The next day I went home and explained to my partner that we now owned a house, a car, a bicycle and a tumbledown Library.
For the Lower Oldpark Community Association (LOCA) community worker had indeed persuaded me to part with £90,000 for the library that formed a shabby flagship for her local area; I had been in it a few times, helped her try to have it transferred to community use, and shared her fondness for the architecture, heritage and history of Andrew Carnegie and his many libraries across the globe.
Indeed, I had rented a room and worked for two decades in the counterpart library on Belfast’s Donegall Road / Sandy Row; I knew how elegant a fully restored Carnegie could be, with breath-taking tiles, windows, metalwork, wood, tiles and cornicing. There was a delightful symmetry between the now privately-owned Sandy Row one, the publicly owned and still functioning Falls Road Carnegie and now this soon to be community-owned third sector version in North Belfast.
Carnegie was an enigmatic character, with extraordinary riches – apparently he was 88 times richer than Bill Gates – developed from the US railroad, steel and financial services industries; he broken the labour unions, employed the Pinkertons and ruthlessly destroyed his competitors.
But he then re-found his Scottish Presbyterianism, authored his radical treatise, the ‘Gospel of Wealth’ and invented what we now know as ‘Giving while Living’ giving away his billions to endow 2,500 libraries across the English-speaking world, including 66 on the island of Ireland and the three in Belfast.
That is the legacy we want to explore, and also to consult the communities about fitting future sustainable uses.
Our hard hat tours are popular, interactive and lively, examine our past, our current artistic and cultural tenants and our exciting yet-to-be-developed future.
Come, join us!
Quintin Oliver owns the Carnegie Oldpark Library for the local community and will conduct the hard hat tour featuring in the 2023 Imagine! Belfast Festival programme.