The history of the library at Glenstal is, not surprisingly, intimately bound up with the history of the monastic community and reflects the strivings of that community at various stages of its development. The community’s books were, for many years, housed in a 1930s prefabricated concrete building. This was eventually condemned as unsuitable for books.
The current library, designed by architects Richard Hurley and Associates, Dublin was opened in 2001 and houses what is one of the largest private libraries in Ireland. Architecturally, it is very striking, with the exterior echoing many existing features of the castle, monastery and guesthouse. The interior is no less impressive with the combination of white oak fittings, glass and fair face blockwork creating a calm, peaceful environment that is ideal for study. It was awarded the annual award of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland in 2002.
The focus of the library is primarily theological but it contains substantial holdings in the areas of Irish history, Irish literature, biography and art. It also houses a collection of antiquarian books ranging in date from the 15th to the 19th centuries, as well as the monastery archives. Though primarily a working library, the collection contains a number of very precious and significant items. These include a fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript Book of Hours (one of three to survive from late medieval Ireland), manuscripts by contemporary Irish calligraphers, rare facsimiles of the eighth-century Book of Durrow and the ninth-century Book of Armagh and papers and parchments relating to the Glenstal estate from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.
The large early printed book section contains a 1576 abridgment of French legal procedure, a first edition (1654) of Sir James Ware’s De Hibernia et antiquitatibus ejus as well as a first edition (1705) of the English translation of this work Of Ireland and its antiquities. The theological section contains sixteenth and seventeenth century folio editions of the works of St Thomas Aquinas, William Durandus, St John Chrysostom and St Bernard of Clairvaux. Important modern works include an autographed first edition of James Joyce’s Chamber Music and Arthur Griffiths’ The Resurrection of Hungary, with a long dedication by the author. The collection also contains autographed books by Edmund Burke, Daniel O’Connell, W. B. Yeats, Winston Churchill, Paul Durcan and Seamus Heaney.