Church Architectural Drawings Project: Tuam Diocesan Collection

The latest phase of the project to digitize, catalogue and make available online the Representative Church Body Library’s collections of architectural drawings of churches has resulted in the processing of drawings from the western Diocese of Tuam. To date (as of 1st May 2017) over 5,000 drawings have been made available online for the churches in some 20 of a total of 30 Church of Ireland dioceses.

With the completion of the extensive collection for the Diocese of Tuam, those for a further 10 dioceses remain for systematic processing i.e. imaging each drawing and details therein, cataloguing the details and uploading it to the dedicated web page available through the Church of Ireland website at: https://archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org

The work is being carried out by architectural historian Dr Michael O’Neill at the Library, where the Church’s architectural drawings are stored in the context of many other collections documenting the evolutionary history of the Church of Ireland.

From the 12th Century, the Diocese of Tuam was part of the larger archdiocese or ecclesiastical Province of Tuam. The archdioceses of Tuam and Cashel were absorbed into the provinces of Armagh and Dublin respectively from 1833. The architectural drawings of churches for Tuam date from the middle decades of the 19th Century and give a good indication of the state of the diocese at that time, while further 20th Century drawings continue the picture up to more recent times.

Ballinrobe parish church interior plan, as executed by Welland and Gillespie, under the terms of ‘Articles of Agreement’ bearing date 23rd September 1863, signed off by the rector and various other diocesan officials, © RCB Library PF/26.

Included in the line-up are the drawings of the diocese’s two glorious medieval buildings: Tuam Cathedral and St Nicholas, Galway, are wonderful medieval churches.  As well as the diocesan cathedral and Galway parish church, other medieval churches still in use in the 1830s were at Crossboyne, Dunmore, Headford, Kilconta, and possibly Moylough.  Eighteenth-century churches were built at Ballinrobe, Drummonaghan, Kilkerrin, Ballincholla, with Annaghdown, Lewisburgh and Westport built in the last years of that century. These so-called ‘First Fruits’ churches, featuring a plain rectangular interior and western tower of the early 19th Century, had an interesting variety of furnishings, quite a number with a triple-decker pulpit located behind the communion table. Two 18th Century churches with more developed plans had the triple-decker pulpit and communion table located in different limbs within the church (Killrenan, Moore Drum).

Many of the drawings in Portfolio 26 depict the proposed rearrangements of church interiors that became commonplace by the mid-19th Century – removal of pew boxes and triple decker pulpits and their replacement with bench seating and a separate reader’s desk and pulpit located towards the east end, with more prominence given to the communion table and often the provision of chancel rails. The attached image shows how such rearrangement impacted on Ballinrobe parish church.

Additionally, and not found in the drawings for any of the 16 dioceses catalogued to date, are churches described as ‘mission churches’ or as ‘licensed houses of worship’. Drawings for Achill missionary church date to 1851, while those for an additional missional church in Achill date from around 1855. There are also drawings for Roundstone in 1865 and Bunlahinch in 1866 which are described as licensed houses of worship.

The Achill Island Mission, located near the village of Dugort was founded by the Revd Edward Nangle who moved permanently to the new colony in 1834. Nangle died in 1883 and the colony was failing by that time. Indeed the Welland plan for the church on file in the portfolio dating from the mid-1850s shows a proposed spire for the building, which does not appear to have been executed, and to this day the little church remains a humble structure.

The church drawings for Tuam diocese will undoubtedly be of interest to parishioners, vestry members and historians of the various parish churches within the diocese. Moreover, taken as a collection, they assist in tracing the history of the Church of Ireland in 19th and 20th Centuries. These visual records document the reform and extension movements of the first decades of the 19th, and then the further expansion and remodelling in the decades leading up to Disestablishment. In the case of this diocese, they also document part of the story of the ‘Second Reformation’ campaigns in Achill and Connemara.

When we consider that today the diocese consists of just four unions and 14 churches, the content of this particular portfolio provides an important visual record of many buildings that may no longer be in use as churches, yet continue as part of the rich architectural tapestry of rural Ireland.

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