An ‘architectural gem’

December 21, 2022 in Featured News, News

The official launch of the Milltown Library, now housed in Woodlock Hall in Dublin City University’s All Hallows campus in Drumcondra, took place on Thursday 8 December 2022.

Jesuits, friends, and colleagues as well as staff and students of DCU attended the event. The President of DCU Professor Daire Keogh, The Irish Jesuit Provincial Father Leonard Moloney SJ, and John McDonough, DCU Librarian all paid tribute to the work that had gone into transferring and cataloguing the substantial collection which was originally housed in Milltown Park, Ranelagh.

The library has been restored to the highest environmental and architectural standards. It has already won one of the Architectural Association of Ireland Awards 2022 and was commended in the Royal Irish Architects Institute Awards. The front wall behind the staging area features a series of 18 portraits commemorating the 1916 leaders, by renowned artist Mick O’Dea. The block grid was created in 2016 as part of an exhibition entitled ‘The Foggy Dew’ to mark the destruction of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1916.

In his opening ad-lib remarks, Father Leonard Moloney SJ referenced the appropriateness of the launch date (the feast of the Immaculate Conception) given that the Milltown library is renowned for its outstanding collection of theology and philosophy books. He also acknowledged that DCU was, of course, a secular university serving people of all faiths and none.

He then went on to say that the Irish Jesuit Province was delighted that the library was going to such a good and indeed architecturally stunning home. “The extensive collection was always an important resource for scholarship and research, and it is great to see it being restored to its former role as a living library that is now an architectural gem.” he said, adding, “We are particularly heartened that the library will now serve the needs of the staff and students of DCU and indeed a wider readership including those connected to the Loyola Institute Trinity College Dublin.”

Fr Moloney thanked Professor Daire Keogh and Former Professor Brian McCraith saying that the partnership with DCU had been not only fruitful but enjoyable. “They say books are friends but, in this case, they have helped create new friends for us in the Jesuit province.”

The Provincial also expressed his gratitude to all the former staff of the Milltown Library, and to his Jesuit brothers, especially Bill Toner SJ, the Province Treasurer who looked after the financial aspect of the transfer, and Bill Callanan SJ and Terry Howard SJ who were involved organizationally. Those Jesuits were present at the launch along with fellow Jesuit Michael O’Sullivan SJ who was responsible for the purchase of many of the liberation and feminist theology books which were transferred from Milltown to DCU.

Following the acquisition of All Hallows by DCU it was decided that the library project would complement the existing facilities on DCU’s other two academic campuses. In 2018 an agreement was reached between the university and the Irish Jesuits to transfer the library collection in order to preserve it and make it accessible to people into the future.

The Milltown collection was comprised of 140,000 books and periodicals. To ensure that it was managed appropriately DCU Library divided the collection into two: the Woodlock Hall Collection and the Milltown Collection. It was opened to staff and students in 2021.

Speaking about the refurbishment, Project Manager Eanan O’Doherty said, “All Hallows is recognised as a heritage site, and within that designated heritage there are various listed buildings, including Senior House. As a duty of care, we need to maintain and protect these structures and it’s important that we do it properly. That was one of the real driving factors of the design.”

The need to honour and conserve the existing space was not just a creative decision, there were also strict planning and heritage requirements, which brought a whole range of challenges. The regulations meant that there could be no adaptation of the internal walls or ceiling of Woodlock Hall so the shelving was designed to be free-standing. Meanwhile, the original fireplaces were retained, and remain on view in specially designed alcoves.

The refurbishment of Woodlock Hall saw the relaying of historic timber floorboards, alongside the restoration of the original wooden panelling, timber doors, and sash windows. The heating is geothermal. McKeon Construction Ltd and Mullarkey Pedersen Architects oversaw the project.

Speaking at the event Professor Daire Keogh, President of Dublin City University said: “The transformation of Woodlock Hall has been truly extraordinary. The team has delivered a state-of-the-art library with a contemporary design that both respects and enhances the historic heritage of the space.”

He also expressed his thanks to the Jesuit Order for the partnership which lead to ‘this beautiful new library… which marks an exciting new era in its long history.”

In his concluding remarks, Fr Moloney quoted from the Nobel prize-winning author Jorge Luis Borges, himself the one-time director of the National Library in Argentina. He was almost blind when he was appointed director yet every day he went to his ‘paradise’, and people marvelled at how deftly he navigated its labyrinthine ladders, winding staircases, and narrow passageways.

Fr Moloney quoted Borges regarding his experience in the library. “’Leaving behind the babble of the plaza, I enter the library. I feel almost physically, the gravitation of the books, the enveloping serenity of order… time magically desiccated and preserved”’ The Jesuit Provincial then concluded, “And that is what I wish for every staff member, student or guest who makes their way into this special place, – serenity, wisdom, and a little bit of timeless magic.”

Read the full text of Fr Moloney’s address below.

Books and Friends

The 19th century Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle once wrote “If we think of it, what the University can do for us is teach us to read. But the place where we are to get knowledge is the books themselves! The true university of these days is a Collection of Books.”

So it is a pleasure to be here today to mark and celebrate the transfer of the Jesuit Library to Dublin City University. The library comprises an extensive collection of philosophical and theological texts that span many centuries and includes a substantive body of material in the fields of literature and history. For most of the last century the collection was located in a dedicated building at Milltown Park where it served the needs of Jesuit scholastics studying theology and philosophy. Later, it was regularly consulted by teachers and students of the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, a collaborative third-level educational institution run by a number of religious congregations.

With the closure of that Institute in 2015, the demand for the library’s services declined quite sharply. So for my Jesuit confreres the transfer of the collection from Milltown Park to DCU marks an exciting new era in the long history of the library.

It is good to see this extensive resource for research and scholarship restored to its former role as a living library, now serving the needs of the university and of a wider readership. A happy outcome made possible by an agreement, in 2019, between DCU and the Irish Jesuits. As a friend once put it, books are friends! We are delighted that our friends have found such a good home.

The library collection consists of 140,000 books which Professor Daire Keogh once colourfully explained, (in an attempt to give a sense of the size of the library) that if all the books were laid flat, one after the other from All Hallows outwards, they would reach back to Milltown Park or beyond!

I like that image because it also illustrates well the connection that we have developed with DCU. It has been a positive and joyful partnership from the outset.

The Argentinian noble prize-winning writer Jorge Luis Borges loved libraries and once made the audacious claim that “Paradise was not a garden but a library.” He’s not far off the mark many would say, looking around Woodlock Hall today. It is for sure an architectural gem and a beautiful new home for the Milltown books! For my confreres and colleagues, who resourced and developed the library over many decades, it is particularly gratifying to see a substantial part of the collection housed here.

We hope that DCU students and others will benefit from access to this the collection, especially those engaged in studies or research in theology and the other disciplines. It seems apposite to note, in that regard, that the university recently completed the process of incorporating three other educational institutions in Dublin: St Patrick’s College, Mater Dei Institute of Education, and the Church of Ireland College of Education. We hope that the library will serve also as a resource for wider research and scholarship in Ireland, including Jesuits academics, the Loyola Institute, and other friends.

It remains only for me to thank the University and especially those who made the partnership possible, the President Professor Daire Keogh, the former President Professor Brian MacCraith, and of course the University’s librarians. It is good to see the partnership achieving its objective in this opening today and the University is to be congratulated on the speed and efficiency with which it accomplished the formidable task of transferring and processing so many books.

I should thank also my Jesuit confreres Fr Bill Callanan SJ, Rector of the Milltown Community at the time of the arrangement, Fr Noel Barber SJ, and Fr Bill Toner SJ, Irish Jesuit Province Treasurer, for their support in this venture. A particular word of thanks to Fr Terry Howard for his part in enabling today.

I began by quoting the historian Carlisle. The university, at its core, is a Collection of Books he says, but could it not be countered that that was then – the 19th century – and this is now – the 21st century where Dr Google offers books and references galore at the click of a mouse. What’s so special about a physical library – do we even need one at all?

I return to our friend Jorge Louis Borges. He was almost blind when he was appointed Director of the National Library in Argentina. Yet every day he went to his ‘paradise’, and people marvelled at how deftly he navigated its labyrinthine ladders, winding staircases and narrow passageways.

Here’s what he wrote of that experience: “Leaving behind the babble of the plaza, I enter the library. I feel almost physically, the gravitation of the books, the enveloping serenity of order… time magically desiccated and preserved”.

And that is what I wish for every staff member, student or guest who makes their way into this special place – serenity, wisdom, and a little bit of timeless magic.

Thank you.

Leonard Moloney SJ
Woodlock Hall
All Hallows College DCU
8 December 2022