W. G. Neely Prize Winner: Matthew Houston

The Church of Ireland Historical Society is delighted to announce that the 2018 W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize Winner is Matthew Houston. His paper was entitled ‘The great crusade? The Church of Ireland and interpretations of the Second World War’. He will receive his cash prize of €150 at the forthcoming COIHS Spring conference in April and will be given the opportunity to submit his essay for publication in Ireland’s premier historical journal: Irish Historical Studies.

Matthew holds BA and MA degrees in History and a Graduate Diploma in Theology from Queen’s University, Belfast. He is currently working on a DEL-funded PhD at QUB entitled ‘The churches, Northern Ireland, and the Second World War, 1939-45’. His research explores how leaders within major denominations responded to the challenges raised by the war.

The committee of the Church of Ireland Historical Society would like to thank all postgraduate students who submitted an essay. They were of an exceptionally high standard and we strongly encourage candidates to consider entering the 2019 competition with a new topic (please see terms and conditions).

Details of the 2019 Neely Prize will be announced shortly.

We would also like to congratulate our last prize winner from 2016, Kathryn Sawyer, whose essay was published in the recent issue of Irish Historical Studies in November.

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.

2018 W. G. Neely Postgraduate Prize Winner, Matthew Houston, from Queen’s University, Belfast
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The Strokestown (Bumlin) Parish Registers 1811-1969

Those with an interest in the Longford/Roscommon region might be particularly interested in the latest finding at the Representative Church Body Library. Below is transcribed content of the parish registers of the former union of Bumlin, Kiltrustan and Lissonuffy in Co. Roscommon, together with the memorial inscriptions on the monuments in the surrounding churchyard adjacent to the parish church of St John the Baptist, covering the period 1811-1969.

The parish of Bumlin centred on the landlord-planned town of Strokestown, where for over 300 years the Mahon (later Pakenham Mahon) family had their big house, which survives and today is the location of the Irish Famine Museum. Work on the parish registers which are located at the RCB Library (the Church of Ireland’s principal record repository) has again been carried out by local historian Alan Moran whose transcribed the Bumlin vestry minute book between 1811 and 1870 (available at this link: http://bit.ly/2BGXrwL

Collectively this work means that Strokestown is one of the first Church of Ireland parishes to have all of its principal historic records transcribed and available online. In accordance with best practice for online publication, the transcripts comprise baptisms and marriages 1811-1919, and burials and memorial inscriptions 1811-1969, and are fully indexed and searchable. The transcribed data is part of the Anglican Record Project, a long-running series of mainly Church of Ireland parish record transcriptions, initiated by Mark Williams and permanently available on the RCB Library website at www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/anglican-record-project.  Alan worked under the tutelage of Mark on the Bumlin registers and memorials inscriptions, and Mark’s input is specifically acknowledged. Their joint labour has made accessible for the first time a vast amount of ancestral and local history data that was hitherto relatively inaccessible. 

Annotation on the first page of the earliest Bumlin combined register reveals its provenance thanks to the purchase of a new registry book by the rector, the Revd Edward Mahon, in 1811. © RCB Library P737.1.1

The permissionsof the Director of the National Archives,with whom the reproduction rights of parish registers reside on behalf of the state to 1871, as well as the Representative Church Body, are acknowledged by the Project.

In 1751 Thomas Mahon MP of Strokestown House conveyed to the Bishop of Elphin an acre of land in Strokestown, for the purpose of erecting a new church, which was confirmed as the parish church in place of Bumlin in March 1754. The ancient church of Bumlin was by then “in a decayed and ruinous condition and the site thereof inconvenient” so the new church added to the embellishment of the new planned town he was developing. By 1813 the parish vestry sought a loan of £1,000 from the Board of First Fruits to add a tower and steeple to this building, neither of which were completed before the church was destroyed, apparently by a storm, in the winter of 1818/19, so eventually a new church building was consecrated on 27 August 1820 which remained in use until 1977, when it finally closed. The building was retained, however, and it re-opened as a heritage centre in 1982, and is now home to the Co. Roscommon Heritage and Genealogy Centre, and both it and the churchyard are well maintained. 

The earliest surviving registers and vestry minute book were presented by the Revd Edward Mahon (1776/7–1847) on his appointment as vicar in 1811. Fortunately, they were retained in local custody and thereby escaped the disastrous destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in June 1922. In the preliminary pages of the earliest register, Mahon’s personal annotation reveals his conscientiousness to be a good record keeper: having “found no such thing as a Registry Book” and “no registry whatsoever of Burials!!!” he took it upon himself to provide the book, which he purchased for £1.10.4.

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St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick: newly discovered 19th Century Renovation Story

St Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick was founded in 1168 by King Domnhall Mor O’Brien (descendant of Brian Boru) and purportedly built on the site of the royal residence of the kings of Munster. This year has marked the 850th year since its foundation, and to conclude a year of anniversary celebrations, the RCB Library in Dublin has published online a digital copy of a previously hidden 19th-century source documenting the story of its renovation between 1859 and 1863, together with detailed analysis of its content. The volume came up for sale a year ago, and with local financial support from the Bishop, diocese and cathedral the Library, which is the Church of Ireland’s record repository, was enabled to purchase it, accessioning it as Ms 1048 and working creatively to promote its content, thereafter.

Ms 1048 is effectively a scrapbook of original minutes, press-cuttings, subscription lists and other memorabilia related to conservation and rebuilding works that took place in the cathedral between 1859 and 1863. The volume further includes articles, reports, and accounts of funds of the renovations up to and including 1874. It was assembled by a certain John Armour Haydn, whose name and presumed ownership appears on the front cover of the book.

Cover of the volume assembled by a certain John Armour Haydn, © RCB Library Ms 1048

There are two possible creators of the volume – a father and a son. Haydn Sr. (1845-1920) was a canon, and also Treasurer (1906-1912), and Chancellor (1912-1913) of the cathedral in addition to being the Archdeacon of Limerick (1913-1918). It is probable that he compiled the text to record how his predecessors serving in the cathedral acquired funds and raised awareness of the structure. Alternatively, the name on the cover could also refer to his son, John Armour Haydn Jr. (1881-1957), a secretary of the cathedral vestry from at least the 1930s. Haydn Jr. commissioned a model of St Mary’s which is still on display at the church, indicating his own interest in the architecture of St Mary’s that may have equally inspired him to research the history of St Mary’s renovations. Like his father, Haydn Jr. was passionate about the history of St Mary’s and authored a guidebook for visitors to St Mary’s in 1950, as well as a booklet on the 15th-century misericords of St Mary’s.

Whichever Haydn was responsible, as the online exhibition accompanying the digitzed copy makes clear, the volume is a Haydn creation of original materials dating from the time of restoration in 1859-1863, with some additional materials up to 1874. Whilst perhaps arranged into the volume at a later time, these are contemporary to the renovation work including even the original resolutions of the committee and trustees who oversaw the works. It thus makes a significant contribution to understanding the cathedral’s architectural history.

The title page of the volume contains an explanatory “preliminary statement” revealing why the mid-19th century restoration works were required in 1859. A committee had been formed in September of that year to oversee the erection of a suitable memorial to the late Augustus Stafford O’Brien Stafford (1811-1857), remembered for his care of wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. The construction of his memorial (the window on the east end) attracted donations from all over Great Britain and Ireland, as evidenced by the subscriptions paid by figures such as the Duke of Cambridge (Prince George), the Archbishop of Armagh (the Most Revd John Beresford), Lord Chelmsford, the Bishops of Limerick, Killaloe, and Oxford, as well as Florence Nightingale. However in the course of the works for the memorial, it was revealed that the roof over the chancel had become “imperfect and unsightly”, requiring urgent attention.

The preliminary statement outlining the rationale for the renovation works commencing in 1859, as contained on page 1 of RCB Library Ms 1048

Thus, the volume is a window on hidden history detailing the causes of the restoration and conservation – the parts of the fabric that were replaced, but also how the cathedral’s essential medieval features were salvaged, and how the funds were raised to cover extensive costs. It is sobering when leafing through the volume to learn of the many complications to the building projects, and challenges of fund-raising; nothing has changed for those who safeguard such buildings today.

The detailed analysis of the Haydn volume which accompanies the digitized content was carried out at the RCB Library by Matthieu Isbell, a first-class honours graduate of Trinity College Dublin, who spent a two-month intern placement there earlier this year. Speaking from the RCB Library, the Librarian and Archivist, Dr Susan Hood, comments: ‘We were delighted to give Matthieu an opportunity to learn about the varied collections here, and the Library benefited from his contribution and knowledge on a number of projects – including the detail in this previously unknown source.’

The Dean of St Mary’s cathedral, the Very Revd Niall Sloane, comments: ‘As we look back with thanksgiving for 850 years of service and Christian witness, we are reminded by this fascinating source that looking after it through the centuries has not been without challenges.  Today we embark on new chapter in the history of St Mary’s where the preservation, conservation and restoration of the building must be seen in the light of current legislation, health and safety requirements, visitor as well as worshipper needs. We are heartened and encouraged that thanks to the generosity of the community as a whole we should be in a position to hand the cathedral onto the next generation that it is not only fit for purpose for stranger and pilgrim; but ultimately, a beautiful and awe-inspiring place for the worship of God.’

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Listen back: COIHS Dublin 2018

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 Steven Ellis on the Reformation and St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church in Galway, Dr Ciara Boylan on the Archbishop Richard Whately of Dublin during the ‘age of reform’, and Dr Niamh NicGhabhann on medieval architecture, identity and the Church of Ireland in the nineteenth century. 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.

Dr Ciara Boylan speaking about the influence and contribution of Archbishop Richard Whately

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!

Prof. Steven Ellis discussing St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church, Galway, during the Reformation

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Looking back: Dublin conference 2018

On Saturday 3rd November, the Church of Ireland Historical Society (COIHS) hosted its second conference of the year in the Music Room at Christ Church Cathedral. 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 Christ Church Cathedral for assisting us.

Professor Steven Ellis, who is Emeritus Professor of History at NUI Galway, initiated proceedings with a broad and fascinating examination of the Reformation in Galway and the changes affecting St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church. He noted, in particular, how the town was ripe for change and that the population and clergy were responsive to ecclesiastical reforms but over time the momentum was lost.

(From l-r): Ms Marion Rogan, Mr George Woodman, Prof David Hayton, Dr Ciara Boylan, Dr Adrian Empey, Dr Niamh NicGhabhann, Dr Susan Hood

Ms Marion Rogan, who is pursuing her PhD at Maynooth University, was the second presenter of the day. She delivered an excellent paper on the Irish-speaking ministry in the Church of Ireland. After lunch, Dr Ciara Boylan of NUI Galway gave a splendid presentation on the life and career of Archbishop Richard Whately, which is the focus of her recently published book with Four Courts Press (click here for details). While noting that the archbishop was less than popular in social circles, his contribution to the political and social forum in the nineteenth-century was significant, particularly in educational reform. The day finished with a paper by Dr Niamh NicGhabann from the University of Limerick who gave an absorbing paper on medieval architecture and how that shaped the identity of the Church of Ireland in the nineteenth century.

Members of the Society will be notified when the presentations delivered by Professor Ellis, Dr Boylan and Dr NicGhabhann 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.

Prof. Steven Ellis discussing St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church, Galway, during the Reformation

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Church of Ireland Gazette coverage of WWI, November 1918

The ‘War to end all Wars’ came to an end on Monday 11th November 1918. After over four years of fighting and death, it was finally over. The sense of relief is captured in the pages of the weekly newspaper, the Church of Ireland Gazette, especially its issues for 15th and 22nd November 1918.  The first edition published just four days later, on 15 November, was probably in press as the news of the end trickled through and runs with the simple headline (“Laus Deo”) while by 22nd November the realities of the impact are hitting home, and the edition contains more reflective news pieces.

One hundred years on, marking the anniversary of this event, the RCB Library in Dublin is making both editions available as downloadable PDFs. Research into the armistice highlights the usefulness of the Gazette as a contemporary commentator and eye-witness on events in the past. The paper’s editorials, diocesan notices and correspondence pages, when combined with parish records, have collectively enabled Dr Miriam Moffitt once again to peel back the layers of hidden history and recover specifically how the Church of Ireland responded to the end of hostilities and other political and social concerns of the time, both at local and national level.

Although the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, a few people had advance knowledge that the end was imminent. In the town of Enniskillen, the wireless operator at the barracks had managed to intercept the news very early in the morning as he listened to Marshal Foch’s message to the Allied commanders on the Western Front, at 6.45am. This was swiftly communicated to the parish rector, the Revd Arthur Webb, who arranged for the bells of the parish church be rung to mark the occasion and, within two hours, he convened services at 8.30am and at 10.30am.

Church of Ireland Gazette, 22nd November 1918, reporting events in Enniskillen early on 11th November 1918.

High-profile services were held in churches and cathedrals in the days that followed, and Sunday, 17th November, was designated a day of special thanksgiving. So many people attended St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, for example, that another service was hastily arranged for the following evening. Attendance in St Patrick’s included the Lord Lieutenant, many prominent members of clerical and civic society, and large numbers of military. The chosen Psalms were those that had been sung in all churches following the victory at Agincourt in 1415, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and also after Waterloo in 1815, while a special prayer of thanksgiving compiled at the Restoration in 1662 was also recited. The victory sentiment of these worship elements were balanced by sermon preached by the Revd Dr AH McNeile, Regius Professor of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin, who struck a reconciliatory tone, urging that notwithstanding four years of wartime combat, the Germans should be treated as fellow human beings: ‘We ought to be able to think of the Germans, as God thinks of them – sinful souls indeed, but souls whom He nevertheless loves, whom he died to save as well as He died to save us, whom He wants to dwell, with us, in the eternal joy of His heavenly kingdom.’

Elsewhere, thanksgiving services were held in all parish churches, often in conjunction with other Protestant denominations. In Galway, for example, a large number of soldiers and sailors came to a united service in St Nicholas Church, where the attendance was augmented by the congregations of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches whose ministers read the lessons. Parishioners in the County Down parish of Groomsport were similarly joined by their Presbyterian neighbours. The holding of thanksgiving services is further fleshed out in specific parish preachers’ book entries with varying degrees of flourish. In Blackrock, county Dublin, for example the rector, the Revd Harry Dobbs, used red ink to flamboyantly record three services held in his parish churches.

Canon Harry Dobbs’ colourful annotation of the Preachers book, All Saints, Blackrock, on the same date, © RCB Library, P714/8/6.

The new exhibition also explores the context in which the realities of the war’s end brought for Ireland. In many parishes, significant numbers were succumbing to the raging flu epidemic raging while a second concern worrying many people, and reflected in the pages of the Gazette, was the realisation that the outstanding political issues of the Irish situation had to be addressed – a situation captured under the 22nd November 1918 lead article, “Irish government policy and Ireland”.  The Gazette recognised the deeply-held political and economic opinions on both sides and came to the view in its editorial that ‘the outlook in Ireland was rarely more dark’.

In tandem with the multitude of events taking place island-wide across the Church to mark the centenary (see listing at http://bit.ly/2PbpcpJ), it is hoped that this blog might further enable reflection and understanding of the context in which to remember those who lost their lives and why the episode that was naively termed ‘the war to end all wars’ exacted such a high death toll across all of Europe.

Dr Moffitt states: ‘The world was greatly changed between 1914 and 1918, both inside and outside the island of Ireland, as people began to reconsider their role in society, and how they believed it should function. These changes, in some ways, happened slowly, as attitudes and opinions were shaped and reshaped in response to people’s experiences over the four years. One important resource for the study of the attitudes of members of the Church of Ireland, and changes in these attitudes, is the Church of Ireland Gazette whose editorials, comment pieces, diocesan notes and correspondence provide contemporary evidence of the range of opinions found across the Church.’

Speaking from the RCB Library, Dr Susan Hood, Librarian and Archivist, says: ‘We are again indebted to Dr Moffitt for her forensic work to uncover hidden stories and make this specific contribution to the Decade of Commemorations. We are further delighted that the wealth of detail provided by the primary resource that is Church of Ireland Gazette, which we incrementally continue to make freely-searchable online has underpinned her work. In conjunction with the new exhibition, we are also pleased to announce that the digitization project (expertly undertaken for us by service provider Informa) has now reached the landmark of 1949. Thus the content of some 93 years of Gazettes from its foundation in 1856 up to and including December 1949 are all accessible and searchable here: https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb

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The Leinster Tragedy: Human Interest Stories brought to life by the Church of Ireland Gazette and Other Sources

To mark last week’s 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Leinster – torpedoed and sunk just one month before the end of the First World War – the Representative Church Body Library has compiled an online exhibition entitled “The Leinster Tragedy: Human Interest Stories brought to life by the Church of Ireland Gazette and Other Sources”.

The Leinster, a Royal Mail steamer, had departed from Carlisle Pier in the port (and parish) of Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) on Thursday, 10th October 1918. About an hour later, within sight of the shore, she was fatally struck twice. Current research shows that there were 803 persons on board – 75 crew and 728 passengers: 22 postal sorters, 200 civilians and 506 military personnel. A staggering 564 persons perished, the greatest ever loss of life in the Irish Sea. Eye-witnesses recalled the explosion following the second hit and, within a very short time, the ship went down. Some persons were killed by the blast, some later died from their injuries, some died from drowning, and some were rescued. The Dublin hospitals and morgue were soon full to bursting point with relatives frantically seeking to identify their loved ones.

Church of Ireland responses to the sinking of the RMS Leinster on 10 October 1918

Collaborating with the historian Dr Miriam Moffitt, who has written the text, and with further input from Philip Lecane, the historian and author of Torpedoed!, and significantly, descendants of some of the people on board, the exhibition focuses on the tragedy from a Church of Ireland perspective. Many casualties had strong connections with the Church of Ireland and the impact of the episode was felt in parishes the length and breadth of the country.

The Church of Ireland Gazette (the Church’s weekly newspaper) in its lead article of 18th October 1918 recorded how ‘[in] many sermons in our churches last Sunday reference was made to the loss of the Leinster’. Under the stark and simple banner headline titled ‘The Leinster’, it reflected how ‘[the] appalling tragedy … has moved Dublin as perhaps no other incident of the war’. Conveying the shared sense of public outrage, it continued: ‘The “Mail” has always been regarded as something in the nature of a civic institution in which all share the feeling of possession and of pride; and when the news spread that the Leinster had been sunk, all distinctions of creed and class and party were forgotten … It was universally felt that the blow to the Leinster was a blow to Ireland …’.

Lead piece reporting the Leinster tragedy to readers of the Church of Ireland Gazette, 18th October 1918

Among the sermons reported was that of the rector of Christ Church, Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown), the Revd John Pim. One of his parishioners, Dorothy M Jones, a voluntary nurse, had perished, and in a bid to offer comfort to her family and all others mourning victims he reflected how two days later, exactly over the spot where the Leinster had been hit and sunk, several in his rectory household as well as other witnesses in Dún Laoghaire had seen what they described as a ‘great cloud Figure, with outstretched arms, which assumed the form of a cross, and, as the sharpness of its outlines passed, seemed to be full of the faces of men and women’.

Other stories held deep within the family-memories of those involved are also included, an example recounted recently in county Cork thus:

‘William Henry Wood was returning on the Leinster to his regiment in England. The story goes as told in Skibbereen that he had met Mrs Elizabeth Ellam from London, mother-in-law of Ronald Hackett the local dentist, who was on a visit to see a newly born grandchild. After the torpedoing of the ship, he found himself near this older lady, whom he recognised as Mrs Ellam, who was badly injured. He endeavoured to save her by helping her cling unto a baulk of timber. After an hour or more they were both rescued, but Mrs Ellam subsequently died of her wounds.’

The exhibition also explores the diversity of responses within the Church of Ireland. Clergy of all denominations were swift to condemn the attack; and some like the rector of Dún Laoghaire had actually witnessed it. Evidence of divergent opinion however, can be seen in the Gazette editorials and other articles. In the 18th October 1918 edition, there is a discernible difference between the tone of the lead article and the ‘Editorial Notes’, which strongly advocated recruitment as a response, insisting that ‘[if] Ireland is to redeem her good name in the world before it is too late her sons have no time to lose. Peace is approaching with giant and rapid strides’. This contrasted with a more nuanced reflected, possibly penned by Warre B Wells which vigorously condemned Germany for the outrage and expressed a hope that the episode would ‘have a direct influence on the present peace proposals’ but did not in any way advocate enlisting. Instead it hoped that the sinking of the Leinster would strengthen the resolve of those engaged in peace talks and would ‘stiffen public opinion against negotiation with the enemy short of dictation’ (Church of Ireland Gazette, 18th October 1918).


These and other previously hidden stories bringing the events of this time to light are to be found in the new online exhibition, which is supported by the Commemorations Unit in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.  The Department has previously supported the Library’s exhibitions presenting other aspects of the Decade of Commemorations, including the extraordinary experience of the Church of Ireland Gazette’s editor, Warre B Wells, who remained holed up in the Gazette’s premises in Middle Abbey Street for the duration of the Easter Rising in 1916, featured in “Reporting the Rising: A Church of Ireland Perspective Through the Lens of the Church of Ireland  Gazette” (available at http://bit.ly/2DZGgtE) and furthermore in “Good Wishes for the Great Adventure: The Church of Ireland and the Irish Convention, 1917” which uncovers the content of the diary of Rosamond Stephen – the Library’s founding benefactor – and many other resources concerning the Irish Convention, the last all-Ireland assembly attempt to find an acceptable political solution before Partition (available at http://bit.ly/2yeReW7).

“The Leinster Tragedy” may be viewed online from 9th October 2018 here: www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archive

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Date for your diary: COIHS Winter Conference 3 November 2018

The Church of Ireland Historical Society’s second conference of the year will be on Saturday, 3 November 2018 in Christ Church Cathedral’s Music Room, Dublin. Tea and coffee will be served from 10.30am and the first paper will start at 11am.

Confirmed speakers are Professor Steven Ellis (NUI Galway), Dr Ciara Boylan (NUI Galway), and Dr Niamh NicGhabhann (University of Limerick). The research paper will be delivered by Ms Marion Rogan, who is pursuing her PhD at Maynooth University.

The full programme can be seen below.

The conference is open to all members of the public. There is a day 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 (in April) 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.

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The importance of parish records: the case of Shrule, County Longford

The Representative Church Body Library currently holds 1,114 collections of parish records covering a variety of time spans (some dating back to medieval times, but most from the late 17th Century onwards). They contain a wide variety of sources relating to a multitude of human-interest stories. In spite of the loss of approximately 500 collections of early registers in the tragic fire at the Public Records Office of Ireland during the Civil War in 1922, more material survives than is often supposed. As regular researchers of the Library’s resources will be aware, insights into the detailed lists of the collections held by the Library (colour-coded yellow) and indeed parish registers throughout the island are available through this online resource: http://bit.ly/2JBSJ46

As the colour-coded list reveals, a massive amount of material has been transferred from the local custody of parishes to the Library’s central holding, where it is systematically organised. Founded in 1931 when the Church of Ireland accepted from Miss Rosamond Emily Stephen (1868-1951) her gift of the Library of the Irish Guild of Witness, the Library of the Representative Church Body began its remit as a reference library of printed books. Further history about the Library is available here: www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/history

However, its archival and curatorial responsibilities soon evolved in the context of the PROI tragedy in 1922 with the Library becoming the focus of the Ecclesiastical Records Committee of the General Synod, by providing a home for stray church records. The record-keeping function was sporadic until the 1960s, when amalgamations of parishes and dioceses led to a marked increase in archival activity and the need to keep the Church’s records safe. The Library’s archival role was formalised in 1981, with the appointment of an archivist, and agreement with the Director of the National Archives followed designating the Library as the official place of deposit for all Church of Ireland registers in the Republic – those predating Disestablishment being national archives, and thus belonging to the state.

The very first collection of parish materials that actually came into the custody of Representative Church Body in 1926 (before it had a library) is that for the County Longford parish of Shrule.  Additional materials were transferred from local custody in 1985 and again during 2012-2013, and have been accessioned as parish collection or P.001. For the complete list of this material, please see this link: http://bit.ly/2msmPOs

The front cover of a vestry book from Shrule, P.001. ©RCB Library

Dr Miriam Moffitt has brought a professional historian’s perspective on the content of this particular collection and the array of supporting resources also available in the RCB Library that shed a light on the story of this particular Church of Ireland parish, and its community.

As well as focusing on the surviving content of the Shrule parish record collection itself, including baptismal, marriage and burial registers, the minutes of the vestry and select vestry meetings, preachers’ books, and sundry other materials, she supplements this with detail on the additional information available from such sources as diocesan visitations, magazines and the clerical succession lists, documenting the lives of individual clergy who served in a parish, as well as the rich and now searchable Church of Ireland Gazette which has been digitized and is available to 1936 inclusive here: www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/coi-gazette-digitization

The RCB Library continues to encourage local clergy and others to transfer non-current records from their parish provenance to the Library’s permanent and secure centralised custody and thus keep them safe and accessible for future generations. Parish no. 1 is profiled at www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archive

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Government grant for digitisation of Church of Ireland Parish Registers

The Representative Church Body Library has welcomed the announcement of a €100,000 capital grant towards the digitisation of Church of Ireland parish registers as part of the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht’s digitisation scheme.  The funding was announced by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ms Josepha Madigan TD, during a visit to the Library yesterday (11 September). As part of the visit, Minister Madigan viewed a number of original registers, the earliest of which is dated 1619.

Minister Madigan remarked: ‘I am delighted to provide funding for the Representative Church Body Library’s project to digitise Church of Ireland Parish Registers, as part of the wider cultural digitisation scheme.  This digitisation project will make it possible for people all over Ireland and indeed the world to access these unique records as they represent an important body of evidence about the Church’s history. Digitisation of this type also provides a vital channel to connect with our Diaspora – which is estimated to be up to 70 million people worldwide – and in turn encourages cultural tourism.’

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan viewing some of the RCB Library’s records with the Librarian and Archivist, Dr Susan Hood, and Dr Michael Webb, Chairperson of the Library and Archives Committee, during the Minister’s informal visit to the Library to announce a capital grant for the digitisation of Church of Ireland parish registers.

Dr Susan Hood, RCB Librarian and Archivist, said: ‘The RCB Library is most grateful for this significant commitment to the project to digitise Church of Ireland parish registers.  With the right imaging equipment and technical support, which this funding makes possible, we can commence the massive task of making these records accessible and discoverable for all, by creating digital surrogates of original records (some of which are the oldest such records). Most importantly this will ensure the long-term preservation of the originals.  It is extremely good news not just for the Library, but the Church at large and indeed the generations of clergy and record keepers who have kept these records safe.’

The project will, over time, be extended to include register collections currently in local parish custody, and ultimately to index the content and share information from these sources with a worldwide audience in collaboration with the Department through the state website: www.irishgenealogy.ie

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan with staff and the managing committee of the RCB Library during the Minister’s informal visit to the Library to announce a capital grant for the digitisation of Church of Ireland parish registers

Note on the Representative Church Body Library:

The Representative Church Body Library, at Braemor Park, Dublin, is the Church of Ireland’s repository for archives and manuscripts, including 1,120 collections of parish records.  The Library’s collections also include the archives of the Church’s dioceses, cathedrals, architectural drawings, the administrative records of the Representative Church Body and its multiple committees, and thousands of manuscripts relating to the Church’s people, buildings and activities, spanning from medieval times to the present.

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