250th Anniversary Act of Parliament

A group of gentlemen standing and seated in front of a buste of Archbishop Robinson in a historic library. The man in the centre is holding an copy of the 1773-1774 Act of Parliament.
Governors and Guardians of the Library with the Act of Parliament of 1773-1774 (image credit: Ian Maginess).
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In advance of their quarterly meeting, the current Governors and Guardians were photographed with their Chairman, Archbishop John McDowell holding a copy of the Library’s Act of Parliament, and with the bust of Archbishop Robinson in the background.

Seated from left are Lay Governor and Guardian, Mr Brett Hannam; the Precentor, the Revd Canon Norman Porteus; Chairman, Archbishop John McDowell; the Keeper, the Very Revd Shane Forster and Accreditation Mentor, Dr Ken Abraham. Standing from left are Archdeacon of Armagh, the Ven Peter Thompson; Prebendary of Ballymore, the Revd Canon Barry Paine; the Treasurer, the Revd Canon Bill Adair and the Prebendary of Tynan, the Revd Canon David Hilliard.  Missing from the photograph are the Prebendary of Mullabrack, the Revd Canon Matthew Hagan and Lay Governor and Guardian, Mr John-George Willis.

In 2024 the Library commemorates the 250th anniversary of the 1773 – 1774 Act of Parliament.

Armagh Robinson Library, formerly known as Armagh Public Library, is governed by its Act of Parliament which is 250 years old this year. The ‘… Act for settling and preserving a publick library in the City of Armagh for ever highlights that, for the encouragement of learning, the Archbishop

hath at his own cost and charges erected and built a house upon a spot of ground, part of the estate of the see of Armagh in the city of Armagh, and hath fitted and prepared the principal part of the said house for a publick library for ever for the use of all persons, which shall resort thereto at the hours to be appointed for the library-keeper’s attendance.

The Act refers not only to the public library but also to the Keeper’s residence:

and hath likewise fitted and prepared the remainder of the said house for the accommodation and habitation of a person to be appointed library-keeper and his successors, keepers of the said library, for ever.

Archbishop Robinson appointed Governors and Guardians to oversee the running of the Library.  He selected people whom he knew, namely the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church of Armagh. To this day, the clergy who hold the positions of the Dean of Armagh, Chancellor, Treasurer, Archdeacon of Armagh, and the prebendaries of Mullaghbrack, Ballymore, Loughgall and Tynan serve as the Library’s Governors and Guardians.  In addition, the Act states that two people of the Diocese of Armagh are to be elected to serve.

While the makeup of the Governors and Guardians may make people think that this is a Church of Ireland library, that is not the case. Archbishop Robinson made the Library independent of the Church, through the creation of its Act of Parliament.

As each Keeper takes up the role, the Keeper’s Oath which is part of the Act is read out to the Governors and Guardians.  It reads,

I,  ………, do swear, that I will use my utmost care and endeavour to preserve all the Books and other things which are or shall be committed to my charge by the Governors and Guardians of the Publick Library, built and erected in Armagh, by Richard Lord Archbishop of Armagh, and that I will not, wittingly or willingly, suffer any of the said Books, during my continuance in the Office of Library Keeper, to be lent abroad, (unless permitted so to do by an order of the Governors and Guardians of the general Visitation) given away, or embezzled, or to be any wise damnified through my fault; and that I will, to the utmost of my power, observe all such Statutes, Rules, and Constitutions already made, or which shall hereafter be made, concerning the said Office of Library Keeper, while the same shall continue in force, and I shall continue in the said Office. So help me God.

The current Keeper, the Very Revd Shane Forster said:

The Act of Parliament is still our constitution in 2024 and in the same way as my predecessors, I took the Keeper’s Oath before the Governors and Guardians, but in my case, it was during an online meeting during the Covid-19 pandemic!  The tradition though carries on just as it has over the last 250 years that the Keeper has the responsibility to protect the collections in the Library and to ensure that the wonderful treasures held within the building are shared with everyone, as Archbishop Robinson intended, for the encouragement of learning.