A Visual Window to Rural Church Settings in the 1930s

A rare set of 27 lantern slides depicting various churches principally in the diocese of Leighlin, but additionally from the dioceses of Glendalough and Kildare, and one of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, has recently been transferred from St Canice’s Cathedral to the RCB Library by the Dean of Ossory, the Very Revd David MacDonnell.

In a shot taken in 1934, there is site of a lonely figure and broken wall on the road into the village of Tullow, with the spire of ‘St Columba’s Church, Tullow, Diocese of Leighlin’ visible in the distance, © RCB Library St Canice’s Lantern Slides.

The Dean comments:  ‘This set of lantern slides offers us a charming glimpse into the gentler times of 1930s rural Ireland. I am delighted that this collection, which has long sat on a dusty shelf in the cathedral library, may now be enjoyed by a wider audience online.’

He found the collection in the St Canice’s Library building (also known as the residence of the Bishop’s Vicar) adjacent to the cathedral.

These have been digitized, and to provide some lighter visual relief the collection is available to view, with accompanying descriptions, online. There are more churches in the united diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory than in any other diocese in the Church of Ireland, and it is a treasure to have discovered akeen amateur photographer at work to capture them visually during the 1930s, or possibly earlier.

The collection includes three images of ‘Shillelagh Church, Co. Wicklow’; one showing the ‘Gateway erected at W. entrance Shillelagh Churchyard, Co. Wicklow, in memory of Dr F. J. G. King’, © RCB Library St Canice’s Lantern Slides.

Who exactly the photographer may have been remains something of a puzzle, but the final image set (the only one to contain identified people) is entitled ‘Canon & Mrs Dudley Fletcher in group at St Laserian’s, 25 June 1931’. It thus appears to capture the canon and his wife beside him, surrounded by five other women, with a partially-hidden cleric behind, possibly at some parish event or cathedral celebration.

Canon William Dudley Saul Fletcher (1862-1948) was serving as rector of Leighlin and Wells from 1927 until his retirement in 1946. In addition to this post, he also held various senior clerical posts within the diocese – as Treasurer of Leighlin Cathedral, 1930-35; later as its Precentor from 1935-46; and also as Prebendary of Killamery in the neighbouring diocese of Ossory, 1933-46. He was thus embedded in the lives of both dioceses and likely to have been regularly moving around them, either to preach at services in different churches or at meetings and events with fellow clergy. Perhaps he took a camera with him, or in his leisure time got out with the camera then.

The collection has only one group image featuring Canon and Mrs Dudley Fletcher and their group ‘at St Laserian’s, on the 25 June 1931’ on what is clearly a bright summer’s day, © RCB Library St Canice’s Lantern Slides.

The result is a sequence of delightful images showing several churches, and two three diocesan cathedrals in the relative stillness and tranquillity of rural Ireland during the 1930s. Many of these images are captioned and specifically dated, so we know that they roughly date between 1932 and 1936. Significantly the collection contains six colour images.  In 1935, American Eastman Kodak introduced the first modern “integral tripack” color film or Kodachrome, so it is interesting to see a similar technique in use for some of the photographs in this collection. 

The collection may be viewed online in full from Friday, 1st May, at www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/archive-of-the-month