The Linen Hall is a truly unique institution. Founded in 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast. As well as being a working library, the Linen Hall is also an archive, accredited museum, and four-star visitor attraction, with a high profile as a centre of cultural and creative life, offering a varied programme of events ranging from monthly exhibitions to language classes, book clubs and launches, readings, and lectures.
The Linen Hall has a radical and enlightenment foundation, prizes its independence, and has maintained the egalitarian principle that its resources are by the community, for the community. A welcoming, inclusive, shared space, right in the heart of the city, the Linen Hall is crammed full of knowledge, and alive with a history which is intrinsically linked to the story of Belfast and beyond, meaning the Linen Hall has a pivotal role to play in understanding all of Northern Ireland’s pasts.
Freely accessible, the Linen Hall is renowned for its unparalleled Irish and Local Studies collection, ranging from comprehensive holdings of early Belfast and provincial printed books, fantastic resources to support genealogy, expansive literary and theatre and performing arts archives, to the Northern Ireland Political Collection, the definitive archive of the recent ‘troubles’.
The Northern Ireland Political Collection began in 1968 with one civil rights leaflet. Since then, the Linen Hall has sought to collect all printed material relating to the ‘troubles’. Today the Northern Ireland Political Collection contains over 350,00 items – including thousands of books, pamphlets, periodicals, posters, and political ephemera, as well as detailed political and social archives of individuals and organisations – and documents the ‘troubles’ from the emergence of the civil rights movement to the present day. Collected contemporaneously during the complete period of civil unrest, the collection documents the activities of all – from paramilitaries to government, political parties to grassroot activists, trades unions to community groups – and a large number of items in the collection are unique to the Linen Hall. The collection is brought to life through the Linen Hall’s permanent ‘Troubled Images’ gallery, and innovative digital content – including Divided Society (https://www.dividedsociety.org/) and extraORDINARYwomen (https://www.extraordinarywomenni.com/).