The Carnegie Oldpark Library was designed by Belfast-based architects Messrs Graeme-Watt & Tulloch, who also won the contract to design the two other branch libraries (Falls and Donegall Road) during this era. Prior to the opening of the Oldpark branch, North Belfast’s ‘library’ was temporarily located in a room of the Danube Street Working Men’s Club. Internal fittings (cabinets, furniture etc.) were supplied by Belfast firm Maguire & Edwards, who also fitted-out the Lord Mayor’s suite in the new City Hall (opened, like Oldpark, in 1906).
Scots-American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie gifted over 2,500 libraries across the English-speaking world, a hundred on the island of Ireland, and three in Belfast. Carnegie donated £15,000 to Belfast Corporation to fund the construction of three new libraries. Oldpark Library is the only one located in North Belfast. The building opened its doors for the first time in 1906 and served the wider area of North Belfast as a learning centre and social space for over a century. During his first and only visit to the north of Ireland in 1910, when municipal authorities conferred him the honour of Freedom of Belfast, Carnegie paid a brief visit to the Oldpark branch.
Closed as a functioning library in 2010, the building was purchased at auction by the lobbyist Quintin Oliver and his partner Fiona MacMillan. The two decided to lease the building back to the community at no cost, and since then the Northern Ireland Foundation along with the Lower Oldpark Community Association – the community partner – are working together to raise the £1 million necessary for conservation and development of the building; emergency repairs have been completed. The next challenge is not only to fundraise the finances needed for the restoration of the building, but also to reconnect the building with the local community and the rest of the city. For this reason, Oldpark Library has regularly opened its doors for European Heritage Open Days, Cinema Days, one-off events (youth work, poetry, launches, readings, film production) and offered hard hat tours to local residents, former users and people that had never had the chance to visit the building before.
It was during one of these tours, two years ago, two visitors entered the building delighted to see it open. One of them, a PRONI employee, told us that he had spotted within the archive the original architectural drawings of the building. Generously, he allowed us to scan the beautiful drawings that are featured here.
To bring this superb example of Tudorbethan architecture to its former glory requires a lot of diligent work. During the last few decades, the library had been severely neglected and had undergone many alterations and additions, mainly to facilitate other uses unrelated to its original purpose, which still were generating income. Having access to the original drawings was very important, not only because of their value as an artefact but also because they gave as an insight of how the building used to look before internal alterations – and how elegant it will look once again after its restoration.