and the Belfast Reading Society (later the Linen Hall Library) were all founded in the 1780s. The Dublin Library Society was founded in 1790 and other library societies were founded in Cork, Limerick and Kilkenny. The concept of Repeal Reading Rooms was initiated by Thomas Davis in the  early 1840s, where copies of “The Nation” were made available.

In 1849, a House of Commons Select Committee on Public Libraries was appointed to find “the best means of extending the establishment of libraries freely open to the public especially in large towns in Great Britain and Ireland”.  The committee found that the idea of public libraries was almost untried in Britain, but that such libraries existed in Europe and were open to everyone rich, poor, foreigner and native. In the debate that followed, regarding whether or not public libraries should be provided, an argument against was that by educating working people they would be more prone to “unhealthy agitation” ie better to keep social classes in their place. Some argued that libraries would disrupt family life, spread infectious diseases and become the haunts of idlers and trashy novels. Rather than the counter argument being that libraries might educate and benefit the people was not considered, instead it being argued that libraries would keep idlers out of public houses and off the streets, thereby reducing the incentive to crime, which would save money.

Following much debate, the Public Libraries and Museums Act was passed in England in 1850 and in 1855 the Public Libraries Act (Ireland) was passed. It allowed for the establishment of free public libraries and museums or schools of science and art in towns of 5,000+ population.  The population obstacle was lifted in 1894 and district councils could combine for the purpose of establishing and running a library. The control and general management of the library was to be vested in a local authority or a sub-committee of its members. All libraries had to be open to the public free of charge. It was to be funded from rates – the maximum rate which could be levied being one penny in the pound. By 1880, however, only Dundalk and Sligo had provided libraries. Poverty and unwillingness of rate payers to pay for libraries were some of the causes which delayed their development.

Greystones Library

Greystones Library

A site was donated by the Trustees of the Burnaby Estate for the construction of a library for the people of Greystones. Greystones was then in Rathdown No. 2 Rural District. In 1925, the Carnegie UK Trust introduced a scheme for amalgamating the administration of libraries on a county basis and following this, the first County Librarian for Wicklow (Geoffrey Phibbs) was appointed and Greystones and Enniskerry came under the management of Wicklow County Council. This is reflected in the Greystones Minute book, which shows that the County Librarian was present at a meeting of October 1928, but not at the previous meeting of Feb 25th 1925.

Library Design

The original design was similar (although not identical to) those produced for Enniskerry, Cabinteely, Glencullen, Sandyford and Shankill.  by Rudolph Maximillian Butler, who also designed the National Concert Hall. Greystones library  comprised 3 partitioned spaces, (which could open into 1 large space) plus an entrance lobby with “ancillary accommodation” which still exists today – (now used for photocopier space and ESB area). Flexibility was a main consideration in the design of these buildings. In normal use, the space in Greystones library was divided in 3, the central part being occupied by the librarian and the books, and the 2 other areas being male and female reading rooms. If a large space was required for a dance or entertainment, the partitions could be opened up and the librarian’s counter could be stowed away on the north wall.

Regarding the reading rooms, the culture of the time was that news of world events, political comment and sports reports were of interest to men, while material of a less serious kind – gardening, the home and what might be called gossip, were more likely to be read by ladies in the Magazine room.

Greystones Free Public Library Sub-Committee Minute Book states that at a meeting of June 1st 1912, it was decided to procure the following newspapers for use in the library – The Irish Times, The Freeman’s Journal, The Irish Daily Independent, The Evening Mail, The Evening Telegraph, The Bray Herald and The Wicklow People. Nearly all the libraries, it should be noted, dedicated considerable space to the newspaper room, with some of the smaller libraries being almost exclusively used as newspaper rooms. Records of many of the libraries show double the amount spent on newspapers, as opposed to books, in a given year.

Many of the libraries did not have open plan shelving initially. Instead people had to consult the catalogue and request the librarian find the book or some had books locked in glass cases, the books then being requested. Very few libraries had qualified librarians who could catalogue. Some, such as Greystones, relied on voluntary help. Professor C. H. Oldham spent a lot of his summer holidays in 1918 cataloguing the books in the library by card index. The Greystones minute books remarked that “the card index was placed on the table and examined and admired by the committee”.

Extracts From Minutes of Meetings

At a meeting of June 13 1912: “The committee also recommended that a librarian and also a caretaker be appointed – the former at a salary of 5 shillings per week and the latter at a salary of 4 shillings per week and further that Miss Eileen Kirby, Greystones be appointed librarian and Miss Mary Murphy as Caretaker on the terms already mentioned” At the same meeting it is stated “An account for £3.5.0 for fitting and hanging 16 best Hollands blinds on the library windows was submitted from Messrs Gorevan Brothers and an order made for payment of same”.

The meeting of  20 June 1912 show a requests from the Amusement Committee to hold a meeting with a view to making a Ladies Bathing Place being accepted, on condition that the meetings were held “at any hour, except those when the library is used by the public”.  At the same meeting, it was agreed that the cost of the Hall for an afternoon whist drive was agreed on as 7s/6d in summer and 10/s in winter and £2 for a whole night – proposed by Chairman Mr. Grimsby Vaudelur and seconded by Rev. M. Flood, P.P.

A request from Miss Harrisson for the use of the library for a meeting of a religious character was refused, it being the unanimous opinion of the Committee, that no meeting of a religious or political character should ever be permitted in a public non-sectarian library.

In June 1930, it was necessary to dispense with the position of caretaker, (Mrs Cooper)  due to lack of funds. It was suggested that the then librarian (Mrs Fitzgibbon), should also take on the responsibilities of cleaning, without any increase in salary. Mrs Fitzgibbon wrote to the central library committee in Wicklow and the newly appointed County Librarian (Brigid Redmond) lamenting this and stating “The committee consider it a hardship on the librarian that out of a meagre salary of 11/6 per week, she must now do the additional work of cleaner or pay someone to do it for her. As the County Librarian has explained that it is a question of shortage of funds, we must only accept the situation for the present”. Mrs Fitzgibbon went on to lament the library rate of 5/8 of a penny as being wholly inadequate, seeking an increase and stating “The library is practically the only benefit the Greystones rate payers get for the very heavy rates raised.”

Bray Library

The Public Libraries Act

Bray UDC adopted the Public Libraries Act in 1999 and in December 1904  appointed a library committee to consider how best to secure a public library for the town. Having applied for Carnegie funding, they were informed by Bertram in August 1907, that £2,000 would be made available if a suitable site could be found. In October 1907, Bray UDC gladly accepted from the Quin Estate, a gift of land at the corner of Florence Road and Eglinton Road.  Councillors considered this a splendid site “the best that could possibly be secured”.

Bray Library, Eglinton Road

Architect John Charles Wilmot (Galtrim Road + architect of houses there) was appointed, but his initial proposal of a two-storey building was rejected. Wilmot’s design planned for a lending library, reading rooms and a museum on the ground floor, with a committee room and living quarters on the first floor. In February 1909, however, Bertram wrote: “The librarian does not need a room, and if he did have one it would not be upstairs where he is out of sight of everything. His place is at the delivery desk.” It was built as a one storey building, but Wilmot raised it 3 steps above ground, to increase the height of the building. A condition of the tender was that materials of Irish manufacture were to be used and local labour employed. The granite used was quarried in Glencullen and then dressed in Glencree. Messrs A. Hull and Co., Pembroke Works, Ballsbridge constructed the building. It was completed by the end of August 1910 at a total cost of £2,184. Bray library opened to the public in May 1911.

The First Bray Librarian

Bill Burke, of Duncairn Avenue, Bray, was appointed the first Bray librarian. In 1885, he had been a founder member of Bray Emmets GAA club. He was elected as a nationalist councillor to both Bray UDC and Wicklow Co Co and was also a member of the Board of Guardians of the Rathdown Union at Loughlinstown. At a salary of £60 per annum, he received 4 – 5 times more than the 5 shillings per week paid to Eilen Kirby in Greystones. Due to inflation during the First World War, he received occasional increases in salary, including a war bonus. By the end of 1918, Burke’s salary was £120. Following his wife’s death in 1920, Burke took up residence in Bray library. He was to continue as librarian until September 1945. He died the following march and is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Bray.

Enniskerry Library

Enniskerry Library, Enniskerry Village

In June 1910, an application was made to Carnegie for a library  grant by A. Chatterton from the Powerscourt Estate Office. A grant of £600 from the Carnegie Trust was promised in July 1910. It opened to the public in 1911, under the then Rathdown No. 2 Rural Council.on a site donated by Viscount Powerscourt. R. M. Butler designed the library, similar to those he designed for Cabinteely, Greystones and Shankill. Tenders for construction ranged from £596 to £843. The lowest tender was from Archer Brothers, Greystones, and this was accepted. It appears the building work went smoothly, except for a 3 month delay in the 1st payment to Archer Brothers, caused by changing the name of the library, in the correspondence, from Powerscourt to Enniskerry and causing confusion to Carnegie’s staff. Wicklow County Council took charge of the building in 1925.

Repurposed Library Facilities

A report on file from the then County Librarian, Brigid Redmond to Secretary of Wicklow County Council, Mr. K.J. Branigan, dated 14 November 1945, states that in 1927, the County Library Committee leased Enniskerry library at an annual rent of 10 shillings to Enniskerry Village Hall Committee, on condition that they would be responsible for the building, appoint a caretaker and determine his duties. Brigid Redmond states – “Reports of my predecessor (County Librarian, Geoffrey Phibbs) had shown that the caretaker was unsatisfactory. The Village Hall Committee were using the library building for lettings, receipts from which were not controlled by the County Library Committee. The building was not being used for any of the functions of a library”.

It seems that Brigid Redmond’s frustration re Enniskerry was more the norm than the exception. Brendan Grimes’ book reports that generally in rural areas, the communities wanted the library to be a village hall, rather than a library. He states they had no scruples in applying for funding on the pretext of providing libraries. They were better managed in the urban areas and used as libraries. Nonetheless, music and entertainment was common. Malahide library hosted a Percy French concert in autumn 1913. The aforementioned Lord Justice Cherry recorded re Greystones library that “no meeting of a religious or political character should ever be permitted in a public and non-sectarian library”.  This wasn’t adhered to everywhere, with Skerries library allowing the Irish Republican Army host dances on a Sunday night. Sinn Fein was given use of Skerries library upper room on Monday nights from October 1925, as was also the case in Swords library.

In 1930, the County Library Committee appointed Miss A. Cullen as caretaker and librarian at Enniskerry library. The library was to be open four hours per week. One of her duties included to “attend at the library during hours when the library is used by persons or societies for the use of classes or social functions, approved by the County Library Committee and to lock up the library after all such functions at an hour not later than 12 midnight”. Concerts, lectures and dances were among the purposes for which the library could be used. From 1933 to 1939 the library building was let to the Very Rev. Kennedy, P.P. for the purpose of a primary school. During this time the library still managed to issue books to the public.

Historic References

Historic reference to Enniskerry library is also made in Desmond Fitzgerald’s book “Desmond’s Rising  – Memories 1913 to Easter 1916”. Desmond Fitzgerald (father of Garret Fitzgerald) was a member of the Irish Volunteers and was sent to Bray in 1915 to gather support for the Irish Volunteers. With regard to Enniskerry, he was told that the one place to get the men in Enniskerry gathered together was in the library at night, where they would be playing cards. Fitzgerald recounts the apathy  that he encountered. “We went to the library and found it full of men, the majority of whom were young.  They were deep in a game of cards. I had no hesitation in asking that they would listen to what we had to say. A game of cards seemed grotesquely unimportant at that moment of Ireland’s history. Very agreeably they put their cards face downwards on the table and sat back to listen. I harangued them with a great fervour and, moved on my own eloquence, I pointed out to the young men the wonderful opportunity they now had to take up arms in Ireland’s service and thus unite themselves with the glorious tradition of Ireland’s struggle. They listened attentively. In conclusion I said that we were willing to come regularly on whatever evenings suited them to drill them in preparation for the service that I proposed to them. .. When I had finished there was dead silence. They seemed uncertain as to whether I really had finished, and loath to interrupt me. Then they looked from one to another, and as it was clear that we were then waiting for a response from them, one man turned to another and said “I think it was your play, Jim” and another, picking up his cards asked what had been trumps. Then the play began again as though we were not there. We waited helplessly for a minute or so, and then saw that there was nothing to do but to go on our way”.

Nationwide Issues

Clergy were found to be prominent on library committees. For example, the Kenmare Carnegie library committee was set up in 1916 with 19 members, 10 of whom were clergy (9 Catholic and 1 Church of Ireland). It was agreed that the selection of books would be left to the clergymen, so censorship was ensured.

In 1906 in Newcastle West the Very Reverend Monsignor Hallinan PP urged the local councillors to reject a proposal to establish a public library. He argued that what was required were parochial libraries under the control of the clergy and not public ones. He argued that as primary education was denominational, so should public libraries. Perhaps intimidated by their parish priest, Newcastle Rural District councillors did not adopt the Public Libraries Act on that occasion, but did eventually.


Today our libraries, Carnegie or otherwise, have come a long way, but as in any walk of life, it’s important to remember where we are coming from, so we may learn from the past, to ensure a bright future. The 3 Carnegie libraries in the county are an important part of our cultural heritage and Wicklow County Council should continue to preserve them both in structure and aspiration.


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