As a thorough Chennai-bred you surely would have heard of the Connemara Public Library at Egmore and hopefully, got a chance to visit it as well at some point in time. If not, you really need to plan a tour of the architectural gem. The massive red building is situated on Pantheon Road and is a must-visit on the list of most tourists. Connemara Public Library is one of the biggest and most magnificent libraries in the country and it is important to ensure the heritage property is not lost in vagaries of time.

The library’s beginnings go back to 1860, when Captain Jesse Mitchell set up a small library as part of the Madras Museum. It was conceived on the lines of the British Museum Library and was part of the Madras Museum until 1890. Then the need for a free public library prompted the then Governor of Madras, Lord Connemara, to lay the foundation on March 22 1890. It opened in 1896 and was named after the former Governor (who had by then returned to Britain).

The entire complex now boasts buildings that reflect architectural unity, even while demonstrating the various stages of Indo-Saracenic development, from Gothic-Byzantine to Rajput Mughal and Southern Hindu Deccani.

Designed by H. Irvin, the then consulting Architect to the Government of Madras, magnificent hall has a splendid reading room and beautiful teakwood book shelves. Its wooden ceiling is pretty to look at. The roof is truncated semi-circle. But the two curved sides are made of coloured glass pieces artistically cemented to one another. Ornamental acanthus leaves and flowers adorn the pillars, windows and bookshelves. The flooring is done with marble slabs brought from Krishna District (Andhra Pradesh) through the Buckingham canal, in boats. The cost of the construction in those days was whopping amount of Rs.5, 75,000.

The new building, which was added to the Library in 1973, has a vast collection of books, a much sought after text-book section, a periodicals hall, a reference room, a video room, an entire floor for books from the Indian languages, a Braille Library and an IAS study centre.

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This summer, spare some time and check out the sheer brilliance of 19th century architecture at the Connemara Public Library. You might need prior permission to access some preserved part of the library. Try talking to the head librarian.

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