Rare collection of Islamic books and manuscripts in Dublin

Art Contributor
Reading Corner
Islamic books and manuscripts
Dublin Castle from Dubh Linn gardens on a sunny spring day, Dublin, Ireland. © Lauren Orr | Dreamstime.com

Islamic books and manuscripts in Dublin

Many will find it difficult to believe, Dublin, the capital of Ireland, has an astounding of artefacts, Islamic books, and manuscripts. This collection is housed in the Chester Beatty Museum and Library. Indeed, millions of tourists, including Muslims, throng to Dublin every year to see and enjoy various things. However, very few are aware that this library houses many fine Islamic manuscripts and rare copies of the Holy Quran. According to many, it is among the largest of such collections in the western world.

Alfred Chester Beatty

Alfred Chester Beatty was an American businessman, who made millions, particularly in the mining business. He was also a great philanthropist and a renowned collector of historical artefacts, including Islamic books and manuscripts. He was born in New York in 1875. By 1908 he became one of America’s leading mining engineers. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, in 1921 he formed a prospecting company. This company in turn initiated the development of the Copperbelt region of Zambia. In 1913 he moved to London and became a British citizen in 1933. He was Knighted in 1954, four years after he moved to Dublin. He was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of Ireland.

According to the Chester Beatty Museum and Library website, “It was in the decades following his relocation to London in 1913, however, that he built the greater part of his collection.” During a family trip to Egypt in 1914, he developed a fascination for Islamic manuscripts. Later, while a journey to Asia in 1917 added Japanese and Chinese painting to his interests.”

The Museum and the Library

The Chester Beatty Library was established in Dublin in 1950. The museum holds an amazing collection of Islamic books and manuscripts from Arabia, Persia, and Mughal-era India. According to Michael Ryan’s book The Chester Beatty Library: Dublin Castle, among its collections are “Egyptian papyrus texts, illuminated Bibles and Qurans, medieval and renaissance manuscripts, Turkish and Persian miniature paintings, Japanese scrolls and woodblock prints, Chinese dragon robes and many other outstanding works of art.”

While the Library was opened in a wealthy suburb of Dublin it moved to Dublin Castle in 2000. The collection, including Islamic books and manuscripts, was opened to the public on 7 February 2000. And it got the honor of the European Museum of the Year in 2002.

Among the major attractions of Chester Beatty museum and library’s collection of Islamic books and manuscripts are 270 complete or fragmentary Qur’ans, dating back to the eighth century. Also, one of the finest illuminated copies of the holy Quran, the Ibn al-Bawwab Quran, is in the collection of this library. The library’s collection of Islamic books and manuscripts also include about 1,000 Mughal-era paintings, an Ottoman Illustrated volume of The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, copies of works by the great Persian poets Firdausi and Hafiz, and some of the earliest Arabic translations of Hellenic work.

 

(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)