My favourite room
Jasper Conran

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 51, Summer 2017

Page 20

Jasper Conran finds Trinity College Library a room for the mind to roam

I love libraries, utterly love them: that sense that the knowledge of the whole world is sitting there beside you in serried ranks.
I got a taste for these temples to the book as a child. My mother was great friends with Alexander Weymouth, as he was then, and when we visited Longleat, I would have free range around what must be one of the world's great private houses. The Bishop Kin's library there was the room I loved the most – it was the peaceful sensation of being surrounded by leather-bound books. However, I have to say that Trinity College Library in Dublin is my number one.

I first visited when I went to Dublin 30 years ago. I was just ticking off the things that tourists to the city do – such as visiting the Natural History Museum and going to Sweny's chemists to buy lemon soap, as Leopold Bloom did in James Joyce's novel Ulysses.

With its six million books, Trinity College Library is, however, on another level – specifically the Old Library, which keeps the Book of Kells, the world's best-known mediaeval manuscript, a book that many call Ireland's greatest cultural treasure.

That is a decent enough claim to fame on its own, but the library is about so much more than any single object. With its oak bookshelves and high, barrel-vaulted roof, the building itself is spectacular. It was designed by Thomas Burgh, at the time Dublin's leading architect, who was also responsible for Dr Steevens' Hospital and the Royal Barracks. The foundation stone was laid in 1712 and construction took around 20 years.

The arched nave of its Long Room stretches seemingly into infinity. In its majesty, it's a bit like a cathedral – albeit a cathedral of the printed word. Marble busts of 18th- and 19th-century philosophers, writers, scientists, statesmen and the college's former provosts – by sculptors of the calibre of Peter Scheemakers, Louis François Roubiliac and Simon Vierpyl – line each side of the aisle, their white heads gleaming against the brown panelling.

The sight of book after book, on shelf after shelf, in alcove after alcove is overwhelming. It's a gigantic treasure chest. Part of me wishes they could lock me in here all by myself one night – or, even better, for a week.

There's a stillness and calm to the place, which is what I value most in a room. Anyone diagnosed with anxiety or an attack of nerves should visit Trinity's library. It would do them wonders. When you're inside, it is as if no harm could ever come to you. It's an oasis from the noise and speed, the dangers and distractions, of everyday life. The sort of place you can roam both physically and intellectually, as well as be alone with your thoughts. Which is why, when we go to Dublin – where my husband, Oisin, is from – we make sure that a restorative visit to Trinity College Library is in the schedule.

Jasper Conran has recently opened L'Hôtel Marrakech, a 19th-century riad in the heart of the Medina. l-hotelmarrakech.com

Trinity College Dublin, College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland. For visiting hours, visit tcd.ie

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