The pre-Reformation World in Dublin & Glendalough: Alen Register digitised

As the RCB Library continues its efforts to digitize and make more resources available to a worldwide audience, a second of its most significant medieval manuscripts: the Liber Niger Alani being the record of John Alen (c.1476-1534), Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough, 1530-34 (RCB Library D6/3) is now digitally available for public consultation on the Church of Ireland website.

Previously the Library has released a digital version of the Red Book of Ossory – a diocesan administrative record of international renown, which is now complemented by the digital version of the Alen’s “Dublin” register.

John Alen (Alan, Allen), Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough, 1530-34, was born in Norfolk c.1476. He studied first at Cambridge and completed his Masters in Oxford in 1498, becoming ordained on 23rd February 1499. Admired for his sharp mind in both ecclesiastical and civil law, he rose quickly through the ranks of the clergy, culminating in his appointment as archbishop in 1530. After his consecration in the diocesan cathedral of Christ Church Dublin, Alen immediately began compiling documents for what would become known as “Alen’s Register”, also known as the Liber Niger Alani, early after his arrival in Dublin. He wanted a record of all the lands and properties held by the dioceses. The earliest records he accounted for reached back as far as the conquest of Ireland in the 12th century and continue up to his own administrative era in the 1530s. 

The volume is representative of Alen’s ambitious reforms which threatened the position of established powerful families in Ireland like the Fitzgeralds. On 28th July 1534, Archbishop Alen was murdered –his death being one of the opening acts of the Silken Thomas rebellion. On the evening of 26th July, the archbishop had fled the capital, boarding a ship at Dame Gate to escape the rebellion. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it past Clontarf where the ship ran aground. He retreated to allies in Artane but was betrayed and captured there by Thomas Fitzgerald, Lord of Offaly, and several dozen of his men. Alen’s execution was ordered and the items he had with him were seized. Fortunately his register was not with him when he was captured, and neither was it seized when Cromwell ordered that Alen’s remaining valuables be seized as a tax for the Crown. Instead it seems to have remained safely housed along with the diocesan records at the archbishop’s palace, and is now secure with many of those records in the custody of the RCB Library, accessioned as D6/3. Now, some 485 years after Alen’s death, it has been digitized to make its extraordinary content more accessible.

Example of the ornate script to be found in the Register of Archbishop John Alen, © RCB Library D6/3 folios 131r and 132

To accompany this significant digital release, topical analysis is provided by Julia McCarthy, a former undergraduate student at Trinity College Dublin, who worked in the RCB Library as an intern during the summer of 2017. Julia also transferred index cards cataloguing the Irish Huguenot Archive to a searchable database previously featured and permanently available for research enthusiasts.

Her analysis shows how Alen’s Register opens a window to pre-Reformation Tudor Dublin. And in an additional paper on the content of Alen’s Register, one of the leading Reformation experts, Dr Jim Murray, demonstrates the circumstances of how the diocese of Glendalough was officially linked to that of Dublin by papal decree of Pope Innocent III in 1216, within a significant pan-European context of pilgrimage and hospitality.

Before 1216, the diocese of Dublin had been largely confined to within the city walls with that of Glendalough designated to outlying lands. Dr Murray’s paper explains in detail how Alen’s transcription of Pope Innocent III’s decree that the union of the bishopric of Glendalough and the archbishopric of Dublin dateable to c.1216, was conditional on the foundation of a hospital by Archbishop Henry de Loundres (Archbishop of Dublin 1213-28). It was ordered that this place of refuge was for the use of the poor and pilgrims, especially those intending to travel to the shrine of St James the Apostle in Compostela on the European mainland.  It was intended that this religious hospice might become a community for those wishing to take pilgrimage along the Camino da Santiago through France and Spain.

Ordered to be dedicated to St James and built ‘without Dublin on the seashore which is called Steyn’ (extra Dublin quod in littore maris quod dicitur Steyn), the place designated for the hospital provided a suitable embarkation place for pilgrims waiting for suitable sea conditions and weather to begin their journey to the shrine of St James. The Steyn was an area outside the walls of the medieval city in what now forms the area between the Pearse Street-side of Trinity College Dublin down to the river Liffey, including such streets as Townsend and Poolbeg) and thus in close proximity to the sea.

The story of the Hospital of St James in the Steyn represents just one tiny piece of an extraordinary medieval history revealed by this source – all the more significant in the context of 800 years of united diocesan history, which in its current context has organised an annual Camino de Glendalough through the beautiful Wicklow Mountains, taking in many ancient pilgrim routes to the monastic city of Glendalough along its route. For further information, see this link:  

To view the digitized version of the Register of Archbishop John Allen (c 1476-1534), including the muniments of the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough from c. 1172-1534, © RCB Library Dublin, D6/3, click here:

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The Bank Holiday Read: A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World Exhibition

The RCB Library’s exhibition showcasing a selection of the Church of Ireland’s historical architectural drawings – entitled A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World – was launched on Tuesday, 7th May, by the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, at a special reception in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin.

The exhibition is now open to the public and will run until the end of the summer. Admission is free, and members of the Church of Ireland and others are encouraged to visit to view this unique and extraordinary collection in the purpose-built Architecture Gallery of the Irish Architectural Archive – the IAA – (Tuesday to Friday, 10am-5pm) until Friday, 30th August. 

The ‘Earl’s Gift’ map before its restoration by Liz D’Arcy, from the Paperworks Studio for Paper Conservation, with support from the RCB Library Conservation Fund.

Curated by Dr Michael O’Neill FSA, and involving the collaboration of the RCB Library with the IAA, the exhibition draws on his extensive research into the Church’s architectural history, which has included the digitization of almost 9,000 individual drawings to safeguard them for future generations. All of the originals are safely housed in the Library, but to reduce their wear and tear and showcase them to a wider audience, the entire collection was systematically digitized and catalogued in the Library, and freely available to view online at

A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World showcases a selection of the originals, which are arranged chronologically and thematically, guiding viewers through a representative selection of the overall collection and literally open a window to the past, telling the story of who designed these buildings – why and when they were built (or rebuilt). There is an excellent representation of virtually every diocese of the Church and of churches and glebe houses throughout Ireland, north and south. 

One of the items on display is the recently repaired and conserved early 19th-century map of the ‘Earl’s Gift’ Demesne showing lands near the town of Donemana, Co. Tyrone, in the parish of Donagheady and diocese of Derry. These lands were colourfully surveyed for the Revd Charles Douglas by Robert Craig in 1830.

The ‘Earl’s Gift’ map after its restoration by Liz D’Arcy, from the Paperworks Studio for Paper Conservation, with support from the RCB Library Conservation Fund.

The Hon Revd Charles Douglas (1791-1867) was the second son of the 14th Earl of Morton. Ordained in the Church of England, he came to Ireland as rector of Donagheady in 1825 and continued to serve there until retirement in 1857. Clearly of significant independent means, Douglas was able to commission this survey map of the lands where he had laid out a house and planned demesne on the former ‘Earls Gift Castle’ estate, which had been associated in the 17th century with Sir John Drummond who laid out the original ‘Earls Gift Castle’ and town of Donemana. But for this survey map which provides visual evidence of the castle, associated farmyard parish church, church lands and outlying areas, the association of over 95 acres of these lands with one Church of Ireland cleric might have remained unknown.

The map was recently transferred to the Library’s custody from the diocesan registry in Derry and Raphoe in the context of a large consignment of diocesan papers. It had suffered the ravages of time, and was in need of urgent repair. Thanks to the expert intervention of Liz D’Arcy, at the Paperworks Studio for Paper Conservation, and availability of the Library’s Conservation Fund which allows for urgent repair of specific items, this beautiful work of art by surveyor Robert Craig has been brought back to life.

Before and after compared: The ‘Earl’s Gift’ map restored by Liz D’Arcy, from the Paperworks Studio for Paper Conservation, with support from the RCB Library Conservation Fund


To support the RCB Library Conservation Fund, please see this link:

The Visual Window exhibition is open Tuesday-Friday until the end of August. See

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The Bank Holiday Read: ‘News Behind the News’ from the Gazette

The Church of Ireland Gazette – the Church’s weekly newspaper since 1856 – was written and read by lay and clerical members among others. It provides the longest-running public commentary on its affairs, and as such recognised as a valuable primary source for understanding the complexities and nuance of Church of Ireland and indeed wider Protestant identity, as well as the Church’s contribution to political and cultural life throughout the island.

Dr Miriam Moffitt once again provides her thought-provoking and forensic analysis to reveal how the advent of cycling, which came into its own as a means of transport towards the end of the 19th century, impacted the Church of Ireland directly, with many of its clergy swiftly taking to the bike from the early 1890s onwards.

Clerical group with bikes, including the new ‘Rover’ to the right, from the collection of Canon Britain Lougheed (1882–1952), © RCB Library Ms 1073

Dr Moffitt reveals how Church of Ireland clergy were quick to spot the usefulness of the bike beginning to cycle around their parishes from the early 1890s onwards. This followed the introduction of the ‘Rover bicycle’ c. 1885, with its equal-sized wheels and robust chain, coupled with John Dunlop’s development of the pneumatic tyre in 1888 giving rapid rise to the use of the bicycle as a means of transport in all walks of life, including the ordained clergy. Indeed, for some, the bicycle was embraced as ‘a heaven-sent machine’ which cost less than a horse and covered the ground more quickly. TheGazette began to publish advertisements for bicycles and cycling lessons. Bikes soon began to feature regularly in accounts of parish activities and, as early as 1892, the parishioners of Mariners Church in Kingstown even presented one to their rector as a gift, for whom “the bicycle is a heaven-sent machine to him under such circumstances; it costs less than a horse and gets over the ground more quickly”.

Not everyone was completely happy with this trend; a few considered it unseemly that clerics should cycle at all, but many were more concerned about that they should wear. The Gazette of 2nd January 1891, for example, insisted that it was inappropriate for clergy to cycle to church dressed in surplice, stole and hood, which makes us wonder if they had formerly ridden on horseback fully attired for service, or whether they travelled in some form of carriage or cart: “One cannot help feeling that it would be a more decent method to carry one’s surplice, stole and hood over one’s arm, and put them on in open church … than to be seen hurrying along the road in them, perched on top of a bicycle”.  

JW Elvery & Co. advertisement for waterproof cycle cape, from Elvery’s, as it appeared in the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, 23rd October 1896, © RCB Library

As the traditional long black coat proved cumbersome on a bike, cycling clergy began to wear short shooting jackets to the dismay of some who claimed they were “coming in ‘as a flood’ and, horror of horrors, they were even worn in colours other than black” (Gazette, 23rd September 1892). The donning of shooting jackets by clergy, would, however, continue. Indeed, while advertisements for distinctively clerical attire continued to appear in the Gazette, their incidence declined by the early 20th century. Thus, whilst changes in clerical fashion were not wholly attributable to the advent of the bicycle, the practicalities of cycling forced clergy to make decisions regarding clothing and that these decisions reduced the distinctiveness of clerical tailoring. 

The uncovering of this unusual aspect of social history once again confirms the usefulness of the Church of Ireland Gazette (the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette to 1900) as a resource for historical research over the last 150 years. A combination of central church funds, private sponsorship and support from the Commemorations Unit in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (for specific aspects of the decade of commemorations period) have to date ensured that all editions of the Gazette between 1856 and 1949 are now freely available for searching through the Church of Ireland website, at this link:

McBirney & Co. tailoring advertisement for General Synod 1910, from the Church of Ireland Gazette, 24th March 1910, © RCB Library

This leaves just 54 years of editions (from 1950 to 2004 – when the Gazette became available an e-paper) to complete the digitization process and make it a fully and freely searchable resource for a worldwide audience. Prospective sponsors of this final 50-year phase of work are invited to contact the Library, or consider making a donation to the Library Conservation Fund here:

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Exhibition of Church of Ireland Architectural Drawings

An exhibition of the Church of Ireland’s historical architectural drawings – entitled A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World – will be launched by the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, next Tuesday evening (7th May) at the Architecture Gallery, in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin.  Admission is free but those interested in attending the launch are asked to RSVP by Friday, 3 May (email:

The exhibition will be open to the public Tuesday to Friday (10am-5pm) until Friday, 30th August.  The exhibition is curated by Dr Michael O’Neill FSA and draws on his extensive research into the Church’s architectural history, which has included the digitization of over 8,000 drawings to safeguard them for future generations.

Castlejordan parish church, Co. Meath: entitled ‘Design of a Church & Steeple or Tower for Castle Jordan’, by Chas Lilly Arch. 8 Merrion Row Dublin’, with the approval of the Bishop of Meath: ‘I approve of this plan T.L. Meath [Thomas Lewis O’Beirne Bishop of Meath, 1798-1823] Oct. 7 1820’

The Church of Ireland’s churches, cathedrals and glebe houses have made an indelible impression on the Irish landscape. Spires, towers and pinnacles punctuate the skyline while in subtler ways the residential aesthetic of the glebe houses provide visual indicators of the former pre-eminence of the Church of Ireland – the Established or state Church until 1871.

Whilst many of the churches no longer function as places of worship, and the surviving glebe houses have either passed to private ownership, or have simply disappeared, an extensive collection of almost 9,000 original drawings (plans, elevations, sections and details) continues to document this ecclesiastical world, providing an important resource for understanding the architectural, liturgical, social and cultural development of the Church of Ireland through the centuries. The collection also covers many churches and indeed rectories which are still in use and occupied by the Church.

Installation of mounted drawings in progress at ‘A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World’ – a forthcoming exhibition of Church of Ireland architectural drawings at the Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin.

Created for the most part under the auspices of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (1833 onwards), which had succeeded the Board of First Fruits (founded in 1711), the materials were initially accumulated in the diocesan registries to which they related, while others passed directly into the custody of the Representative Church Body (RCB), the charitable trust created after Disestablishment in the 1870s. Over the decades, these have been carefully accessioned and arranged in the RCB Library, founded in 1931, which is the Church of Ireland’s record repository.

There are 860 drawings of the cathedrals of Christ Church and St Patrick’s in Dublin as well as the diocesan cathedral of St Canice’s in Kilkenny, while a further 300 drawings are of glebe houses, but the majority (some 7,600 drawings) show varying aspects of the parish churches throughout the island. Some are the work of distinguished architects such as John Semple, James Pain, Joseph Welland, William Farrell, William Atkins, Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, J. Rawson Carroll, and W.J. Barre and are beautiful artworks in their own right, as well as in utility.

Installation of mounted drawings in progress at ‘A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World’ – a forthcoming exhibition of Church of Ireland architectural drawings at the Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin.

However, being outsize and clearly working drawings, many of which were in fact drawn on tracing paper, they are also fragile and cumbersome to handle. To reduce the wear and tear, but also to showcase them to a wider audience, the drawings have been systematically digitized and catalogued inthe Library, and are now freely available to view online at

A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World is arranged chronologically and thematically, aiming to guide the viewer through a representative selection of the overall collection and literally open a window to the past, telling the story of who designed these buildings – why and when they were built (or rebuilt). Dr Michael O’Neill FSA has digitized and catalogued the entire collection.  This is one of the Church of Ireland’s events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Disestablishment, and represents a most positive collaboration between the RCB Library and the Irish Architectural Archive which will house the exhibition between May and August, with a series of lectures planned for Heritage Week later in the year.

Dr Michael Webb says: ‘As Chairman of the Irish Architectural Archive and as Chairman of the RCB Library and Archives Committee it is a particular pleasure to bring both organizations together for this exhibition.  The Architectural Archive has the national collection of architectural drawings and is custodian of over 500,000 drawings of buildings from all over Ireland.  The RCB Library has a unique collection of almost 9,000 drawings of churches, and rectories.  It is wonderful to be able to display a selection of these drawings in the gallery which was specially designed for architectural drawings.’

Installation of mounted drawings in progress at ‘A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World’ – a forthcoming exhibition of Church of Ireland architectural drawings at the Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin.

Dr Susan Hood, Librarian and Archivist at the RCB Library, says: ‘This exhibition showcases in public for the first time some of the original drawings making up the collection at the RCB Library. It also marks the culmination of over eight years of hard work by Dr Michael O’Neill to catalogue and digitize the entire collection making it available for a worldwide audience through the Church of Ireland website. This painstaking and dedicated work (generously supported with church and other funding) demonstrates the Library’s capacity to digitize and share its unique holdings – literally opening a window to the past!’

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Listen back: COIHS Armagh 2019

Missed the last conference at Christ Church Cathedral on 3rd November?

Members of the Church of Ireland Historical Society can now listen to the latest papers delivered by Professor Rachel Moss on the impact of the Reformation on medieval parish churches, Dr Andrew Sneddon on the Bishop Francis Hutchinson of Down and Conner in the eighteenth century, and Dr Susan Hood on important records preserved in the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin. To hear the speakers visit the podcasts link and enter the password sent to your email from the honorary secretary, Dr Adrian Empey. You can also download the conference programme for further information about the conference by clicking on the archives link.

(Back row, l-r) Dr Robert Whan, Dr Robbie Roulston, Dr Adrian Empey, Prof. David Hayton, Dr Kenneth Milne, Mr George Woodman, Dr Miriam Moffitt
(Front row, l-r) Very Revd Gregory Dunston, Prof. Rachel Moss, Dr Andrew Sneddon, Dr Susan Hood, Mr David O’Shea Photo courtesy of Ian Maginess

If you are not a member but would like to hear these papers (as well as papers dating back to November 2013) you can join the Society by visiting the membership link. The annual subscription is €40 or £35. This includes free access to the podcasts in addition to many more great offers. There is also a special student discount of just €15 or £12 for those with a valid university card (alternatively students interested in joining can email the society and inform the secretary of your institution and contact details of your supervisor).

Happy listening!

David O’Shea delivering the research paper on music in the Chapel Royal

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The Bank Holiday Read: the Kinmonths of Shandon, Cork

The RCB Library recently solved a genealogical mystery concerning the family of Kinmonth from the parish of St Anne’s, Shandon. Whilst originally a family name of Norman origins, and with strong links in Scotland, Kinmonth is not a typical Cork name, yet some older Corkonians would have heard of the Kinmonth family as being poultry and egg merchants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. William Kinmonth was a town councillor, Justice of the Peace, and President of the Cork Rowing Club, and lived in a fine house called Ferney, overlooking Lough Mahon in Blackrock, in 1911. Cork wits referred to him as ‘Chicken Choker’ Kinmonth.

Michael Foley is a Kinmonth in-law, and as he was the only family member living in Dublin, took it upon himself to visit the Library of the Representative Church Body where there are now 1,155 collections of parish records, including over 80 from the city and county of Cork.

Title page from the earliest register for St Anne’s, Shandon, © RCB Library, P. 537/1.1

Initially he wanted to find the ancestor of ‘Chicken Choker’ Kinmonth – another William who had come to Cork in the early 18th century – but as he recalls himself “was not prepared for the mountain of records of Kinmonths” that he found recorded amongst the entries of baptism, marriage and burial – most of them in the registers of St Anne’s, Shandon, and the earliest of which was the baptism of a Thomas Kinmonth, on 29th April 1780 – some 249 years ago this month.  He was the brother of Hugh Kinmonth, son of William and Elizabeth, baptised on 17th August 1790 – the great-great-grandfather of Michael’s wife.

It did not end there, however. Going forward he found the baptism record of Hugh’s son Thomas, and forward again to the baptism of Thomas’s son, William Kinmonth, on 4th May 1842 – the poultry man. Three generations, all in the records of Shandon and all baptised in the same baptismal font that is used today. 

As well as reconstructing the movement of specific branches of the family, Michael made other interesting findings during his research. One was the detail given in entries about sponsors of children baptised – or ‘surities’ as they were called – which paint a picture of a very close-knit community with the Kinmonths ‘living in each other’s pockets’ of families such as the Clarks, Craigs, Franklins, Shuttleworths and Woods, acting as sponsors of each other’s children. 

The interior of St Anne’s Church in Shandon, with the original baptismal font from 1629 in the foreground. Photo: © Michael Foley

Another unexpected turn of the wheel of history with the parish of St Anne’s and indeed wider diocese of Cork today is the property that William Kinmonth, the poultry merchant, whose humble origins as the son of a humble weaver evolved to his becoming a wealthy merchant and able to buy the grand house on 25 acres called Ferney on the shores of Lough Mahon. After his death, his family were the last residents in the house and sold it in 1940. For many years it lay empty before being demolished. By happy coincidence the land in the front and to the right of the house was used to build St Luke’s Home, which for 130 years has provided residential care and support services to older people in the Cork region – a virtuous circle! 

Michael Foley says: “Working in the RCB Library is a real pleasure. Its intimate and warm space provides the perfect atmosphere for scanning thousands of records without distraction – and the task demands concentration. The staff is ever so helpful at finding the exact register one is looking for and bringing it to readers in the reading rooms. To an amateur genealogist like myself their efforts let me bask in the anticipation of what treasure I might find in the next register.” Dr Susan Hood says: “It is most rewarding when visitors like Michael not only find what they are looking for but share their stories – so inspiring others in their research.”

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Looking back: Armagh conference 2019

On Saturday 6th April, the Church of Ireland Historical Society (COIHS) hosted its first conference of the year in the Armagh Robinson Library. We had a superb turnout and wish to thank members, both old and new as well as day visitors who came to hear four excellent papers. We hope you enjoyed the day as much as we loved hosting the conference. As always, many thanks for the wonderful staff at the Library for assisting us.

The postgraduate research paper was delivered by David O’Shea

Professor Rachel Moss, who is Professor of Art History at Trinity College Dublin, initiated proceedings with a discussion on the impact of the Reformation had on medieval parish churches that passed on to the Church of Ireland in 1536. Mr David O’Shea, who is pursuing his PhD at Trinity College, Dublin, was the second presenter of the day. He delivered an excellent paper on the considerable music library of the Chapel Royal that has survived. He explored the complicated relations between the Chapel Royal, the Church of Ireland, and the lord lieutenants in Ireland.

After lunch, Dr Andrew Sneddon of the University of Ulster gave a intriguing presentation on the life and career of Bishop Francis Hutchinson. He analysed the English bishop’s awkward relationship with his Irish episcopal colleagues. The day finished with a paper by Dr Susan Hood from the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin who discussed the records now preserved at the library. She revealed their national importance and how the RCBL has been very successful in digitising them, notably the Church of Ireland Gazette and architectural drawings. The RCB Library has recently been successful in obtaining a large grant for digitising parish church register, details of which you can read here.

Matthew Houston, winner of 2018 W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize, with Dr Adrian Empey (Hon. Sec.) and Prof. David Hayton (COIHS committee member)

As part of the conference proceedings, Matthew Houston received a cheque of €150 for winning the 2018 W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize. His essay was entitled ‘The great crusade? The Church of Ireland and interpretations of the Second World War, 1939-45’. Matthew recently wrote a blog on his prize-winning essay which can be accessed here. Postgraduates interested in applying for the 2019 Neely Prize can obtain details by clicking on the following link.

Members of the Society will be notified when the presentations delivered by Professor Moss, Dr Sneddon and Dr Hood are available on podcast. If anyone wishes to hear these papers but has not joined the Society, you are welcome to subscribe to our annual membership by visiting our membership page. Postgraduate students can avail of our special discount membership but are asked to email the secretary with proof on institutional affiliation prior to subscribing. Please visit the contact page. All members of the public are welcome to join COIHS.

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Marking Disestablishment 150: display at RCB Library

Under the terms of the Irish Church Act (32&33 Vic. c. 42 sect. 2) of 26 July 1869, which passed into law in 1871, the union between Church and State in Ireland that had existed since the Reformation was dissolved, and the Church of Ireland ceased to be established by law: leaving it ‘free to shape her future course, independent of state control’ (Journal of the General Convention, 1870, With the Statutes Passed and An Appendix … edited by the Revd Alfred T. Lee, Dublin, 1871, pp v–vi).  

A new display of materials relating to this momentous event has just commenced at the RCB Library which is the Church of Ireland’s record repository and reference library. The exhibition will continue on a rotational basis throughout the anniversary period.

Many of the materials – created both immediately before and after the enactment of 32&33 Vic. c. 42 sect. 2 – were formerly securely stored in a metal trunk labelled ‘General Convention Box’, housed in the central offices of the Representative Church Body (initially at 52 St Stephen’s Green, and more recently at Church of Ireland House in Rathmines) before their transfer to the Library in 1998 where they were accessioned in detail as the GC/ series). Collectively the collection charts the evolutionary story of the state–run Church to an independent, largely voluntary and minority denominational Church, from the perspective of those who achieved tasked with making that transition happen. Click here to see the catalogue list. 

Disestablishment 150 display at the RCB Library

The initial display which may be viewed in the Library’s entrance foyer includes a selection of the papers, minutes and resolutions of the Committee of Laymen as it met in the build–up to the legislation going through – practically 100 years to the day. These are representative of the early influence of the laity in the general deliberations which re–structured the Church and ensured that the laity would become one of the three orders of the reconstituted institution – on an equal footing with bishops and clergy. 

From March 1869, a Consulting Committee (which the Committee of Laymen fed into) began the process by hosting an initial church conference of archbishops, bishops, clergy and laity in April 1869. This gradually evolved into a Standing Committee and related General Committee or Church Committee, which was entrusted to organise the General Convention of 1870.  The Convention was held in open session between 15 February and 4 November 1870 at the Ancient Concert Rooms, Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), and represented the all–island Church. Every diocese and parish sent clerical and lay delegates who collectively set about the lengthy and painstaking work of drafting a new constitution, producing its standing orders, and completely overhauling the financial structures. The Convention would evolve into the Representative Body from 1870.

Also on display are some of the draft ‘Votes and Proceedings’ parliamentary papers that document the various bills and amendments that lead to the Irish Church Act as they were going through both Houses of Parliament in London, and scrutinised and annotated by the Church of Ireland’s Operating Committee over in Dublin.  Strict instructions were given to committee members that these documents belonged ‘to the Committee Room’ and that ‘no person should take [them] away’ as the display reveals. 

First edition of the Book of Common Prayer published after Disestablishment in 1878

Finally, a sample prototype copy of the first edition of the Book of Common Prayer published after Disestablishment ‘by order of The General Synod of the Church of Ireland’ in 1878 is also shown.  In the aftermath of the Church’s changed status one of the major tasks was to reflect the changed times and circumstances of the Irish Church in the text of its prayer book.  Presentation copies sealed with the Seal of the General Synod were ordered for various other Anglican Churches and bishops around the world, as well as the Robinson Library in Armagh, Archbishop Marsh’s Library in Dublin, and the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The volume on display is particularly noteworthy for a written note suggesting its donation – or intended donation – to the Library of Trinity College on the title page, with a pencil sketch of the intended seal for the General Synod and comes from the Library’s Watson Collection of prayer books and related items.

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‘The great crusade? The Church of Ireland and interpretations of the Second World War, 1939-45’

As part of the Church of Ireland Historical Society’s commitment to supporting postgraduates and their research, we asked the 2018 W. G. Neely Postgraduate Prize Winner, Mathew Houston, to write a short blog about his essay. Here’s what he had to say.

This paper stemmed from my PhD thesis which examined how leaders within the four largest Christian denominations in Northern Ireland responded to the challenges presented by the Second World War. That research encompassed the sermons of John Allen Fitzgerald Gregg, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, which are held in the Armagh Robinson Library. Gregg, a revered figure within the Church of Ireland, effectively represented the views of much of his clergy. As such, this sermon material functioned as the foundation of my paper.

Archbishop Gregg and Dean Kerr (from the Belfast NewsLetter, 18 April 1942)

By drawing on the content of Gregg’s wartime sermons, my paper discussed how the clergy of the Church of Ireland based in Northern Ireland viewed the war. To better elucidate the denomination’s interpretation of the conflict, it made occasional reference to the sermons and public addresses of other leading clergy. It sought to contextualise the Church of Ireland’s interpretation of World War II by comparing the rhetoric of its clergy to that employed by significant clerics of the Church of England.

For the most part, the interpretation of the Second World War held by many Church of Ireland clergy was similar to, and influenced by, that of many leaders in the Church of England. During the 1920s and 1930s, Anglican church leaders on both sides of the Irish Sea were committed to preserving peace at almost any cost. Even in the face of Nazi Germany’s aggression, clerics remained committed to peace until around March 1939 when war seemed inevitable. Despite its apparent imminence, most churchmen only reluctantly accepted the necessity of conflict against Nazism.

Archbishop Gregg (from the Northern Whig, 26 Jan. 1939)

After the outbreak of war in September 1939 the majority of Protestant church leaders in Northern Ireland spoke out in support of the British war effort. Some clerics in Northern Ireland were more belligerent than their English counterparts because of their commitment to the unionist political agenda, although this was more common among Presbyterians than their Church of Ireland counterparts. Gregg and his colleagues adopted an increasingly bullish interpretation of the war after the fall of France in 1940. They deployed the language of crusade, describing Britain as a divinely appointed agent in a war to remove the threat which Nazism posed to Christianity.

In preparing for peacetime, prominent clergymen in the Churches of Ireland and England regularly offered suggestions for the shape of the post-war world. These suggestions, though varied, shared a common theme. Christianity, and therefore the church, were the best guarantee of lasting international peace. The great crusade for Christianity, deemed a military success, could not be jeopardised through an unsatisfactory peace agreement.

Matthew Houston is a graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast. His research interests broadly include the functions of public and private religiosity in the United Kingdom and Ireland during the 1930s and 1940s. He successfully defended his thesis in November 2018. Matthew’s PhD was entitled ‘The churches, Northern Ireland and the Second World War’ and his supervisor was Dr Andrew Holmes. He will collect the W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize at the Society’s conference on 6 April 2019, which will be held at Armagh Robinson Library.

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The Weekend Read: Publication of early 19th-century architectural albums online

The project to digitize, catalogue and make available online the Church of Ireland’s collections of architectural drawings of churches housed in the Representative Church Body (RCB) Library has reached another significant landmark, with the completion of imaging ten albums of early 19th-century drawings of churches, amounting to some 1,500 drawings. All digital copies of these drawings which cover a total of 591 different church buildings have now been uploaded to the searchable database at and are now freely available for viewing and searching. 

Sustained commitment from the Church’s central funds and specific donations from particular dioceses has enabled this huge project – which originally commenced in 2011 – to continue apace, with the result that a total of 8,615 drawings for some 1,558 church buildings, and a further 73 glebe houses and rectories are now available online. The work has been assiduously carried out for the RCB by architectural historian Dr Michael O’Neill who additionally has put together a specific online exhibit focusing on the album content.

The Pain and Welland albums – as they are known in-house among Library staff – comprise some eight albums of survey drawings and two albums of working drawings commissioned by the Board of First Fruits and Ecclesiastical Commissioners of Ireland. In historical terms they collectively can be regarded as part of the inventory work of the newly established Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1833 getting to grips with its role – taking over from the Board of First Fruits in church building and repairs. 

South-west elevation of Innishannon parish church (Cork), mid-19th century, by Joseph Welland, © RCB Library Ms 139/4.1

The ten albums, or rather eight of the ten (the final two contain proposals and working drawings), record the result of frenetic building activity by the Board of First Fruits (founded in 1711) in the period 1784 to c.1827, when the Board’s funds were very significantly increased by parliamentary grants. During the years 1808 to 1821 government funding was enormous and restrictions on church rebuilding were lifted. The Board also provided significant loans for the building of glebe houses.

The six earliest albums contain drawings by the architect of the Board of First Fruits James Pain (c. 1779-1877) and record the churches in the dioceses of Cashel and Emly (44 churches), Cloyne (65 churches), Cork and Ross (78 churches), Killaloe and Kilfenora (59 churches), Limerick and Ardfert (72 churches), and Waterford and Lismore (39 churches), totalling 357 churches. Pain generally provided a ground plan, showing the internal arrangements, an external elevation, and a site plan for each church.

The four later albums contain the drawings by Joseph Welland (1798-1860). Welland was born in Midleton, Co. Cork, and trained in the office of John Bowden, the first architect employed by the Board of First Fruits. When Bowden died in 1822, Welland inherited some at least of his practice and also became provincial architect for the province of Tuam. Two of his albums cover the ecclesiastical province of Tuam and part of the province of Armagh. They cover the dioceses of Killala (11 churches), Achonry (nine churches), Ardagh (11 churches), Elphin (28 churches), Kilmore (28 churches), Meath (64 churches), Tuam (26 churches), Clonfert (10 churches), and Kilmacduagh (four churches). Ardagh, Kilmore and Meath were in Armagh province, the other dioceses were in Tuam province.

West elevation of Middleton parish church (Cloyne), c. 1820-1840, by James Pain, © RCB Library Ms 138/2.55

Welland devoted a single page to each church, providing a ground plan with the internal arrangements rendered in detail and a site plan. Unfortunately, he did not provide elevations and, as a result, the massing of the buildings cannot be as easily read as with slightly earlier Pain inventories.

These drawings are of First Fruit churches – rectangular buildings with a west tower – which remain iconic features of the Irish landscape. Often dramatically located, sometimes in seemingly isolated places, they generally replaced medieval churches on the same sites. They mark medieval settlement patterns in what is the palimpsest of the Irish landscape which is now largely overlain with the 18th-century field system. The Church of Ireland inherited the apparatus of the medieval Irish Church, and some of the sites are from an even earlier dispensation.

Collectively the albums provide a key source for understanding the major First Fruits church building phase (1780s to 1820s), many of which were subsequently repaired, rebuilt or extended from the later 1830s to the late 1860s. The inventory work that they capture actually coincided with the Ordnance Survey mapping project of the whole country, which definitively mapped the civil (Church of Ireland) parishes, a project not undertaken since the 17th-century Down Survey. As with the Ordnance Survey Letters (John O’Donovan et al), and the recording of antiquities by George Petrie and George Victor Du Noyer, Pain and Welland also knowingly recorded quite a significant number of medieval churches, still then in use. Inevitably, many of these too were replaced in the ensuing decades.

The RCB Library is most grateful to Dr O’Neill for his painstaking and enthusiastic work for over eight years to make sense of the Church of Ireland’s immensely rich architectural collections and ensure they can be appreciated by a worldwide audience.

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