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 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

“The Leinster Tragedy” may be viewed online from 9th October 2018 here:

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.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

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:

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.

Irish Philosophy in the Age of Bishop Berkeley (CFP)

Trinity College Dublin is hosting a conference entitled ‘Irish Philosophy in the Age of Berkeley’ on 5 and 6 April 2019. Scholars in any academic discipline are invited to submit abstracts of papers for presentation. 

Bishop George Berkeley’s Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713) are standard texts in the philosophy curricula of most European and American universities. No other Irish philosopher, and no other work of Berkeley’s, has achieved this ‘canonical’ status. However, there was a vibrant philosophical scene in Ireland in Berkeley’s lifetime, to which Berkeley was far from the only contributor. Studying this broader Irish philosophical discussion will improve our understanding of Berkeley and also of early modern philosophy more generally.

The Irish Philosophy in the Age of Berkeley conference will include general exploration of the intellectual culture of early modern Ireland as well as examination of specific thinkers with significant connections to Ireland active during Berkeley’s lifetime (1685–1753). Such figures include Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh (1615–1691); Robert Boyle (1627–1691); Michael Moore (c. 1639–1726); William King (1650–1729); William Molyneux (1656–1698); Edward Synge (1659–1741); Jonathan Swift (1667–1745); John Toland (1670–1722); Peter Browne (d. 1735); and Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746).

Invited speakers will include:

• Lisa Downing, Professor of Philosophy, The Ohio State University, USA

• Eric Schliesser, Professor of Political Science, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

• Kate Davison, Lecturer in Long Eighteenth-Century History, University of Sheffield, UK


Approximately nine additional papers will be selected by anonymous review of submitted abstracts.

Abstracts from scholars in any discipline addressing one or more of the following issues are welcome:

• The Irish context of Berkeley’s philosophy.

• The philosophical work of other Irish thinkers active during Berkeley’s lifetime.

• The reception within Ireland of other philosophical figures, ideas, and movements.

• The reception of Irish philosophy outside Ireland.

Particular preference will be given to papers that address figures and/or topics outside the currently recognized philosophical ‘canon’, including the work of early modern women.

Papers presented at the conference will be published as part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements series, Cambridge University Press. Abstracts should be submitted by 15 October, 2018. Full details, including submission instructions, are available at:

Participants and attendees may also be interested in attending Berkeleian Minds: Will and Understanding, to be held at the University of York on 2 and 3 April (

Primary sponsorship for this conference is provided by the Royal Institute of Philosophy, together with the Mind Association. Additional support is provided by the Trinity Long Room Hub Making Ireland Research Theme and the Department of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin.

Heritage Week! Talk at St Patrick’s Cathedral, 22 August

It’s that time of year! The brilliant initiative that is Heritage Week is back.

All across the country, Church of Ireland parishes are getting involved in what is a fabulous week to appreciate our country’s history and heritage. As part of Heritage Week, Albert Fenton will give an illustrated talk on the colourful history of the Order of the Knights of Saint Patrick which was closely associated with St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, for much of the order’s 139 year existence.

The talk will take place on Wednesday, 22nd August, at 6.30pm. It is free and anyone is welcome to attend.

Albert Fenton is the cathedral historian and board member of St Patrick’s.

The Caddy Caricature: Hidden Aspects in a Church of Ireland Parish Register

In addition to approximately 70,000 books, the RCB Library is the repository for the records of some 1,110 parishes. These registers often contain baptism, marriage, and burial records, but also numerous other items, such as vestry books, account minutes, and confirmation records, as well as other miscellaneous items. All these records capture the unique aspects of the life of a community at the local level and, on very rare occasions, allow the recovery of human stories. This might be in the form of correspondence between the rector and parishioners, but occasionally may even extend to such rare and unusual items as sketches and “doodles” on blank leaves within volumes, which uncover fascinating hidden stories.


One such example was revealed last year, when a visitor to Ireland, Kathryn Roberts, came to the RCB Library in 2017. Kathryn was researching her husband’s maternal line back to a Rebecca Caddy, who married James Leslie at St Nicholas Collegiate Church (the parish church for Galway) on 2nd April 1799. During her research, she corresponded with a person who was also tracing the same family line, and had been informed by a sexton of the church of the existence of the drawings. Kathryn visited the RCB Library in August 2017, and during her investigation of the earliest register (P.519.01.1), which records baptisms (1800-40), marriages (1792-1839), and burials (1832-38), Kathryn noticed that there were many blank pages at the end of the register. Deciding to take a chance to see if there was any further family history, Kathryn leafed through all the blank pages and came across the sketches.

One of the Caddy caricatures in the Galway parish register, (© RCB Library P.519.01.1)

At least one of the images is clearly in the hand of a child, and perhaps both (although one is suggestive of an older hand). The images are underscored by numerous names, most of them with the Caddy family name, although some of the Christian names are difficult to decipher. One such name that is clearly legible is Henry Caddy (c.1790-1853) who was a sexton of the church from around 1838 to 1847. These dates fit perfectly with the period in which the register ends. Interestingly, Henry Caddy had a son who was also called Henry, and another son, Edward (1821-1902), who succeeded his father in the role of sexton from 1848 to May 1854 (when he and his family emigrated to America).


Despite the names that have been deciphered, a question remains as to who may have drawn the images, and also who exactly they depict. A published edition of the original register, Register of the Parish of St Nicholas Galway 1792-1840,with an index of surnames and biographical notes on the clergy, edited by Brigid Clesham, is among the Library’s Parish Register publications, and is available for purchase here:


Returning to the caricature, despite the names that have been deciphered, a question remains as to who may have drawn the images, and also who exactly they depict. So in the context of this unusual story, the Library is appealing for budding graphologists or local historians to take a deeper look, and get in touch.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


The free-to-view finding aid to all editions of the Gazette between 1856 and 1933 is available here:


To view the ‘News Behind the News’ story of the Ettagh lightning strike, go here:


The current Church of Ireland Gazette and all editions from 2005 may be viewed via an online subscription on the Gazette website, see:

The Strokestown (Bumlin) Vestry Book, 1811-1870

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An alphabetical listing by county of all vestry records available in the RCB Library is available here: – and the full transcription of the Strokestown (Bumlin) vestry book is available at

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

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

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