Library’s prayers answered as stolen book is returned ... just 170 years later

Here’s one Old Testament reading with a happy ending — the prayer book stolen from a library returned after 170 or so years. 

Marsh’s Library, the oldest in the country, has just had the Book of Common Prayer, which was first bound and published in 1666, returned to it after someone pinched it from Dublin city centre reading room in 1840.

The library’s keeper, Jason McElligott, revealed it is just the eighth time any of the 1,200 books removed from the building over the centuries has found its way back home, highlighting the treasures still missing from its collection.

Even leaving aside the questionable morality of stealing a prayer book, Mr McElligott said it was “an unusual thing”. As he puts it, “uptight librarians” working in the library over the centuries have meticulously charted the books that went missing, and most were from the racier end of classical literature, or novels, history books, or tomes on travel.

Unlike a typical library, no books were supposed to leave the premises. This one did, only to be found in the Church of Ireland rectory in Monkstown by Rev Roy Byrne last week.

“He saw the library stamp and contacted us and said: ‘I think this might belong to you.’ Where it has been in the intervening 170 years, we just don’t know,” said Mr McElligott.

The prayer book- which features family notes regarding births that predate its theft - its is worth €500 to €750, and an exhibition running at the library highlights the prices some of its missing items could cost if they ever turned up. A copy of Robert Boyle’s The Sceptical Chymist, published in the 1670s, was stolen from the library in 1767. Another copy of the book was sold last year for a cool €410,000.

“The money isn’t the main thing. It’s the cultural value,” said Mr McElligott.


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