Libraries enable the past to talk to the future.

Edward Cornish



Irish and Reference

The Irish and Reference Collection is the centrepiece of the Library, and has been called "the jewel in the crown" of local studies librarianship in Northern Ireland. The eighteenth century founders of the Library aimed to collect materials relating to our own country. The unique strength of the Linen Hall Library today lies in this arena. While its collections are strongest in relation to its immediate hinterland Belfast, Antrim and Down, there is much of importance to the student of Irish studies generally. In the whole field, the Library has some 150,000 volumes, exclusive of non-book materials. The Library has developed a number of major specialisations, and we have the most comprehensive collection of:

Belfast and Early Ulster Printing

Thanks to the Library's longevity and the specific collecting and bibliographic activities of our 19th century antiquarians, the Library has the most comprehensive collection of early Ulster printing. 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) and subsequent amendments reflect the extent of the initiative. This material can be accessed at Level 4.

  • The Belfast Printed Books Collection - Contains over 5,000 volumes and can be accessed on the online Catalogue.  We have the oldest book printed in Belfast, a religious work dating from 1697.
  • The Provincial Printed Books Collection - Covers the rest of Ulster, and including the earliest printing from major centres such as Derry/Londonderry, Newry and Strabane.

Periodicals & Newspapers

This collection is for reference only. The collection dates from 1738, and includes some unique manuscript periodicals. Many of the pre-1900 items in this collection are not found in any other library in Northern Ireland. The collection continues to expand, and is now being added to our computerised Catalogue.

The Library's Newspaper Collection has several unique items, including the Belfast Evening Citizen (1875) and the Ulster Star (1896). We have an unparalleled holding of the Belfast News Letter, from the earliest surviving copy in 1738. There is a complete run of the Northern Star (1792-1797) the United Irishmen's Belfast newspaper. We are the only library in Ireland to hold the earliest issues of the Belfast Telegraph. Our holdings of the Belfast Weekly Telegraph and Ireland's Saturday Night are unique apart from those held by the British Library. Many newspapers are held on microfilm.

Archives & Manuscripts

The Linen Hall Library has significant archive and manuscript holdings, examples include:

Major Archives:

  • Belfast Trades Council - The minutes provide a particular insight into the history of Trade Unions in the city.
  • The Linen Hall Library - The minutes and other records of the Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge since its foundation in 1788. Our earliest list of members preserves the name of Henry Joy McCracken, but also reveals that he went to the scaffold owing the Library about £1.30 in arrears of subscription! This debt was paid by a descendant of the McCrackens in September 2001.


  • The Joy Manuscripts - Compiled by Henry Joy (1754-1835), member of one of Belfast's most notable entrepreneurial families of the eighteenth century, and author of Historical Collections Relating To The Town Of Belfast (1817). The fourteen volumes include Scattered materials for the annals of the Province of Ulster and Materials for the history of Belfast. There is also much of Joy's correspondence, with letters from, amongst others, Henry Flood, Lord Charlemont, and Prime Minister William Pitt. One item of remarkable interest is the seditious Children's Catechism, described by Joy as 'circulating among the common people of Belfast'.
  • Sir Edward Carson's personal scrapbook of Ulster Day 1912 - Iincluding Carson's own copy of the Ulster Covenant. There are many press cuttings, including contemporary cartoons, in addition to posters advertising anti-Home Rule rallies, and a large number of telegrams from Carson's supporters. One unusual item is a "poison-pen" postcard, full of threats and abuse, but signed "Yours sincerely, Liza Jane".
  • There are manuscripts and typescripts of several writers from the North of Ireland stored in the Library. Of special historical interest are the manuscripts of the nineteenth-century poet, Sir Samuel Ferguson, including his epic poem Congall. More recent writers represented in the collection are Sam Hanna Bell, Robert Greacen, Denis Ireland, Joan Lingard, Jack Loudan and Martin Waddell.

Please Note: Permission is required to consult certain high-grade manuscripts, therefore it is advisable to contact the Library prior to your visit.


The Library has a unique and extensive map collection. We hold:

  • Hibernia Novissima Desciptio (1591), by Jodocus Hondius, is a production of great historical importance. It is particularly intriguing to modern readers because it is aligned from west-to-east, rather than the more familiar north-to-south alignment that is the custom, and which we expect to see.
  • Of equal interest is The Map of Belfast Anno 1715, by John Maclanaghan. It is drawn on vellum, “on a scale of 50 parts of 1000 feet, which measures in the map 4 1/2 inches”.  The mapmaker tells us, that he has “omitted the Castle till I see how it may be repaired”.  As we now know, the original Belfast Castle, burnt down in 1708, was never to be rebuilt.
  • We have many of the original six-inch Ordnance Survey maps published in the 1830s, including bound volumes for all the nine countries of Ulster, and also County Leitrim. The Nineteenth century Geological Maps of Ireland are also held.
  • An extensive collection of old Belfast maps is available at the Irish Counter.
  • Other county and town maps are also held, as well as manuscript, maps of estates, and demesnes.


Irish Language Collection

This section is bilingual (Irish/English)

Cnuasach na Gaeilge
Bunaíodh Leabharlann Halla an Línéadaigh níos mó ná dhá chéad bliain ó shin agus chomh fada siar leis an bhliain 1793, bhí Gobharnóirí na hInstitiúide ag bailiú Lss. Gaeilge. Theagasc Pádraig Ó Loinsigh as Loch an Oileáin, Co. an Dúin, Gaeilge don dara leabharlannaí agus an tÉireannach Aontaithe Tomás Ruiséil sa leabharlann féin agus ba iad an bheirt sin, in éineacht le Charlotte Brooke, a d'oibrigh ar Bolg anTsolair, an chéad tréimseachán Gaeilge a foilsíodh riamh.

In 1995, dhá chéad bliain i ndiaidh a fhoilsithe, d'athfhoilsigh an Leabharlann eagrán speisialta den iris agus chuir ar taispeáint cuid de na leabhair is tábhachtaí atá sa chnuasach. Orthu siúd tá chéad eagrán Bolg an Tsolair (1795), sínithe ag Roibeard Mac Ádhaimh, AnIntroduction to the Irish Language le Neilson (1843), Bíobla clúiteach Bhedell (1830), agus The Church Catechism in Irish (clóbhuailte ag James Blow, Beal Feirste, 1722) - meastar gurb é an ceann deireanach sin an leabhar clóbhuailte is sine in Ultaibh).

The Library's commitment to the Irish Language can be traced as far back as 1793, when the Governors of the Library determined to collect manuscripts in the Irish language ‘from such gentlemen known to be possessed of them'. The Library's second Librarian, Thomas Russell, better known as a founder member of the United Irishmen, received instruction in the Irish language from Pádraig Ó Loinsigh of Loughinisland, County Down, on the Library's premises, and the two were later to collaborate with Miss Charlotte Brooke, in the publication of Bolg an Tsolair, the first periodical to be published in the Irish Language.

In 1995, exactly two hundred years after it's publication, the Linen Hall Library published a limited edition facsimile reprint of Bolg an Tsolair. To coincide with the launch of this reprint, the Library exhibited a selection of some of the more important items from its Irish language collection. These included the original Bolg an Tsolair (1795), signed by Robert McAdam, Neilson's An Introduction to the Irish Language (1843), the famous Bedell's Bible (1830), and The Church Catechism in Irish (printed by James Blow of Belfast in 1722), thought to be the oldest Irish book printed in Ulster. This exhibition has toured extensively and is still available to interested parties.


Irish Language Holdings

Abhair Chomhaimseartha
Ní mian leis an Leabharlann a bheith ag amharc siar amháin áfach; déanaimid iarracht freastal ar riachtanais chomhaimseartha na Gaeilge fósta.

We have a wide range of contemporary material, including:

  • Prose and poetry
  • Fiction and non-fiction
  • Children's books
  • Up-to-date audio-visual learning aids
  • Books and music, travel, history, science, criticism
  • Biography

The Library holds a collection of approximately 100 Irish Language journals, and we also have archive cuttings and ephemeral material on all aspects of the language, including:

  • Irish Language TV and media
  • Literature and publishing
  • The Arts
  • Local and national language organisations and education


Ulster Scots Language & Dialects of Ulster

This section is bilingual (Ulster Scots/English)

The Ulster Scots Clatter in the Lint Haw
The Lint Haw bibliotheck wes upsetten in 1788 an is the last subskreivin leibrarie in Bilfawst. The bibliotheck's bygaen is bund up til the mastheid wi the bygaen o whit wes than the toun o Bilfawst, in parteicular wi funnder memmers the lyke o Drennan an Neilson, at wes in collogue wi the United Irishman, an the stoushie o 1798. Fae Janwar 2000, the bibliotheck haes been forderin a projek uphauden bi the ‘Community Relations Council' bi the name o ‘The Languages of Ulster Project'. Ae pairt o this projek is bringin thegither aw the bibliotheck's haudins in the Ulster-Scots leid, at the meinit around five hunner buiks.

The earliest skreids in Ulster-Scots is an outwale o indytes cyred ‘Scotch poems', at kythes in the buik Ulster Miscellany, at wes prentit in Bilfawst in 1753. In an airticle in Ullans magazine, the late Ronnie Adams tells us at the'r no mukkil kent anent the springheid o thir indytes, forby at thai'r thocht ti hae cum fae the Laggan pairt o Donegal. The first haill teks in Ulster-Scots is a clatter o indytes bi Andrew McKenzie furthest in 1816 cryed Poems and Songs on Different Subjects. Skreived in 1817, Poems bi John McKinley, a clatter in baith Inglish an Ulster-Scots, is o interest an aw, for it conteins a leit o mebbe ae thousann subskreivars, takkin in the Viscountess o Avonmore, the Marchioness o Donegal, the Beishop o Down an Connor, an a guid whein ither hiebendit fowk.

The Library has significant holdings of historic materials in Ulster Scots, including the works of the Ulster Weaver poets, and modern publications. Every aspect of dialects of English in Ulster is also covered within our collections. Our Burns and Burnsiana collection also reflects one aspect of Ulster Scots enthusiasm in Ulster.


Ulster Scots Holdings

Forby haudin magazines in Ulster-Scots, the bibliotheck haes pitten thegither a mukkil nummer airticles anent the langage, the maist fek o thaim on the springheid o wurds uised in Ulster fae journals the lyke o The Ulster Journal of Archaelogy and Ulster Folklife. Airticles anent aw ither kenspekkils o the leid quaisten is a-pittin thegither fae newspapers in thir airts an pairts in buikies o sneddins a haudin. Athin the Ulster-Scots clatter is ae thing, the lyke o whilk isnae to finnd itherairts - the Kennedy clatter o Ulster makkars. Aeddicationalist bi trade, Sauvit Kennedy wes a governor o the bibliotheck atwein 1963 an 1974. His clatter o sum sax hunner buiks conteins the darg o makkars in the North o Airlann in baith the exhteent and nyneteent centuries.

A comprehensive archive of periodical material relating to the Ulster Scots language and dialects of Ulster is currently being compiled, and constantly updated.

Please Note: Items from the Irish & Reference Department can be accessed on Level 4. 
Non-members of the Library wishing to consult Closed Access or Reference materials are required to fill in a registration form and present identification.

For further information, please contact:

Irish & Reference Department
T: 028 9032 1707