The Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge, today more commonly known as The Linen Hall, developed from the Belfast Reading Society. Established on 13th May 1788, the society was part of a widespread movement for self-improvement and the improvement of society.
Such societies emerged in towns and cities across Britain and Ireland. With rising rates of literacy, members banded together to acquire works of importance. In Ireland, in particular, revolutionary principles and Enlightenment ideals prompted their rise.
The founding members were:
Roger Mulholland, a builder and architect was the society’s first President. The first Librarian was Robert Cary. Minute books suggest there were thirteen further founding members:
William McCleery, tanner; Robert McCormick, gunsmith; his brother James McCormick; John Rabb, printer; William Hamilton; Arthur Quinn; Hugh McNamara; James Burgess; James Woodburn; James de Butts; Maurice Spottiswood; James Potts; and Richard Murdock.
These founders laid out clear and concise rules referring to terms of membership, governance of the society, and due care of books.
Rules of the Belfast Reading Society
From its beginning, the society’s central aim was to run a subscription library for the benefit of its members. Later, it would take on a wider remit in the cultural and educational life of Belfast. While other societies faltered over the past 200 years, The Linen Hall flourished in an industrial city. Today, the institution is much more than just a library but remains true to the ideals and values laid down more than 235 years ago.