Exhibition on Archbishop Robinson’s Vision and Legacy, February-April 2022

Image credit: Ian Maginess

Last year, Armagh Robinson Library was 250 years old and this year, the Library’s other building on the Hill of Armagh, No 5 Vicars’ Hill, is 250 years old.  It seems timely, therefore, to have an exhibition about the man who made possible both buildings and their uses.  

Archbishop Richard Robinson is credited with establishing some of the most significant buildings of the eighteenth century in Armagh. They include Armagh Observatory, the Royal School Armagh, the former Archbishop’s Palace and Chapel, the former Infirmary, the former Gaol and the well-known city-centre parkland known as the Mall.

As the founder of Armagh Robinson Library, Archbishop Robinson not only paid for Armagh Robinson Library (formerly Armagh Public Library) to be built at a cost of three thousand pounds of his own money, he also purchased more than eight thousand books which he gave to the Library.  As if those actions were not generous enough, Robinson also ensured that the Library would remain independent by having an Act of Parliament passed in 1773 and by endowing the Library with land in the City of Armagh.

Records in the Library reinforce his considerable support for both this institution and for the provincial diocesan registry at No 5 Vicars’ Hill, enabling church and civic records to be kept in Armagh as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. No correspondence or documents, however, remain to shed light on Richard Robinson, the man. This has meant that the exhibition in the Library carries reference to his birth, education and his clerical appointments and relies on the comments of others to give an idea of Robinson the man.  Yet his affection for Armagh is surely shown through his vision for the City, his enthusiasm which led to a twenty-year building programme of improvements, and his aim to establish a university in Armagh.  During all that time, he also recognised the need for the people of Armagh to have an infirmary for their health; a safe area in which to walk and take exercise, which was the Mall; improvements in farming methods, practised at the Palace farm; and for prisoners to live out their sentence in more humane conditions within the new gaol.  

The Keeper of Armagh Robinson Library, the Very Revd Shane Forster, said,

As someone who is privileged to live and work in Armagh Robinson Library, I am very much aware of the vision Archbishop Robinson had for Armagh and of the compassion and care he had for its people.  He was a man ahead of his time in his awareness of environmental concerns and the need for healthcare provision, who also gave generously of his time and finances to shape the ecclesiastical capital which we know today.  It may not have been the place of his birth but Armagh definitely became his adopted home and so his name will forever be associated with it.

The temporary exhibition on Archbishop Robinson was launched by the current Archbishop John McDowell, who is also the Chairman of the Library’s Governors and Guardians. Speaking ahead of the launch, Archbishop McDowell said,

It is a pleasure for me to launch this exhibition about one of my predecessors.  Even after 250 years, the buildings of Robinson’s time are all still there. They continue to celebrate Archbishop Robinson’s influence on Armagh, spiritually, culturally and architecturally. 

The exhibition will remain on display until the end of April 2022.  Visitors are invited to make a booking to the Library, the exhibition and to No 5 Vicars’ Hill.  For further information, please contact the Library by telephoning 028 37523142 or e-mailing admin@armaghrobinsonlibrary.co.uk