25th Anniversary Series Blog:1 Fingal & Public Libraries

Fingal 25 years logo

Fine Gall – the land of the fair-haired stranger, the Gaelic origins of its name referencing its defeated Viking invaders of the 8th Century. The region proving as strong and determined today as it was then.

Fingal Coat of Arms

2019 marks a very special occasion for the region of Fingal – the 25th Anniversary of Fingal County Council. The inaugural meeting of Fingal County Council took place on January 7th, 1994, in Newbridge House, Donabate. On that day, the newly created council assumed the administrative duties of the previous local authority, Dublin County Council, of the area composing the old county of Fingal. With this transfer, the libraries of the region now fell under the governance of the newly formed Fingal County Council.

Inaugural Meeting of Fingal County Council

To honour such a milestone, Fingal Libraries department is celebrating with a festive summertime event, comprising competitions and events in library branches, as well as here in our ever-popular blog. We will be publishing a commemorative series celebrating the development of public libraries in Ireland, including many intriguing and often humorous anecdotes from your local Fingal Libraries.

Our blog series will run every Monday from today until August 26th – that’s nine blogs in total. Over this period, we will trace the development of public libraries in Ireland. Our initial focus will be contextualised within a socio-historical framework in which we will share some fascinating stories from your Local Fingal Libraries heritage. We will then address the modern day and how the information age is dynamically shaping the role of libraries in society. Finally, we project to libraries of the future and the continued relevance of knowledge generation and dissemination.

We invite you to be part of this special commemorative series and have your say on your local Fingal Library. Just drop into your local branch and enter our competition What your Local Fingal Library means to you’, then meet us here on Monday, August 26th, where we will showcase some of the winning entries.

The Rise of Public Libraries

Collecting written knowledge in some form of repository is a practice as old as civilization itself. As ancient civilizations, such as the Mesopotamians and Egyptians, began to develop the earliest forms of writing, scribes began to create archives of clay tablets sharing key pieces of information necessary to build societies. These ancient texts served to connect people with knowledge and, as such, were the birth of the library system

Medicine for the Soul

The relationship between libraries and society is reciprocal, each complementing the other. Without society, libraries would have no origin; without libraries, society no significance. As gateways to knowledge and culture, libraries play a fundamental role in society.

The initial model of public libraries differed greatly from that which we know them to be today. University, religion, and privately-owned libraries tended to cater to the upper level of society, for academics and for scholars. As such, casual visitation by the ordinary, working man was not their intended purpose or focus, nor women even a consideration (1).

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the first true public libraries – those funded by public taxes and therefore open to everyone – began to open.

Public Libraries of Fingal

The objective of Ireland’s public library service is to provide a neutral setting whereby its citizens can visit to both consume and generate knowledge. The library is an ever-evolving space which responds to and serves the needs of its local community, its service delivered free of charge to all who pass through its doors.

Public libraries are open to everyone. Everyone. They are places of equity. All are welcome. And with the library being the one remaining place in society where everything is free, you don’t enter as a consumer, you enter as a citizen.

Ireland boasts a 300-year-old public library service, with the region of Fingal’s first public libraries (as we know them today) opening their doors to an eagerly awaiting public in the first decade of the 1900s, many of which remain and are operational today. With a network of 10 branches, 4 mobile libraries, a housebound service, Local Studies and Archives it is widely used. This much sought after service breathes life into communities and serves as a focal point and outlet for not just literary interests, but meetings, events, education, and much more. For many users, it can be their sole contact with a local authority service, and thus, their experience of the library can shape their overall impression of their local authority (1).

The writer Neil Gaiman says “Libraries are about Freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information”. I love this quote because I believe it sums up very well the modern library service that is provided by local authorities, including Fingal County Council, in 330 libraries around the country. The previous County Librarian, Mr. Paul Harris, built up an excellent infrastructure of libraries in Fingal. They have developed into one of the main frontline services of the Council and in 2018 attracted over 1m visitors. The Council provides the library service free of charge and with the abolition of fines at the beginning of 2019, there are now few if any barriers to being a member. The staff in Fingal make libraries welcoming and inviting through a range of curated collections, programmed events, electronic services, and through innovative technology themed activities using 3D printing, coding and robotics. The Council continues to develop the service, with the proposed renovation and extension of Skerries Library in 2020 and with on-going plans to develop a County Library in the Swords Cultural Quarter

Betty Boardman, County Librarian. 

The aim of Fingal Libraries is to offer a responsive service, by acknowledging the needs of the region’s rapidly growing and diverse local communities (2). Fingal County Council, with a budget of €237 million for 2019, has allocated €44 million to Recreation & Amenities. Of the €44 million, over €13.5 million is allocated to the Library & Archival Service; that’s over 32.5% of the total expenditure for the division and services. And that’s an estimated €45.58 spend per head of population on providing library services to the citizens of Fingal this year (3).

So, come on down, visit us and see what your local Fingal Library has on offer for you!

By Laura Flanagan, Fingal Libraries


Next Monday, July 8th: Ireland’s First Public Library, Archbishops, Thieves & Ghosts and much more!


We hope you join us!


For your interest:

Fingal Libraries Local Studies and Archives is a repository of photographs and documents, private and donated collections, encapsulating visual and literary snapshots of Fingal and the Dublin area through history.

It is a treasure trove for anyone looking to unearth the rich culture and heritage that is the region of Fingal. Staff are exceptionally knowledgeable and always willing to help in your research.

Thanks to Catherine, Brian and Karen for allowing access to archives for this blog series.

Research material used in the blog series can be found through the Encore catalogue on
Libraries Ireland website:  

University of the People: celebrating Ireland’s public libraries: the Thomas Davis lectures 2002. An Chomhairle Leabharlanna. 2003 Call No. 027.4415

Public libraries in the 21st century : defining services and debating the future / Anne Goulding. 2006. Call No. 027.44

A history of literacy and libraries in Ireland : the long traced pedigree / Mary Casteleyn. 1984. Call No. 027.0415 Ireland

Irish Carnegie Libraries : A Catalogue and Architectural History / Grimes, Brendan. 1998. Call No. 027.4415

Dublin Libraries : A Pictorial Record / Lennon, Sean. 2001. Call No. 027.0418

Another invaluable resource during research included the Irish Newspaper Archive, available for use on public PCs at your local Fingal Library.


(1)  McCarthy M, Hardiman N, Grimes B, King DE, Dempsey N, Ferriter D, et al. The University of the People: celebrating Ireland’s public libraries: the Thomas Davis lectures 2002. Dublin: An Chomhairle Leabharlanna; 2003
(2)  Fingal County Council. Fingal Libraries Development Plan 2018 – 2023.
(3)  Fingal County Council. Annual Budget 2019.