In 1788 the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay and later Sydney Cove under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip.
The establishing of New South Wales and the founding of modern Australia had begun. The news did little to assuage the madness of King George III, who was probably still smarting over the loss of the American Colonies just five years earlier. Those newly formed United States grew from just three states to eleven states in the course of the year and the newly independent ears of Jefferson, Franklyn and the soon to be elected President Washington, were no doubt soothed by the latest compositions from the still prolific Mozart. The romance of his music accompanied the exit of one romantic character of history, as Bonnie Prince Charlie, the long-time pretender to the British Throne, died in Rome and heralded the birth of the most famous romantic poet, Lord Byron.
Meanwhile, in Belfast (population about 14,000) a group of gentlemen artisans decided to found the Belfast Reading Society. A couple of years later it was renamed the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge. A few years more, in 1802, it moved into a building from which it took it’s unofficial, yet permanent, name- the Linen Hall Library.
Now, I have said before, I like libraries. I especially like the Linen Hall. It is small, by modern standards, old, by anyone’s standards, has a sweeping banister-lined staircase up to the first floor, is insulated by the soft murmuring of lost readers being helped by precise librarians and smells of history, books, knowledge. It is also home to a vast collection of Irish and local studies material that includes early Belfast and Ulster books, through to the Northern Ireland Political Collection, a quarter of a million items that form the definitive archive of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’. There is an extensive Robert Burns collection and volumes of local genealogy sources. Amidst all those treasures are my two little books. A fact that simply makes me smile from ear to ear every time I think of it. I was pleased having written them, but honestly thrilled to know they were on the shelves in the Linen Hall.
In its 227 years, the library has survived uprisings, war and insurrections. It has slumped almost out of existence and risen to be a vibrant and vital part of the City’s cultural heartland. Through it all it has been maintained by public subscription. Nowadays it is an ‘independent and charitable body’ and in simple terms it needs funds to survive. It raises them by all manner of means but one little plug-in on its website made me chuckle with its ingenious irony.
For anyone who buys their books on Amazon, the Linen Hall Library has a button that is a referral link. If you want to buy something on Amazon you could just go to the Library’s home page and click on the button. Then, any purchase made will attract a donation from Amazon to the Library, at absolutely no cost to you. You buy books from the newest bookseller on the planet and donate to one of the oldest book-lenders. Seems like a win-win to me. Happy reading.
Ian Andrew is the author of the alternative history novel A Time To Every Purpose, the detective thrillers Face Value and Flight Path and the Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. All are available in e-book and paperback. Follow him on social media: