Iona library gets £100,000 grant to rescue priceless books

The Iona Cathedral Trust has received £100,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fundto rescue a little known library hidden away above the cloisters of Iona Abbey. The project will create a new Heritage Collection for the island.

Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald in Library
Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald, chair of the Iona Cathedral Trust in Iona Abbey library

The early monastery of St.Columba, founded in the sixth century, famously produced the Book of Kells, amongst other notable manuscripts at a time when libraries were a symbol of wealth and education uniquely owned by an elite few.

The current library, restored during the rebuilding of the Iona Abbey claustral buildings by George Macleod and the Iona Community, includes collections of national significance.

The collection includes Gaelic manuscripts and examples of Celtic art among the treasures that will be restored. A digital catalogue of the Heritage Collection will also be made available onlinethanks to the expertise being shared by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The grant will enable the Cathedral Trust to preserve the library for future generations.

The project plans to uplift several hundred library items to conservators on the mainland for restoration and repair over the next two years. It is supported by a number of organisations including Historic Environment Scotland, the Iona Community, the University of the Highlands and Islands, as well as the Island of Iona Community Council.

Iona Abbey is one of Scotland’s top heritage attractions, and the island of Iona regularly attracts more than 130,000 visitors each year.

There will be plenty of opportunity for volunteer help and public involvement through creative, educational and conservation workshops in local schools and communities. Information events in the Argyll and Bute area are planned to keep local communities updated with progress. A public exhibition will be created on Iona in the final year to showcase all the hard work, fun and play generated by the project before its expected completion in October 2018.

Commenting on the award, the Chairman of the Iona Cathedral Trust, Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald said:

“We are delighted this gem of a library can be made more accessible and our valuable heritage preserved thanks to this support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Iona Cathedral attracts many visitors, but the library is hidden away over the cloisters. Many more people will be able to enjoy it thanks to this grant.”

Lucy Casot, Head of HLF Scotland, said:

“This is a great project that, thanks to the National Lottery players, will transform the Iona Abbey Library Project for future visitors and encourage everyone to enjoy its amazing heritage collections. Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to give its support.”