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 Gazette Dr 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: