Date for your diary: COIHS Spring Conference 2017

The Church of Ireland Historical Society’s first conference of the year will be on Saturday, 1 April 2017 in Armagh Public 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 Coleman Dennehy (University College London), Ms Barbara McCormack (Special Collections Librarian, Maynooth University), and Dr Patrick Little (History of Parliament Trust, London). The research paper will be delivered by the 2016 W.G. Neely prize winner, Ms Kathryn Sawyer, who is pursuing her PhD at Notre Dame, Indiana.

The full programme will be made available shortly.

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). 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.

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Representative Church Body Library Conservation Fund

At the start of 2017 in the RCB Library in Dublin – which serves both as the Church of Ireland’s repository of records and its theological reference library – there is focus on the Conservation Fund for its records. January’s Archive of the Month (which is compiled by the Assistant Librarian Bryan Whelan) will tell of the story of one particular conservation project recently completed for the Library by the specialist craftsman Declan Browne of Liturgical Book Restorers. Declan is a well-known public face as he regularly appears in the television broadcast of the Angelus from his studio in Athlone, see:

The Library, which serves the whole Church, relies on the Church’s central funding of the Church together with donations from individual dioceses and other supporters to resource its needs. Much of this funding is used to buy new books and other vital materials to facilitate and support the needs of students in ministerial training at the adjacent Theological Institute. 

This leaves relatively little surplus available to devote to the highly-specialized, time-consuming and expensive process of conservation. Yet the Library is responsible for keeping safe and making available to an ever-increasing and inquisitive public a wide variety of unique and distinctive collections: thousands of parish records, including registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials; diocesan and cathedral archives; the manuscripts of individuals and organizations associated with the Church of Ireland; architectural drawings, and rare books. Such items comprise multiple media including vellum, paper, leather, glue, or cloth and are vulnerable to changes in the environment, particularly light, temperature, and humidity. Before materials have been transferred from the local custodies where they were created to the permanent safe-keeping of the Library, they have, almost inevitably, suffered some wear and tear.  

It can be easy to forget the work that goes on in the background of small record repositories such as the RCB Library to ensure that the manuscripts and records that are held for the Church of Ireland community and the wider world will still exist in generations to come. As a small record repository, specialist expertise is sometimes required to stabilize and conserve damaged records.

Illustrated with photographs, the online presentation takes viewers through the process of repairing and conserving one particular volume – a vestry minute book covering the period 1710 to 1806 – showing the painstaking steps undertaken by a specialist team to bring such a unique record back to its former glory. 

Conservation of the featured item in the Archive of the Month presentation cost the Library €1,600. 

With public support, the Library will be able to undertake other projects and thus ensure future public access to these materials, and donations are invited via a secure online payment link here:

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Listen back: COIHS Dublin podcasts 2016 (members only)

Missed the last conference at Christ Church Cathedral on 5rd November?

Members of COIHS can now listen to the latest papers delivered by Dr Bronagh McShane on clerical wives in early modern Ireland, Dr Judith Hill on the on the architectural wonder that is the Chapel Royal beside Dublin Castle, and Dr Heather Jones on Irish commemoration of World War I. 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.

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!

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The Content of Church of Ireland Pew Registers, c. 1719-1839

The online exhibit ‘Please Be Seated: The Content of Church of Ireland Pew Registers’ focuses on the relatively rare church record called the pew register, one of an array of record types produced by the parish vestry – the committee that managed the parish (then as now) in the course of its administrative business.

The parish vestry was responsible for a wide range of civil as well as religious activities. In some of the larger city parishes, for example, until the late 18th century this even included policing the parish, in the form of the parish watch examined in detail at this link:

RCB Library administrator, Robert Gallagher, looks at the unusual phenomenon of how, in certain parishes, the practice of purchasing, renting or being assigned with a pew was administered by specific parish vestries.  This system was primarily found in wealthier parishes, particularly in urban areas, where parishioners were more likely to be able to afford the cost. Pews were considered as property and, as with all property, it was necessary to record the rights and transactions involving them. In many cases, the record of such transactions was simply kept in the regular vestry minute books of the parish but occasionally, particularly in well-endowed parishes with revenue to spend on dedicated volumes, a separate pew register might be kept.

Opening entry in the St Werburgh’s parish, Dublin, pew register, commencing on 25th September 1719; RCB Library P326.28.3

Opening entry in the St Werburgh’s parish, Dublin, pew register, commencing on 25th September 1719; RCB Library P326.28.3

The new presentation examines the content of the pew register of St Werburgh’s in Dublin, a volume spanning the period from 1719 up to 1839 (although after 1764 entries are very cursory indeed, reflecting how the process of owning or renting a pew began to die out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries).  As one of the earliest Anglo-Norman churches established within the city walls and as the parish serving Dublin Castle, St Werburgh’s enjoyed a prominent position in the city. Its pew register gives an unusual insight into the parish’s social structure, providing glimpses of the wealth and status enjoyed by the parishioners.

Owning a pew in St Werburgh’s, Dublin, was a lucrative privilege especially for a person who was able to afford one of the more expensive or well-positioned pews, in a parish whose members included the Lord Mayor of Dublin,  the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and some of the leading businessmen in the city such as David La Touche. The volume reveals the resolutions that the vestry agreed about pew-related transactions, the income realised from the same, and the parish’s wider social structure – indicated by such details as who was sitting where – with the most sought-after pews being located either in the gallery or near the front of the church.

While pew registers may be relatively rare, those such as this that do survive provide a colourful asset for researching parish history and the stories of individual parishioners, revealing again the wider responsibilities of the Church of Ireland vestry during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the value of the Church’s records as part of social history.

To view the online exhibition, please see:

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Online publication of the Killoughter Vestry Minute Book, 1813–1916

For historians and others interested in the Church of Ireland and its relevance for local history who have ever wondered ‘What is a vestry book?’ the answer is to be found in a colourful online presentation at the RCB Library’s Archive of the Month slot on the Church of Ireland website.

Vestry minute books record the civil and religious activities of the parish, the administrative decisions of the vestry, and details of those responsible for taking those decisions. Alongside parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, these sources form an important and significant component of the records of the Church of Ireland. In the current presentation, a case study of the earliest vestry minute book for the parish of Killoughter (located in north Cavan close to the village of Redhills) provides a unique record of the origins, development and concerns of this rural parish in the diocese of Kilmore, from its establishment in 1813 up to 1916. The vestry book actually runs all the way up to 1972, but for the purposes of the online presentation the content up to 1916 is available for perusal to a worldwide audience.

Cover of Killoughter Parish, vestry book (© RCB Library)

Cover of Killoughter Parish, vestry book (© RCB Library)

The records of the vestry meetings include the names of those who held the principal vestry offices. The minutes were usually signed by the clergy, who traditionally chaired the meetings, and in some instances by the churchwardens or other members of the vestry who had attended the meeting. Frequently the addresses of these individuals are included in the records and such information proves invaluable for genealogists as they attempt to connect people and places.

The volume covers a range of issues relevant to the Church and the wider socio–economic structures of rural Cavan society during the 19th century. It includes exploration of the unpopular parish cess – the tax levied on the occupants of the parish, regardless of their religious denomination, and which was particularly resented by local Roman Catholics and Presbyterians who gained no benefits in paying it. Conversely, an entry dated from 1814 reveals that the rector and churchwardens agreed to subscribing ‘towards the Roman Catholic Chapel’ and support for its repair in the 1830s and 1840s, small ecumenical gestures that may likely have fostered good local relationships. Indeed in May 1841 it was one ‘C O’Reilly PP’ (Charles O’Reilly, Parish Priest of Annagh East from 1830 to 1842) who signed the record of the meeting which recorded the names of the individuals from the townlands within the parish, and several of those which bordered it, who had been nominated to collect the county cess in each townland.

Signature of C O'Reilly, PP at the vestry meeting of May 1841

Signature of C O’Reilly, PP at the vestry meeting of May 1841  (© RCB Library)

These stories and more are brought to life by the online exhibition which has been researched and written by Dr Jonathan Cherry, a lecturer in Geography at the School of History and Geography, Dublin City University (DCU), and historical geographer.

To view the Killoughter vestry minute book and read more about it on their blog, visit

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Looking back: COIHS conference Dublin 2016

On Saturday 5th November, the Church of Ireland Historical Society (COIHS) hosted its second conference of the year in the Music Room at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Dr Bronagh McShane, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the National University of Ireland, Galway, began proceedings with an assessment of clerical wives in early modern Ireland. She drew attention to a broad range of women married to clergy of the Church of Ireland in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Not only have they been surprisingly overlooked but Dr McShane demonstrated their significant contribution to Irish society. Dr Judith Hill delivered an engaging and fascinating paper on the architectural and historical significance of the Chapel Royal beside Dublin Castle. Not only did she identify the influences when plans were drawn up for the construction of the chapel but she also highlighted the many architectural gems that can easily be go unsighted when looking at it from the outside. The third and final paper was presented by Dr Heather Jones who gave a superb talk on Irish commemoration of World War I. Among the many interesting insights she revealed the different ways in which Irishmen who fought in the war were recognised in Church of Ireland churches across the country.

[Back row, left to right] Dr Adrian Empey, Very Reverend Dermot Dunne, Dr Raymond Refaussé, Dr Susan Hood, Mr Brendan Twomey [Front row, left to right] Dr Kenneth Milne, Professor David Hayton, Mr George Woodman, Dr Miriam Moffitt, Dr Bronagh McShane, Dr Heather Jones, Dr Judith Hill, Dr Jennifer Redmond

[Back row, left to right] Dr Adrian Empey, Very Reverend Dermot Dunne, Dr Raymond Refaussé, Dr Susan Hood, Mr Brendan Twomey
[Front row, left to right] Dr Kenneth Milne, Professor David Hayton, Mr George Woodman, Dr Miriam Moffitt, Dr Bronagh McShane, Dr Heather Jones, Dr Judith Hill, Dr Jennifer Redmond

The proceedings of the day ended with Professor David Hayton launching The Boulter Letters edited by Kenneth Milne and Paddy McNally. This collection reproduces for the first time the originally published correspondence in its entirety, includes previously unpublished letters written by and to Archbishop Boulter, and contains an extensive introduction to the collection. Remarking on the book, Professor Hayton stated that it was not only a very important source for eighteen century scholars, but also those working on the history of the Church of Ireland.

Professor David Hayton launching The Boulter Letters, edited by Kenneth Milne and Paddy McNally

Professor David Hayton launching The Boulter Letters, edited by Kenneth Milne and Paddy McNally

Members of the Society will be notified when the papers given by Dr McShane, Dr Hill and Dr Jones are available on podcast. Those wishing to hear these papers but have not joined the Society can 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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W. G. Neely Prize Winner 2016: Kathryn Sawyer

The Church of Ireland Historical Society is delighted to announce that the 2016 W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize Winner is Kathryn Sawyer. Her paper was entitled ‘“A disorderly tumultuous way of serving God”: Prayer and social order in Ireland, 1660-1689’. Kathryn receives €150 and her essay will now be considered for publication in Ireland’s premier historical journal: Irish Historical Studies.

Kathryn is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. She is currently based in Geneva where she held a Fulbright Fellowship between 2015 and 2016 and is now a visiting researcher at the Institut de l’histoire de la Réformation until February 2017. Her dissertation, ‘True Church, National Church, Minority Church: The Church of Ireland in a Restored Empire, 1660-1689’, examines the ways in which the theology of the Church of Ireland both influenced and was shaped by the social and political realities of Restoration Ireland.

The committee of the Church of Ireland Historical Society would like to put on record that the papers submitted were of a high quality and that choosing a winner was a difficult decision. Details for the Neely Prize next year will be announced in Spring 2017. Those who submitted a paper will not be excluded from the competition in 2017. However, his/her paper must be a different paper and he/she must still be pursuing a major research degree at the time of submission.

The W.G. Neely Prize, named in honour of the Society’s founder, provides an excellent opportunity for postgraduate students to promote their work that considers aspects of the Church of Ireland.


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Book launch: Rebel Prods by Valerie Jones

On Monday 21 November the former Archbishop of Dublin, The Right Reverend Walton Empey, will launch a new book entitled Rebel Prods: The Forgotten Story of Protestant Radical Nationalists and the 1916 Rising by the late Dr Valerie Jones. The event will take place at 6.30pm at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

The book, brought to fruition by Dr Valerie Jones’s daughter, Dr Heather Jones, an Associate Professor in History at the London School of Economics, is published by Ashfield Press and has been supported by the Church of Ireland’s Historical Centenaries Working Group as one of its several contributions to marking the centenaries of 1916 during this calendar year.

All members of the public are welcome to attend this book launch.


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Launch of Irish Archives journal ‘Hidden Pages from the 1916 Rising’

The Irish Society for Archives extends an open invitation to members of the public to a reception in The National Archives marking the publication of Irish Archives (Vol. 23): Hidden Pages from the 1916 Rising . Edited by Susan Hood and Elizabeth McEvoy, the journal will be launched by Lia Mills (author of Fallen). The launch and reception will take place on Tuesday 15 November from 6pm.

Those interested in the history of the Church of Ireland, in particular might be interested to know that the journal includes a colourful and revealing paper by Julie Parsons. Julie provides a Church of Ireland perspective on the 1916 Rising using lesser known parish sources such as preachers’ books, vestry minutes and magazines.


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Don’t forget! Church of Ireland Historical Society THIS Saturday

With just days to go, the Church of Ireland Historical Society’s second conference of the year will take place at 11am on Saturday, 5 November 2016 in the Music Room at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (entrance via the Chapter Room). Tea and coffee will be served from 10.30am. Speakers include Dr Bronagh McShane (National University of Ireland, Galway), Dr Judith Hill (Trinity College, Dublin) and Dr Heather Jones (London School of Economics). To accommodate the launch of The Boulter Letters there will unfortunately be no research paper on this occasion.

Dr McShane will talk about early modern clerical wives in the Church of Ireland. Dr Hill will examine the architecture of the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle, the official Church of Ireland chapel of the household of the Lord Lieutenant. Dr Jones will discuss Irish commemoration of World War I. Proceedings will end with Professor David Hayton (Queen’s University, Belfast) launching The Boulter Letters edited by Kenneth Milne and Paddy McNally.

All members of the public are very welcome to attend the conference. Non members of the Society are asked to pay €10 or £7 to pay for conference expenses. The registration desk will be located at the top of the stairs upon entering the the Chapter House. Those wishing to join the Society can pay online by going to our membership page (this includes lunch as well as many other offers). Annual membership is set at €40 or £35. Students can avail of our special discount rate of just €15. He/she must present a valid student card at the registration table.

We look forward to seeing you there!

COIHS (Dublin, 2016)

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