The fine carving over the doorway of 62 Fair Street which was built as a librabry but nowadays is home to the Boomerang Youth Café.
Number 62 Fair Street is home to the Boomerang Youth Café, it is a lively and sometimes noisy place where music can often be heard coming up from the basement. But, for over a century, it was home to the Drogheda Carnegie Library where silence was the order of the day. Historian Sean Collins takes up the story…
In 1902 Drogheda Corporation adopted the 1865 Public Libraries Act and, under the stewardship of the Mayor of the day, Alderman Peter Keeley, set up a committee to establish “A Free Library for Drogheda”. Monsignor Seagrave of St. Peter’s, Rev. Ledoux of St. Peter’s Church of Ireland and Fr. Curry P.P. St. Mary’s, were all members.
The Corporation had become aware that an American philanthropic group called the Carnegie Foundation were providing grants for the creation of public libraries. By the end of 1902, the Carnegie Foundation had committed the sum of £1,500.00, to the Drogheda project.
A condition of the grant was that the local authority had to provide a site for the proposed building. A number of sites were identified including one on Wellington Quay, but a disused yard site in Fair Street, formerly used by Casey’s Brewery, was the one chosen.
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In 1903 the building design was put out to tender and eight different architectural firms submitted proposals. The winning design was compiled by a recently qualified architect from Drogheda called Finian Tallon who worked with Hicks and Company in Dublin.
A stipulation of the Carnegie grant was that £500.00 had to be raised locally to support the project but, after a fund-raising campaign proved unsuccessful, the Corporation agreed to provide gas and water free of charge to the library annually. On that basis Carnegie agreed to waive the requirement and increased the grant to £2,200.00.
In May of 1904, the local newspapers reported that works had commenced on the site in Fair Street, and the library would soon become a reality.
Towards the end of 1905 the building was completed and plans were put in place for an official opening. Two thousand volumes of history, science and English literature were provided as part of the Carnegie grant, and the Library was ready to go.
At midday on April 16th, 1906, Cardinal Logue, the Mayor Alderman Gerald Daly, the Drogheda Corporation members in their robes and a large gathering of local people, formally declared the library open. Drogheda now had a free public library.
Within three months of opening Drogheda Free or Carnegie Library had 181 male and 116 female ticket holding members and 1,223 books had been borrowed. The committee noted that the Drogheda public had a wholesome taste for reading. The Drogheda Library continues to the present day in Stockwell Street and, I believe, may move in the near future.
In a description of the building, the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage says: “This handsome building is a fine example of a Carnegie Library. The design by a young architect Finian (Finnie) Tallan was selected by competition. This is his only recorded major commission. A number of these libraries were built in the late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century and were an important social development.
“This example, with its attractive use of red brick and contrasting stone dressings, makes a striking feature on the predominantly rendered streetscape. The windows are particularly fine, as the limestone mullions and transoms are unique within Fair Street. The intricately carved keystone and plaque above the entrance door complete the structure adding artistic appeal.”
Architect Finian Tallon was a native of Drogheda. His father was Thomas Tallon of 55 Laurence St, a corn and flour merchant and a member of Drogheda Corporation. After serving a three-year apprenticeship with Frederick Shaw of Drogheda, he moved to Dublin, where he worked as an assistant in the office of Frederick Hicks and briefly, in the partnership formed by Hicks and Frederick Batchelor in the summer of 1905.
In 1903, while he was still working for Hicks, he won the competition for designing the Carnegie Library in Drogheda. He set up his own practice in Drogheda in 1905. but died suddenly and prematurely at Eccles Street, Dublin, on 19 June 1908. He was buried with his parents in the Cord Cemetery, Drogheda. He was unmarried. Sadly, Tallon died a young man so the library building in Drogheda was the only public building project of his short career.
In an extensive article for History Ireland on Carnegie Libraries, Brendan Grimes profiled Andrew Carnegie as follows: “Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) emigrated with his parents from Scotland to America in 1848. He became exceptionally successful in the steel business eventually gaining a near monopoly of steel production in the USA.
In 1901 he sold the Carnegie Company and all its holdings to John Pierpont Morgan’s Federal Steel Company for $480,000,000. The new company became the United States Steel Corporation and Carnegie’s share in bonds was $225,639,000 par value.
One of Carnegie’s first gifts, after he sold his company, was $5,200,000 to New York City for the construction of sixty-five branch libraries. Carnegie had given money for libraries before, but he was now to devote himself to a philanthropic career, and it was not long before Ireland was to benefit.
Between 1897 and 1913 he promised over £170,000 to pay for the building of about eighty libraries in Ireland. Sixty-six of the libraries were built and sixty-two of them have survived. Although the money that Carnegie gave for Irish libraries was small in proportion to his total expenditure it greatly helped the library movement in Ireland. In 1919, 81 per cent of the towns in Ireland which had rate-supported libraries received contributions from Carnegie.
“When Lennox Robinson was visiting the Carnegie libraries, in 1915 and 1916 to report on their condition to the Carnegie trustees, he visited Dundalk library, thinking it was a Carnegie library and learning that the flat refusal of fifteen years previously was still remembered, he reported to the trustees that:
The only place I was received with real abuse was at Dundalk, which possesses a library which I thought was a Carnegie benefaction. It turned out to be a very old-established free library which had applied to Mr Carnegie for money to rebuild some years ago but had not been successful in its application, so it was with immense relish that a rather acid-faced lady librarian told me exactly what she thought of Mr Carnegie and his works!