Human interest stories from the Gazette: the miraculous escape of St Mark’s church congregation, 1912

Another decade’s worth of editions of the weekly newspaper, the Church of Ireland Gazette, from 1924 to 1933, has just been digitized and uploaded online by the RCB Library, where they may be consulted as a freely-searchable resource. This means that all editions for the 70-year period between March 1856 (when the paper first appeared) up to and including the end of December 1933 are shared for all.

 

The RCB Library holds the only complete hard-copy run of this newspaper published weekly since 1856, and through incremental digitization has endeavoured to share its rich content with a worldwide audience. With 70 years now online and searchable, work is half-way done to complete the project to make the Gazette a completely searchable resource for in 2005 it became available as e-newspaper.

 

By way of demonstrating the importance of the GazetteDr Miriam Moffitt, historian and committee member of COIHS, uncovers a story about the miraculous escape of the congregation in St Mark’s church, Ettagh, County Offaly, when their church was struck by lightning during the Morning Service on Sunday, 21st June 1912.  The paper records how there were three great flashes, the third of which broke a capping stone on the church tower, smashing stained glass windows and even splitting a pew inside the church, causing all inside to feel the effects. While nobody was seriously injured, one man nearest to a shattered window was very shocked.  The organist and rector’s wife, Mrs Charlotte Lees, felt the full effects through the organ, while the organ-blower was literally blown off his feet.

Report on lightning strike at St Mark’s church, Ettagh, County Offaly, on Sunday, 21st June 1912.

In the current online exhibition, Dr Moffitt illustrates this particular seemingly incidental story from local parish life, but then goes behind the scenes to show how other political forces were at work that would have longer-lasting effects than the one-off but nonetheless dramatic incident of June 1912.  She says: ‘The Gazette is wonderful because it provides not only an outline of the events that impacted on the Church over the last 150 years, but also because it gives us an insight into the attitudes of its readership. It is in the small, apparently insignificant events of the past that the reality of parish life can be captured. Studies of this type are important as they illustrate the relationships and dependencies inherent in the communities that have gone before.’

St Mark’s church, Ettagh, County Offaly. Photograph courtesy of Dr Miriam Moffitt.

Speaking from the RCB Library, the Librarian and Archivist, Dr Susan Hood, says: ‘Like a bolt from the blue, Dr Moffitt’s forensic coverage of the lightning strike at Ettagh parish church in June 1912, underpinned by our online digitization of the Gazette, brings back another fascinating human-interest story that would otherwise have remained hidden.’

 

The free-to-view finding aid to all editions of the Gazette between 1856 and 1933 is available here: https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb

 

To view the ‘News Behind the News’ story of the Ettagh lightning strike, go here: www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archive

 

The current Church of Ireland Gazette and all editions from 2005 may be viewed via an online subscription on the Gazette website, see: https://gazette.ireland.anglican.org

The Strokestown (Bumlin) Vestry Book, 1811-1870

The value of the Church of Ireland vestry minute book as a resource for social, economic, religious, and indeed legal history at parish level is immeasurable. A local historian and native of Roscommon, Alan Moran, has transcribed the entire content of the relevant vestry minute book for the parish of Bumlin (including two smaller related civil parishes of Kiltrustan and Lissonuffy), centring on the town of Strokestown. It covers the period 1811 to 1870 and is available in full online at www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archive

The vestry minute book was presented by the Revd Edward Mahon (1776/7–1847) on his appointment as vicar in 1811. The Mahon family, as the principal landowners in the area, had dominated Strokestown since the late 17th century, and laid out the town as a planned settlement, enhancing the setting of their mansion – the big house at Strokestown. The family produced several Church of Ireland clergy, including the previous incumbent of Strokestown, who was the Revd Maurice Mahon of Clonfree (father of Bartholomew Mahon who endowed the parish charity, and a first cousin of Maurice Mahon MP, the first Lord Hartland of Strokestown House), who served as vicar of Bumlin from 1790 until 1811. It is not known whether his successor, the Revd Edward Mahon, had any family connection with them. The Elphin clergy list identifies him as the son of a farmer from County Clare (he always signed as the vicar; there was a rector also for tithe purposes).

The first page of the Bumlin vestry minute book (a leather-bound volume with lettering on the front) records that there had been no regular vestry book prior to the Revd Edward Mahon’s presentation of it, in 1811. © RCB Library P.737/5/1.

Nineteenth-century vestry books have received relatively little systematic attention from scholars, though they are often mined for local and parish histories. Mr Moran’s in-depth analysis, which precedes the online transcription, enables the legal framework of the vestries at this time to be reconstructed as well as the churchwardens’ accounts, the applotments of the parishes of the Union of Bumlin, and the donations from the Mahon Charity fund in the 1830s, to be fully understood.

Such data should be of particular value to historians wishing to unpick the complexities of the parish as a unit of local administration, demonstrating how, alongside the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, the vestry minute books form an important and significant component of the records of the Church of Ireland.

The operation and functions of the vestry are succinctly outlined, and annual income and expenditure is scrutinised, while in-depth analysis of how the applotment of the parish was carried out, and how all cess-payers (irrespective of their religious denomination) were levied for a variety of civic purposes, is gathered, with Mr Moran noting how “the churchwardens acted as custodians of the cess money collected. No bank was involved”.

The rich detail in this particular minute book further allows him to analyse payments from Bartholomew Mahon’s charitable bequest. Following his death in 1815, £800 was left in trust to the minister and churchwardens ‘for the relief of the poor of said parishes, without any distinction as to religion’.   The vestry book contains a list of the donations made from the fund in the years 1833 to 1837 even including giving the names and circumstances of the persons assisted – widows, sick, lame, blind, orphans, foundlings – and thus providing a particularly poignant glimpse of the rural poor and indeed hidden Ireland a decade before the Famine.

Speaking of his work, Alan Moran says: “I did not know what to expect when I first looked into the Strokestown vestry book, but was immediately taken by the interest and variety of its contents, and its reflection of local and national circumstances in the decades before the Famine.  There was a lot of data on the parish accounts, occupation of land, and relief of the poor, which could be useful to researchers, so I decided to undertake a full transcription to make that data more accessible, as well as to get a better understanding of the functions of the vestry myself.”

Speaking from the RCB Library, Dr Susan Hood, Librarian and Archivist, said: “We have seen how hard Alan has worked on this project over many months. Whilst clearly a labour of love for him, he has been very generous to share it with a worldwide audience. His work again underlines the significance of Church of Ireland vestry records, many of which have been gathered together at the Library.”

An alphabetical listing by county of all vestry records available in the RCB Library is available here: http://bit.ly/2FgZ8zR – and the full transcription of the Strokestown (Bumlin) vestry book is available at http://bit.ly/2I18pPv

Exhibition launch: Maynooth College, chaplains and the anti-conscription crisis

On Wednesday 18 April Maynooth University invites you to the launch of an exciting new exhibition titled ‘”On active service”: Maynooth College, Chaplains & the Anti-Conscription Crisis’. The launch takes place at 1pm in the Russell Library, Maynooth University. Members of the public are welcome to attend but must contact organisers. If you would like to go to the launch please send an email to: library.russell@mu.ie

The exhibition was jointly curated by Professor Marion Lyons and Barbara McCormack. It will be on display in the Russell Library until the end of May 2018.

 

Divided Loyalties in a West Cork Parish: the Revd George F Stoney of Berehaven

Sit back, relax, and read the hidden story behind the dismissal of the curate in the parish of Berehaven 150 years ago…

Having discovered that not one but three addresses affirming support for Revd George F Stoney (1826-1869) had been published within the space of 18 months in the pages of the Church of Ireland Gazette, Church of Ireland Historical Society committee member Dr Miriam Moffitt has managed to forensically recover the full background to this intriguing story.

On his departure from the parish in March 1868, Mr Stoney was presented with not one, but two, printed addresses which differed considerably in tone. A third would follow following his death in September 1869. Examination of each of these addresses, supplemented by parish and newspaper records reveals how wealth and social standing exerted considerable influence in this west Cork parish, in the mid-19th century. Printed addresses featured regularly in the pages of the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette since its inception in 1856 (named Church of Ireland Gazette from 1900). These pieces generally lamented a clerical departure, containing the text of a lavishly-printed address which had been presented to the departing clergyman such as the example previously displayed at this link: https://www.ireland.anglican.org/news/6352/illuminated-address-by-renowned-heraldic

Usually written in rather quaint and over-enthusiastic language and signed by persons of note within the parish, such addresses were often accompanied by a response from the clergyman in question. Although a vast amount of personal, family and social history is hidden behind these published sources, few people have investigated the background and development of the stories they reveal. Such is the case of the two addresses presented to the Revd George Stoney as published in the Gazette of 23rd April 1868, offering glimpses of the workings and political interactions of a rural parish, while the third address (published in the Gazette of 22nd September 1869) from ‘The Loyal Orangemen of Shercock’ provides additional insight into his character. As the episode relating to Mr Stoney coincided with the more attention-grabbing disestablishment crisis, it serves as a reminder that while large issues of historical importance capture the attention of the reading public, stories that appear less significant can provide valuable recovery of the complexity of the past.

The former St Peter’s Church, Castletownbere. Image provided courtesy of the Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

With the disestablishment debates dominating the newspapers throughout the years 1868 and 1869, it is likely that little notice was paid to the experiences of the Revd George Stoney, who was dismissed from his curacy in Berehaven in March 1868, returning thereafter to ministry in his former parish of Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan until his death 17 months later. While in Beara, Stoney ministered at the chapel-of-ease at Allihies, where the population was largely comprised of the mining families from the nearby copper mines. The former parish church, dedicated to St Peter, was sited in the town of Berehaven (now Castletownbere); Berehaven Miners church (also known as Kilnamanagh church) was located 12 miles further west.

The backdrop to his sudden dismissal was a socio-economic one linked with the copper-mines at Allihies, owned by Berehaven’s leading landowner: Henry Lavallan Puxley of Dunboy Castle. In operation since 1812, Allihies mines had attracted an influx of Cornish miners. Changes introduced by a new manager appointed in the aftermath of a miners’ strike in 1864, combined with a sharp fall in the price of copper, led to a drastic reduction of the workforce. Although there was an attempt to replace some Irish workers with Englishmen, most of the miners were natives of Beara and Roman Catholics. Allegations were frequently made that the better positions were awarded to English workers and that the Irish miners were exploited and forced to live in squalid conditions, charges that were validated by Mr Stoney in a letter published in the Cork Examiner of 4th March 1868 which detailed the ‘real agonising poverty of the people’. A subsequent letter of Stoney’s was published in The Nation on 16th May 1868, and even more direct in its criticism of the mine-owner and more stark in its description of the lives of the miners. Needless to say, the Revd John Halahan, rector of Berehaven, was not impressed to learn that his curate was speaking out, and examination of the full presentation will reveal that the Revd George Stoney came off second in the ensuing conflict.

The uncovering of this episode again confirms the usefulness of the Church of Ireland Gazette as a primary resource for locating, exploring and understanding the experiences of the wider Church community. The stories uncovered in the ‘News Behind the News’ series are typical of those available to us through the pages of the Gazette, the content of which may be explored in full between its foundation in 1856 and 1923 using the search box in the link to the digitized version of the Gazette available here: https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb

Date for your diary: COIHS Spring Conference 21 April 2018

The Church of Ireland Historical Society’s first conference of the year will be on Saturday, 21 April 2018 in Armagh Robinson Library. The library is located at the northwest entrance gate to the Church of Ireland Cathedral. Tea and coffee will be served from 10.30am and the first paper will start at 11am.

Confirmed speakers are Dr Annaleigh Margey (Dundalk IT), Dr Myrtle Hill (Queen’s University, Belfast), and Dr Marie Coleman (Queen’s University, Belfast). The research paper will be delivered by Mr Matthew Houston, who is pursuing his PhD at Queen’s University, Belfast.

The full programme can be seen below.

The conference is open to all members of the public. There is a daily fee of €10 (or £7) for non-members to assist with conference expenses, payable at the registration desk in the Music Room, but anyone can become a member for €40 (or £35). Those who join the Society but are unable to attend either of our conferences in Armagh or Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (in November) will be given exclusive access to the podcasts which record these papers. For further details of our membership package please visit our membership page.

We’re looking forward to an interesting day and hope to see many of you there.

A weekend read: The Tin Church at Laragh, County Monaghan

One of the fascinating aspects from the pages of the Church of Ireland Gazette (formerly Ecclesiastical Gazette up until 1900 and the Church’s weekly newspaper since 1856) are the lesser known stories that can be found when researching. Unearthing how Laragh Tin Church, in the diocese of Clogher and county of Monaghan, came to be constructed at the end of the 19th century is one such example.

Telling the full story behind this little news piece, illustrated with extracts from the newspaper and complementary sources, historian and Church of Ireland Historical Society committee member, Dr Miriam Moffitt recovers the full story of Laragh church – a delightful chapel-of-ease in the parish of Crossduff and located midway between the towns of Carrickmacross and Ballybay. The story begins with a fund-raising effort to build the church, which was kick-started through the newspaper.

The death of his eldest son Henry, a 14-year-old pupil at Harborne School in Birmingham, may have prompted James McKean to seek to erect a church adjacent to his residence and close to his milling industry at Laragh. On 21st March 1890, less than 12 months after the boy’s death, the Revd Thomas Joseph Charlton, rector of Crossduff (1884-1903), placed a notice in the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette (forerunner of the Church of Ireland Gazette) in which he appealed for funds to erect a church at Laragh. This advertisement outlined a need for a permanent place of worship and alerted readers to the presence of eight Church of Ireland children in the area.

List of subscribers to the tin church at Laragh, as published in the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, forerunner to the Church of Ireland Gazette, 20th June 1890

The Gazette would republish Mr Charlton’s appeal during the spring and summer of 1890 and as the months went by, further notices would appear including the names of donors and amounts contributed, with the most complete list published on 13th June 1890. The building, dedicated to St Peter, was consecrated by the Rt Revd Charles Stack (Bishop of Clogher 1886-1902) in August 1891. Its tower was topped with a weather-vane surmounted by a cockerel (signifying repentance); its pulpit sat atop a chunk of uncarved rock (petris), while an image of the saint holding the keys to heaven occupied a prominent place in the stained glass of the east window. The full-page account of its consecration published in the Gazette of 21st August 1891 also described the church interior in detail. The building reflects two important movements of the late 19th century: the Arts and Crafts movement and the movement to identify the contemporary Church of Ireland with the early Irish Church.

Tin churches (also known as ‘tin tabernacles’ or ‘iron churches’) were an inexpensive way to provide rapid-build accommodation and were often replaced by more permanent structures as funds permitted. They were commonly used in the late 19th century, delivered as factory-produced kits to be erected and finished on-site and were regularly advertised in the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette. The only tin church currently used by the Church of Ireland is situated at Lurganboy in County Leitrim (diocese of Kilmore), while two Roman Catholic tin churches are still operative at Sallins in County Kildare and Rearcross in County Tipperary. Although de-consecrated since 1962, Laragh Cchurch remains an architectural gem sited in a delightful wooded setting beside a river. By contrast to the norm, however, Laragh church, was elaborately decorated and built to last. Its windows were filled with cathedral glass with ruby-coloured borders; the chancel floor was covered in mosaic tiles; the pews in the nave were pitch pine; the choir seats were oak, their tops adorned with fleurs de lis; the oak communion table was an ornately-carved construction and the ‘exceedingly handsome’ oak altar-rail was finished with clusters of brass and bronze pilasters.

Dr Moffitt says: ‘The Gazette is wonderful because it provides not only an outline of the events that impacted on the Church over the last 150 years, but also because it gives us an insight into the attitudes of its readership. This is especially revealed in its coverage of episodes that might appear insignificant from today’s perspective, but which can show how members of the Church of Ireland understood their own role and the role of their Church in rapidly shifting political and cultural landscape.’

The tin church at Laragh, photographed © Dr Miriam Moffitt

Laragh church operated as a chapel-of-ease to Crossduff parish church for 71 years until its de-consecration in 1962; it subsequently fell into disrepair. A group of local enthusiasts has recently undertaken a sensitive restoration of the building, enabling public access to the building which is used as a venue for concerts and social events. The Church of Ireland Gazette reports have helped to shine a light on its origins, and these like all of the content of the newspaper from 1856 to 1923 may be explored in full by using the search box in the link to the digitized version here: https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb

The current Church of Ireland Gazette and all editions from 2005 may be viewed via an online subscription on the Gazette website, see: https://gazette.ireland.anglican.org

The Irish Huguenot Archive

For the first time a detailed finding aid to the content of the Irish Huguenot Archive is now available online. In 1993, the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland entered into an agreement with the Representative Church Body to allow the RCB Library to host what was to be called the Irish Huguenot Archive. It was hoped that this new entity would develop as a centre for Huguenot studies in Ireland and so serve a similar purpose to the Huguenot Library in London.

The initiative was overseen by the former Librarian and Archivist of the RCB Library, Dr Raymond Refaussé, who became the Archive’s first curator, and although now retired, has written the introductory text that accompanies this latest online exhibition which is illustrated with examples from the collection.

Many of the Huguenot refugees to Ireland had, eventually, conformed to the discipline of the Church of Ireland. Whilst for a period, they continued to hold their services in French, this practice in time died out and they were absorbed into the mainstream of the Church of Ireland, being distinguished only by their names and their history. Thus even before the creation of an official archive the RCB Library had already been a place of resort for those interested in Huguenot families. The unrivalled collection of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials (the list is accessible at http://bit.ly/2Emf6JW) contains many entries with Huguenot names while its considerable collection of parish histories, many with small and limited circulations, included references to Huguenot families who had settled in various parts of Ireland.

The title page from a genealogy of the La Touche family, RCB Library Ms 128, © RCBL

The Library also had some existing Huguenot material in its manuscripts collection. This included the papers of JJ Digges La Touche, who had been Deputy Keeper of the Public Records of Ireland. He was a descendent of one of the more considerable French families to settle in Ireland and copied the minute book from the French Church of St Mary in Dublin, for the years 1706-17. In addition, he took notes on the Dublin banking firm of David La Touche and a copy of the La Touche genealogy. With such materials already in its custody, it made sense for the Church’s record repository and reference library to become the permanent home of the materials pertaining to the Huguenot community.

With the inauguration of the Irish Huguenot Archive in 1993, the RCB Library has been the primary beneficiary. Many of the accessions have been random in the sense that people have decided, for reasons of their own rather than having been targeted, to present material. In saying that Annette Camier, during her period as Honorary Secretary of the Irish Section, was a powerful advocate for the fledgling collection.

Among the manuscript collections are papers of the Hautenville family and related families of Rambaut and Cope; papers of Grace Lawless Lee relating to her researches for her seminal book Huguenot settlements in Ireland (London, 1936), generously donated by her son Dr Robin Gwynn from New Zealand; and letters from TP Le Fanu to Albert Carré relating to his book, L’influence des Huguenots Francais en Irelande … (Paris, 1937). Especially useful are the results of research by many genealogists and historians which have illuminated the lineages of families such as Cassan, d’Arabin, De Brecquet, Gaussen, Fleury, La Naze, Le Bas, Robinette, and Saurin.
The collection also includes a large number of printed books, periodicals and off-prints, all of which have been added to the RCB Library’s online catalogue of printed books which can be consulted at www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/catalogues/printed-books

Most valuable are the Huguenot Society’s publications – the many short articles which have been published in the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland (now titled The Huguenot Society Journal) and the more substantial publications which have appeared as parts of the Quarto Series. Scholars and researchers have furthermore been generous in presenting off-prints of articles, some published privately or in local journals, such as the many contributions to the history of the Huguenots in Portarlington by John Stocks Powell. The recent decision of the Irish Section to give an annual purchase grant has ensured that new books can be regularly added to the collection.

All of the original archive materials have been catalogued as a stand-alone collection consisting currently of 101 manuscripts, although this number is increasing incrementally with new donations. Whilst details of the printed materials have been available online through the Library’s online catalogue for some time, access to the content of the archive part of the collection was only possible in-house through index cards. Thanks to the work of Julia McCarthy, an undergraduate student at Trinity College Dublin who worked in the Library as an intern during the summer of 2017, the rich detail from these cards has now been transferred to a searchable database. This content is now available to view through the online exhibition and directly at this link: http://bit.ly/2DMpfTb

The logo of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland with the Church of Ireland cross

The Irish Huguenot Archive has grown largely due to the generosity of those who have been involved in or who have been interested in the history of the Huguenot refuge in Ireland, and as it has grown, so too has its usefulness. The current Curator of the Irish Huguenot Archive, Dr Susan Hood, will always be glad hear of prospective donations.

Human-interest Stories in the Pages of the Church of Ireland Gazette, 1856-1923

In the run-up to marking 150 years since Disestablishment in 2019, the Representative Church Body Library – the Church of Ireland record repository – is making available more editions of the Church’s weekly newspaper, the Church of Ireland Gazette, as a freely-searchable resource online.

The Library holds the only complete hard-copy run of this newspaper published weekly since 1856, and through incremental digitization has gradually endeavoured to share its rich content with a wider audience. Now all editions for the 70-year period between March 1856, when the paper first appeared, up to and including the end of the Revolutionary period in December 1923 are shared for all.

Furthermore, beginning this month, COIHS committee member Dr Miriam Moffitt will present a new series of online exhibits entitled: ‘The News Behind the News’, to periodically appear during 2018 showcasing particular stories of interest. This will demonstrate the incredible detail to be uncovered in the pages of the Gazette, and its value for historical research, going behind the regular editorials, feature articles, advertisements, and other regular columns, taking readers on a journey of discovery to some of the hidden human-interest stories. These stories are then further fleshed out and illustrated by Dr Moffitt with other source material available in the Library.

Appeals for aid for crises in Serbia, and Syria and Palestine, as published on the front cover and inside the Church of Ireland Gazette, 13th April 1917.

The first story reveals the content of a series of articles published 100 years ago in early 1918 editions of the Gazette where members of both laity and clergy provided insight into what they thought of each other. The series began with two columns entitled ‘If I were a clergyman’, published on 18th and 25th January 1918, with a third following on 8th February 1918. Most laypersons were united on one opinion: they expected their clergyman (and he was, of course, a man at this time) to have a good grasp of Scripture and doctrine and promised that, if they were in his place, they would equip themselves with the necessary training and knowledge. However, this is probably the only lay opinion of clerical life on which there was consensus and diverse suggestions were made regarding the Church’s association with wealth, home visiting, the income of the clergy, and the Church’s connection with the laity. Some lay correspondents claimed they understood the difficulties associated with clerical life: one writer went so far as to exclaim that ‘it be so difficult to combine the spirit of the dove and the spirit of the serpent at one time’.

Moffitt says: ‘The Gazette is wonderful because it provides not only an outline of the events that impacted on the Church over the last 150 years, but also because it gives us an insight into the attitudes of its readership. This is especially revealed in its coverage of episodes that might appear insignificant from today’s perspective, but which can show how members of the Church of Ireland understood their own role and the role of their Church in rapidly shifting political and cultural landscape.’

Speaking from the RCB Library, the Librarian and Archivist, Dr Susan Hood, says: ‘Dr Moffitt’s forensic and exciting analysis of the Gazette reveals the depth of its significance as a primary source. We hope that the “News Behind the News” will be of wide interest and may stimulate further funding to complete the 80 years since then, from 1924 to 2004.’

The free-to-view finding aid to all editions of the Gazette between 1856 and 1923 is available here:  https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb

The ‘News Behind the News’ presentation begins at this link: www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archive

The current Church of Ireland Gazette and all editions from 2005 may be viewed via an online subscription on the Gazette website, see: https://gazette.ireland.anglican.org

 

Medieval Irish manuscript, Red Book of Ossory, digitised and online

The RCB Library has recently announced the digitalisation of one of its most significant medieval manuscripts: The Red Book of Ossory (RCB Library D11/2/1). This is now available for public consultation on the Church of Ireland website.

To mark this significant development, the well known medieval historian and COIHS honorary secretary, Dr Adrian Empey, analyses the Christmas-related content of the manuscript, including the lyrics of no less than 25 songs related to the nativity. These, like much of the content of the Red Book as a whole, were written by the Bishop of Ossory, Richard Ledred, whose tempestuous episcopate lasted from 1317 to about 1361.

The first Christmas song to appear in the Red Book is headed: ‘Cantilena de nativitate Domini’ [a song of the Nativity of (our) Lord]. Consisting of five stanzas, it opens with the words: ‘verbum caro factum est’ [the Word was made Flesh], © RCB Library D11/1.2, f. 70

The Red Book of Ossory contains 79 vellum leaves, and was composed largely in the 14th century during Ledred’s time.  Later entries were added, the latest from the reign of Elizabeth I. The Red Book derives its name from the colour of the leather binding, faded on the outside, but still visible inside the cover.  Like other medieval episcopal registers, it contains a wide range of documents that defy classification, the choice of which depended on what was important to individual bishops, in this case by Ledred, whom Dr Empey makes clear in his presentation was ‘one of the most extraordinary bishops ever to occupy the see of Ossory’.

The Red Book derives its name from the colour of the leather binding

The volume is internationally renowned for a number of reasons: it contains, for example, numerous documents of legal interest, such as the provisions of Magna Carta. More exceptionally, it contains a lengthy medical treatise on aqua vitae, or what we would call cognac, that occupies three and a half closely written pages in Latin shorthand.  While such a treatise is perhaps very seasonal, the reasons for its inclusion in the register were more medicinal, perhaps in some way linked to the Black Death that ravaged Kilkenny in 1348. Nevertheless it does provide the earliest known recipe for distillation known to exist in any Irish manuscript and its content of is particular contemporary interest to Ireland’s whiskey industry.

Another reason for the international fame of the Red Book is the collection of 60 Latin lyrics that make up the final folios, all but 13 of which were composed by Ledred. Many of the songs honour the Virgin Mary, and whilst all were not necessarily related to Christmas, Ledred intended them to be sung at the great festivals and on other occasions, so it looks very much as though he had the celebration of Christmas chiefly in mind, analysed in more detail in the online presentation.

Dr Susan Hood, RCB Librarian and Archivist, says: “We are grateful to Dr Empey for bringing the many intriguing aspects of this volume to light in conjunction with the digital release of this volume. We hope to follow digitization of the Red Book with other medieval manuscripts in the collection in due course.

Dr Adrian Empey, who is also a member of the library and archives committee, claims: ‘It is a great delight that the Library has seen fit to make available not just these songs but all of the other unique content of the Red Book of Ossory in digital format for a worldwide audience to view.

The Muniments of Swift’s Cathedral

Although by no means complete, having suffered the ravages of time, including flood, fire and neglect, the scope of the muniments of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, (Swift’s cathedral) is vast. The collection contains records from as early as the 13th century and continuing on to the present day. Since the transfer of the collection into the safe and permanent custody of the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin in 1995, these have been accessioned as RCB Library C2/ and organised into nine distinct groups of records, as follows:

  1. Volumes
  2. Deeds
  3. Maps
  4. Plans & Drawings
  5. Loose Papers
  6. Photographs
  7. Printed Materials
  8. Seals
  9. Music

Now for the first time the extensive hand-list or finding aid which provides access to the collection is available online to assist potential researchers who may wish to consult its rich and varied materials.

Timed to coincide with the Swift 350, to mark the 350th anniversary of the birth of Jonathan Swift (born on 30th November 1667 at Hoey’s Court, in the parish of St Werburgh, Dublin), the new online exhibition on the RCB Library website highlights particular aspects of the collection which relate to Swift’s tenure as Dean of St Patrick’s which he served for 32 years – from 1713 until his death in 1745. It also provides a link to the detailed hand-list available as a searchable pdf.

Popular print depicting the Very Revd Jonathan Swift at his cathedral, © RCB Library C2.7

These include the Chapter Act Books (commencing in 1643) that record the procedures of the dean and chapter. During Swift’s tenure as dean these became notably more extensive, as he was renowned for his efficiency and administrative ability. Another collection of particular interest includes in the miscellaneous loose papers section a folder of papers entitled ‘Swiftiana’ which was compiled in the late 19th century and features copies of specific papers and correspondence relating to Swift, as well as papers outlining the rediscovery of the grave containing the skulls of Swift and Esther Johnson (known as Stella), during the retiling of the floor of the cathedral in 1882.

Much of the work of organising the cathedral archive into a structured arrangement was carried out to facilitate the research for and publication of the cathedral’s most recent and comprehensive published history – edited by the late Canon John Crawford, and Professor Raymond Gillespie – St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin: A History (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2009), but more recently the collection has been expanded as new items continue to be transferred to the Library’s custody, and in particular the Library Administrator, Robert Gallagher, has completed a listing of the extensive  collection of the cathedral’s photographs, dating from the 1940s, and including some dramatic images of the cathedral’s interior and exterior, as well as many human interest pictures from numerous services such as the annual Remembrance Service, and the Christmas Eve carol service, that have a national resonance. The photographic collection also contains a number of items relevant to Swift and his legacy, including significant services commemorating his life, the display of his death mask and other items in the area of the cathedral designated as ‘Swift’s corner’, and even the dramatic portrayal of his life in a stage production entitled: ‘Mr Handel’s Visit to Dublin’ premiered in the cathedral as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival on 29th September 1969.

The photographs are further complemented by an extensive run of scrapbooks, which commence in 1884 that include a wide range of miscellaneous press cuttings, orders of service, and other memorabilia that flesh out not only Swift’s association with the Church of Ireland’s National Cathedral of St Patrick, but also many other stories of interest too.

Top