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The Bolton Library

It is said that The Rock of Cashel is the second most visited ancient tourist destination in Ireland, after Newgrange, but while the Rock is the biggest feature of the town, the smallest feature is tucked away in the town centre, and is visited by only a small portion of people who come to Cashel.

The smallest book in the world sits in a glass case, under a magnifying lense, in the middle of the Bolton Library. It is an absolute gem of a book that has to be seen to be believed. It is an absolute gem of a book that has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately for this tiny book it doesn’t stand out, like The Rock does, because it is surrounded by books that are equally as interesting, in many ways.

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The Bolton Library contains a stunning selection of rare and unusual books by authors including Dante, Swift, Calvin, Newton, Erasmus and Machiavelli.

Walking into the small, stone building, which is located in the grounds of Cashel cathedral, visitors are welcomed by Pauline Huesby who can point out some of the most interesting books in the library, as well as the collection of church silver, and ancient maps.

The most interesting books to the casual visitor are displayed in glass cases on the ground floor of the library, where they are close enough for the cover or open page to be read.

For a book lover, the Bolton Library is a real treat and it’s a shame that while people drop in to the cathedral next door, to visit, not as many cross to the library. During the summer some tour groups do include the Bolton Library on their visit to Cashel, according to Dean Philip Knowles, who is the library’s curator. Dean Knowles gives lectures on the library collection several time a year, to interested groups.

Among the collection is its oldest manuscript – an ‘encyclopaedia’ from the twelfth century. Inside the thirteenth century deerskin cover can be found maths, music, calendrical tables, and even a version of Aesop’s Fables.

Some of the highlights of the collection are an early edition of Dante’s Comedy and the complete works of Niccolo Machiavelli, published shortly after his death in the sixteenth century.

There are library stamps of ownership marks indicating provenance connected with Catherine of Aragon, Francis Bacon and others. English is the main language of the books but there is also a collection of Latin, French and a dozen more languages. The houses of the great printer-publishers of Europe are well represented.

Like many older buildings, the Bolton Library, which was built especially for the collection in 1836, is badly in need of running costs. In 2008 the building was repointed with help from the Heritage Council. Small grants from the Heritage Council have helped to restore the antique maps and the building’s windows.

Running costs can be difficult to meet, according to Dean Knowles, especially the high cost of insurance for the rare books.

The library uses dehumidifiers to help preserve the books but the donation of more professional advice and help would be welcome.

To this end more visitors would be very welcome. The admission cost to the library is only €2.

Because of the age and uniqueness of the books and manuscripts at the Bolton LIbrary they can not be handed and are not available for borrowing.

The Bolton Library houses a collection of books and manuscripts that were originally the private collection of Archbishop Theophilus Bolton, who was Archbishop of Cashel from 1730 until his death in 1744. In his will he left the collection to the diocese of Cashel, but left no provision for the upkeep of the collection which has been a crucial issue ever since.