Collecting since 1788, and uniquely placed thanks to our history and heritage, the Linen Hall has an expansive Irish & Local Studies collection. Volumes of local history, fiction, plays and poetry line our shelves, as well as significant archives and manuscript holdings including our own minutes and records of the Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge which is intrinsically linked to the story of Belfast, manuscripts compiled by Henry Joy (1754-1835), and literary archives, spanning Sir Samuel Ferguson, Louis MacNeice, and Joan Lingard (see also Northern Ireland Literary Archive for more). The archive of Michael McLaverty supports a biennial award to foster and encourage the short story and reflects the Linen Hall’s position as a repository for our literary heritage.
Our newspaper collection dates from 1738 with unparalleled holdings of the Belfast News Letter and a complete run of the Northern Star, the newspaper of the Society of United Irishmen, among the highlights, and the Irish & Local Studies offering is further enhanced by comprehensive periodical holdings, a map collection of note, and strong Irish language and Ulster-Scots collections, made up of historic and contemporary material, works of history, memoir, fiction, poetry and linguistics, as well as periodicals and offprints to encourage and support research and linguistic development.
The Linen Hall has a comprehensive collection of early Belfast and provincial printing, and in this aspect, has benefited greatly from the benevolence of our membership. In particular, John Anderson, Honorary Secretary to the Library from 1873-1902, was a pioneer of local bibliography. His Catalogue of Early Belfast Printed Books (1887) is a treasure of the Library. The Provincial Printed Books collection includes the earliest printing from major centres such as Derry/Londonderry, Newry and Strabane.
The Gibson Collection is one of the largest collections of material relating to the poet Robert Burns outside of Scotland. Amassed by Andrew Gibson, a Governor of the Linen Hall, it was bought for the city of Belfast in 1901, and placed in the Library. The collection includes items donated by Burns’s granddaughter Eliza Everitt, and contains the first printing of Burns in Belfast (1787, James Magee), and copies of his own books.
As well as being a library and archive, the Linen Hall is also an accredited museum. Along with the Northern Ireland Political Collection, the Belfast and Provincial Printed Books and Gibson Collection form the Linen Hall’s accredited museum collections.
The Linen Hall has fantastic resources to support genealogy and the study of family histories attracting researchers locally and from around the world. From ‘how to’ guides for those beginning their genealogy journey, to gravestone inscriptions, military lists, passenger lists, lists of clergy, and information on surnames, place-names and street directories. Unique to the Linen Hall, the Blackwood Pedigrees of handwritten family trees and the Belfast News Letter Birth, Death and Marriage Index 1737-1863 are fascinating resources which bring family history to life.