Cork City Libraries' 130 Anniversary Marked in Cork City Hall


9 December 2022

The heart of a city is its library. In Cork, our library is a living, beating heart, shelter for all those who visit in search of escape, education or excitement. From the moment its doors open until they close again in the evening, it pulses with activity, each chamber filling with eager readers and writers. Ná tugaimís croí briste dóibh siúd atá le teacht. Let us work towards a library that will continue to beat, long into the future.


Doireann Ní Gríofa




The Lord Mayor of Cork held a civic ceremony  at the Council Chamber tonight to honour Cork City Libraries' staff on the occasion of the libraries' 130 year anniversary. 


Up to 100 staff from across the city’s 10 libraries heard from a former Cork City Libraries colleague, acclaimed Cork poet, Thomas McCarthy who spoke about the legacy of the Burning of Cork and its effects on the library while UCC’s Mairead Mooney spoke about the first City Librarian, James Wilkinson and the important work he did in the libraries’ early years. 


Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Deirdre Forde said: “Creativity and community are at the heart of our libraries with Cork City Libraries doing phenomenal work to support emerging literary voices in the city through Cork World Book Festival and  partnerships with literary organisations  like the Munster Literature Centre, Cork’s monthly poetry event,  Ó Bheal,  the MA in Creative Writing at UCC and Live at the Library Music Sessions. I know library staff are particularly proud of the inclusion work that they do to ensure out-reach such as Library Link, the service for people who are housebound and in care homes, the Growing Imaginations Service for people with intellectual disabilities and a range of autism friendly services”.


City Librarian, David O’Brien said: “Cork City Library on Grand Parade has been described as the ‘city’s intellectual engine room; by Cork poet, Theo Dorgan but libraries are also spaces where creativity and curiosity – in its many forms – is fired, nourished and expressed.   For 130 years, Cork City Libraries has sought to provide safe civic spaces with something for all ages and abilities. Not only do we provide access to books but we offer public talks, meeting spaces, curated exhibitions and digital resources”.       


Speaking at tonight’s event, Cork City Libraries Historian in Residence, Alan Noonan, said the city’s libraries are a “holistic source of public engagement…rather than solely a repository for books and music… forging engagements with the public between writers, historians, and poets and the institutions of local government”.


Cork City’s services include:


  • My Open Library which opened in May at Douglas Library and will be rolled out to three more libraries in the coming months. My Open Library allows self-service access to the library from 8am - 10pm, 7 days a week and continues to prove very popular with patrons of all ages. The service also provides much needed study spaces to both 2nd and 3rd level students.   
  • The seed library at Hollyhill Library – a partnership with Green Spaces for Health -  is another exciting new initiative offering free seeds to the public. At the end of the growing season, saved seeds are returned to the library for others in turn, to grow and enjoy. 
  • Cork City Libraries also provide opportunities for public engagement with literature through programmes such as Poetry in the Park which has seen twelve installations across six parks citywide and the annual city wide bookclub One City One book which supports writers and readers.
  • The Tory Top Library’s sensory garden provides solace to those with dementia and ASD 
  • Tovertafel/Magic Tables, an interactive device for those with dementia and ASD are in libraries across the service. 
  • The award-winning Growing Imaginations workshops create Sensory Books in a Bag which can be borrowed by families, carers or centres who care for adults with an intellectual disability.
  • Supporting Cork as an Age Friendly City, Cork City Libraries have Age Friendly Ambassadors in each location to ensure relevant programmes and services for older people.
  • The digital aspect of the libraries continues to develop with laptops for loan, coding classes, eBooks and eAudio books and access to online training courses.



The Cork City Library on Grand Parade, according to Corkonian poet and expat Theo Dorgan (who now lives in Dublin), is the city's intellectual engine room. In keeping with Cork's mercantile heritage, the library represents the city's intellectual sails; it has propelled the city while also been a part of its buffeting winds and storms, most notably the fires that destroyed the city and its library in December 1920. Cork, too, has benefited from worldwide connections, as seen by early Carnegie sponsorship and popular support throughout Ireland and the rest of the globe in restoring its devastated book holdings. In the years following the fire most of the attention was focused on rebuilding the collections, but by the 1960s the city boundaries grew, naturally increasing the demand on the Cork Library system in the larger city.


To meet these needs, Cork City Library expanded from its original city-centre location in December 1972, with the opening of the branch library on St. Mary’s Road, across from the North Cathedral.   Under the direction of Librarian Seán Bohan further branches were opened. The Tory Top Library Ballyphehane in 1974, Douglas in 1976, Hollyhill in 1980, and Mayfield in 1984. Other initiatives further expanded the reach and the breadth of the Library in Cork. In 1975 a mobile library service was launched serving three locations on the northside and three locations on the southside. The effort to serve equally the two main geographic divisions of Cork city also served to preserve the library’s vital reputation of impartiality to both communities. Other important initiatives led by the Grande Parade branch of the Cork City Libraries included: the opening of a dedicated Children’s department in 1977; the expansion of the adults lending department in 1977; and the creation of a Music department in 1978. Bohan’s successor, Hanna O’Sullivan, would be responsible for bringing the digital revolution to the library directing the development of an electronic catalogue, public access computers, and online access to material. The city boundaries expanded in May 2019 which grew the area under Cork City Libraries fivefold and the population by a corresponding two-thirds. The libraries of Ballincollig, Blarney, and Glanmire were brought under the auspices of Cork City Libraries.


Mullins and Ronayne in their book The Grand Parade note that “for some years it was the largest single public library building in Ireland”. The building thus, represents a fitting point, both for Corkonians and their love of reading and the fact that these are the last years the Central Library will be in its current form on the Grand Parade. Preparations will soon begin for a new building situated nearby. Larger and more spacious, it will be an adaptation to the changing needs of the growing city.


Libraries are a holistic source of public engagement rather than solely a repository for books and music. Public talks, meeting spaces, curated exhibits, digital resources are just some of the ways Cork City Libraries is nurturing its links with the public forging engagements between writers, historians, and poets and the institutions of local government. The goal is to both hone the talent within our shared Cork community and harness and strengthen connections between the library, the public, and our shared experiences. The library is not just a place where things are stored, they are vital spaces for creativity and the sharing of ideas.