CofI preacher books: an invaluable archival source

The Representative Church Body Library holds over 1000 collections of parish registers from all over the country, and many of these include runs of preacher’s books. One such example is the parish of Clones, county Monaghan (and diocese of Clogher) which as the hand–list of parish records compiled by the Library available here shows includes no less than 12 volumes, the first one commencing in 1841, and the last ending in 1980. Further more recently–compiled preacher’s books after 1980 continue to be maintained at local level.

Clones Preacher’s Book, © RCB Library P804.8.1

It is the first volume (RCB Library P804.8.1) beginning on 11 April 1841 – Easter Sunday of that year – that is the focus of this online presentation, providing us with a case study from which to fully appreciate the value of detail provided by a typical preacher’s book. The volume includes entries from 1841 up to December 1863. The specific columns recorded in this book are ‘date’, ‘preacher’, ‘reader’, ‘no. of communicants’, ‘observations’, ‘£’, ‘s’ and ‘d’. The number of communicants is filled in approximately once per month, usually on the first Sunday of the month. The collection money columns of pounds, shillings and pence are filled in for every service.

In other collections, especially in parishes where the parish registers may have been destroyed or are missing (as a result either of the tragic fire at the Public Records Office of Ireland in 1922, or some other circumstances) occasionally the preacher’s books provide evidence not available anywhere else. The preacher’s book from Malahide, county Dublin, for example includes details of baptisms such as that recorded for Ada Machin on 25 Jan 1891, daughter of Edward and Anne Machin, informing us that she had been born on 31 Oct 1890 (RCB Library P365/8/3).

The preacher’s book from Malahide, county Dublin (© RCB Library P365/8/3)

Turning to other collections in the Library, and events of national interest which impacted at a local level, the preacher’s book for the parish of St Stephen’s in Dublin (RCB Library P46/8/17) tells a very interesting story of the local impact of the 1916 Easter Rising on the church and congregation. Known locally as the Pepper–canister church which dominates the vista on Mount Street, the preacher’s book covering the year 1916 records how the parish schools and parochial hall adjacent to the church were ‘seized by the rebels on Easter Monday 12:30 [and] retaken by military on Wednesday evening’. On Sunday 30 April 1916 it was further noted that there was ‘fighting very close to church during service’ when ‘3 bullets hit Ch[urch]’. By the evening however, the worst was over, with the surrender of the rebels.

The popularly known ‘Pepper–canister’ or St Stephen’s church, Dublin

For a more extensive analysis of Maeve’s examination of preacher books in the RCB Library, click on the following link:

Maeve Mullin
Maeve was a Masters student on the Irish History programme in Maynooth University. She is also a professional genealogist based in Dublin with a qualification in Genealogy from UCD. Maeve has been a member of the Genealogy Advice team in the National Archives, the National Library and on the Kerry Genealogy Roadshow with Ancestor Network Ltd. A native of Glaslough, County Monaghan Maeve has recently been researching the experiences of men and women from Glaslough in the First World War.