There are many stories about haunted libraries. One of my favorites is this one, from John J. Dunne’s Haunted Ireland: Her Romantic and Mysterious Ghosts–a very touching tale of an Irish archbishop haunting the library he founded–but for a very sad reason.
One of the oldest “free” libraries in Europe, and the first such in Ireland, is Marsh’s Library, near St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It was founded in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, who served Dublin’s archdiocese from 1694 to 1703 before being transferred to County Armagh. In 1707, an act of government was passed making it a public library in perpetuity.
Archbishop Marsh’s library was the only such in Dublin for nearly a century. It was his pride and joy, even after he left Dublin, so it’s not surprising that his spirit should be seen occasionally deep in the stacks, going through books that are said, in some cases, to be in the same shelf positions they held three hundred years ago.
Archbishop Marsh, though, has a reason for going through those old books. He’s looking for a letter from a dearly loved niece.
The archbishop had taken this niece in after her parents died, when she was a small child. He had raised her as fondly as if she were his own daughter, making sure she had every educational and social advantage a young eighteenth-century miss could have. She returned his affection and all might have continued amicably between them to the end of the Archbishop’s life.
When the girl grew to womanhood, though, she fell in love.
The man she loved–and who loved her–was an entirely respectable sea captain, but the Archbishop took strong exception to the relationship: her chosen love simply was not good enough for his foster daughter, and that was that.
Of course, the young couple resorted to slipping around to see one another, despite the Archbishop’s orders that they desist. All the while the girl tried to soften her beloved uncle’s unreasonable attitude, but she might as well have been banging her head against a stone wall.
Left with no other choice, the pair decided to elope.
Before she departed with her lover, though, the niece wrote a note to her uncle, telling him of her plans and asking his forgiveness for following her heart. She tucked it into one of the books in his beloved library, and then left.
Somehow word got to the Archbishop that his niece had left a letter in his library, but before he could find it he was transferred away from the city.
And that, says the legend, is why he returned to Marsh’s Library, still in its seventeenth century building around the corner from the cathedral: to look for that letter. He has been spotted searching for it in that inner gallery of old books from his time, one book at a time.
He has never found it.