Book launch! Protestant and Irish: the minority’s search for place in independent Ireland

On Tuesday 12 March former Senator, TD and Minister Dr Martin Mansergh will launch Protestant and Irish: The minority’s search for place in independent Ireland, edited by Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne, and published by Cork University Press. It will take place at 6.30pm in Carlow College, College Street, Carlow town courtesy of the president, Fr Conn Ó Maoldhomhnaigh.

The book looks at how southern Irish Protestants tried to come to terms with newly-independent Ireland and how many attempted to fit in and ‘offer a method of living valuable to the State’.  Books will be available for sale on the night.

There will not be written invitations for this event, but all are welcome. If you intend on coming to the launch please email Ian d’Alton at the following address:

Protestant and Irish: the minority’s search for a place in independent Ireland, edited by Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne

(If you are unable to make this event, the minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, will launch the book on Wednesday 6 March at 6pm in the Royal Irish Academy. RSVP Cork University Press at

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Date for your diary: COIHS Spring Conference, 6 April 2019

The Church of Ireland Historical Society’s first conference of the year will be on Saturday, 6 April 2019 in Armagh Robinson Library. The library is located at the northwest entrance gate to the Church of Ireland Cathedral. Tea and coffee will be served from 10.30am and the first paper will start at 11am.

Confirmed speakers are Prof. Rachel Moss (Trinity College, Dublin), Dr Andrew Sneddon (University of Ulster), and Dr Susan Hood (Representative Church Body Library, Dublin). The research paper will be delivered by Mr David O’Shea, who is pursuing his PhD at Trinity College Dublin. The full programme can be seen below.

We would also draw your attention like to draw your attention to the recent announcement of the W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize for 2019. We strongly encourage eligible students to consider availing of this great opportunity, details of which can be found here.

The conference is open to all members of the public. There is a daily fee of €10 (or £7) for non-members to assist with conference expenses, payable at the registration desk which will be located in the Robinson Library, but anyone can become a member for €40 (or £35). Those who join the Society will be given exclusive access to the podcasts which record these papers, particularly popular among those who are unable to attend either of our conferences in Armagh or Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (in November). Members will also be able to avail of significant discounts on select books that will be on sale on the day of the conference. 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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Medieval Irish manuscript, The Red Book of Ossory, to be published

The RCB Library has digitised one of its most significant medieval manuscripts: The Red Book of Ossory (RCB Library D11/2/1). Not only is it available for public consultation on the Church of Ireland website but it will also be published by The Irish Manuscripts Commission in the coming years. The Red Book will be edited and translated by the well known medieval historian and COIHS honorary secretary, Dr Adrian Empey.

To mark this significant development, Dr Empey has provided a small insight into content of this precious manuscript. Among its many interesting features includes the lyrics of no less than 25 songs related to the nativity. These, like much of the content of The Red Book as a whole, were written by the Bishop of Ossory, Richard Ledred, whose tempestuous episcopate lasted from 1317 to about 1361.

The first Christmas song to appear in the Red Book is headed: ‘Cantilena de nativitate Domini’ [a song of the Nativity of (our) Lord]. Consisting of five stanzas, it opens with the words: ‘verbum caro factum est’ [the Word was made Flesh], © RCB Library D11/1.2, f. 70

The manuscript book contains 79 vellum leaves, and was composed largely in the 14th century during Ledred’s time. Later entries were added, the last of which are dated from the reign of Elizabeth I. The Red Book derives its name from the colour of the leather binding, faded on the outside, but still visible inside the cover. Like other medieval episcopal registers, it contains a wide range of documents that defy classification, the choice of which depended on what was important to individual bishops, in this case by Ledred, whom Dr Empey makes clear in his presentation was ‘one of the most extraordinary bishops ever to occupy the see of Ossory’.

The Red Book derives its name from the colour of the leather binding

The volume is internationally renowned for a number of reasons: it contains, for example, numerous documents of legal interest, such as the provisions of Magna Carta. More exceptionally, it contains a lengthy medical treatise on aqua vitae, or what we would call cognac, that occupies three and a half closely written pages in Latin shorthand.  While such a treatise is perhaps very seasonal, the reasons for its inclusion in the register were more medicinal, perhaps in some way linked to the Black Death that ravaged Kilkenny in 1348. Nevertheless it does provide the earliest known recipe for distillation known to exist in any Irish manuscript and its content of is particular contemporary interest to Ireland’s whiskey industry.

Another reason for the international fame of The Red Book is the collection of 60 Latin lyrics that make up the final folios, all but 13 of which were composed by Ledred. Many of the songs honour the Virgin Mary, and whilst all were not necessarily related to Christmas, Ledred intended them to be sung at the great festivals and on other occasions, so it looks very much as though he had the celebration of Christmas chiefly in mind, analysed in more detail in the online presentation.

Dr Susan Hood, RCB Librarian and Archivist, says: “We are grateful to Dr Empey for bringing the many intriguing aspects of this volume to light in conjunction with the digital release of this volume. We hope to follow digitization of The Red Book with other medieval manuscripts in the collection in due course.”

Dr Adrian Empey, who is also a member of the library and archives committee, claims: ‘It is a great delight that the Library has seen fit to make available not just these songs but all of the other unique content of The Red Book of Ossory in digital format for a worldwide audience to view.”

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W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize 2019!

The Church of Ireland Historical Society is delighted to announce that the W.G. Neely Postgraduate Prize for 2019 is now open!

The W. G. Neely Prize, named in honour of the founder of the Church of Ireland Historical Society (COIHS), provides an excellent opportunity for research students to promote their work that considers aspects of the Church of Ireland. The prize is open to any postgraduate pursuing a major research thesis. Interested candidates can be affiliated to any recognised university, whether in Ireland or abroad. While entrants in the past have usually come from the discipline of history the committee warmly welcomes postgraduates from other subject areas such as history of art, archaeology, geography, politics, and architecture, to consider submitting an essay.

The winner of the W. G. Neely Prize will receive €150. His/her essay will, moreover, be considered for publication by Ireland’s premier academic journal, Irish Historical Studies. The candidate with the best essay will also be expected to present his/her paper at one of the Society’s conferences in Armagh (Spring) or Dublin (Winter).

Candidates interested in submitting an essay may write on any topic of their choosing relating to the history of the Church of Ireland. It should be no more than 5,000 words (including footnotes). The essay must be of original research. Candidates cannot submit a straightforward replication of a draft chapter in his/her thesis. Entrants do not have to be a member of the Society but are welcome to avail of the membership package that offers a generous student discount rate.

Details of the terms and conditions, in addition to the deadline, can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Any enquiries should be directed to the secretary.

Past winners:

2016 W.G. Neely Prize Winner, Ms Kathryn Sawyer from Notre Dame, Indiana

Matthew Houston: ‘The great crusade? The Church of Ireland and interpretations of the Second World War’

Kathryn Sawyer: ‘A “disorderly, tumultuous way of serving God”: prayer and order in Ireland’s church and state, 1660-1689′

Jeffrey Cox, ‘The pastoral ministry of the established church in County Kildare, c. 1591 to 1633’

Ciarán McCabe, ‘Suppressing street begging in pre-Famine Ireland: a case study in the use of parish vestry minute books’

Suzanne Forbes: ‘“Publick and solemn acknowledgments”: occasional days of state-appointed worship in Ireland, 1689-1702’, 

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Ireland’s earliest register: St John’s Parish Register 400 years old

On 7th February 1619, the oldest surviving register in existence in Ireland, the combined register from St John’s parish in Dublin, commenced. This makes this particular volume 400 years old this month. During her recent visit to the Representative Church Body Library, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, viewed the St John’s register, along with several others. See: 

The early years of the 17th century saw an attempt to introduce a system of public registration in Ireland, similar to that in Scotland in 1616. Although adherence to this was not necessarily followed by all Irish parishes immediately, the register of the parish of St John the Evangelist, positioned to the immediate north of Christ Church Cathedral on what is now Fishamble Street, was a forerunner of what would become the accepted norm throughout the island of Ireland in the following years.

The entries for February 1619 (RCB Library P328.01.1) showing the records of marriages and christenings that occurred in St John the Evangelist, Dublin (© RCB Library)

The book which is housed in the RCB Library, in the context of a host of other parish records (for a detailed list, see here:, was begun by the clerk Bartholomew Jordane on 7th February 1619, and records a number of christenings and marriages that occurred in the church during that month. The first inscribed record (an attempt to record a burial was subsequently erased) is that of the marriage of Richard Browne and Mary Woott, recorded on 27th February. The earliest actual record is immediately after this, noting the christening of Christopher Hoord on 16th February.

The book itself contains entries from 1619 to 1658. This period was a turbulent time in the history of Ireland, and the end of the book lists a remarkable amount of burials. The pages are titled ‘The Names of ye poore English who having fled to this Citie for refuge and Dyed in ye parish of St. John’s, were buried since 30 Decemb. 1641’. A page following is titled ‘A Catalogue of ye poore souldiers who were buried in St. Johns since 24th Apr. 1642’. Indeed, from November 1641 onwards, we see a noticeable increase in the recording of burials in the register in the following year, with some months recording only a long list of burials, reflecting the political crisis during this time. 

The entries themselves are in immaculate condition. The pages on which the entries are written are made of vellum (probably sheep hide), and would have originally been loose-leaf but were subsequently bound in an ornate brown leather, with gold lettering denoting the parish details and the years contained within.

Records of marriages in RCB Library P328.01.1 from 1656 to 1658 (© RCB Library)

The book itself was ‘gifted’ in June 1630 by John Hubbords, who is presumed to be the same as the John Hobarte, who is listed as churchwarden in 1623. The record of the burial of John Hubbords is recorded in the register on 12th June 1630.

Other early 17th century parish registers do survive from various parts of Ireland, such as St Catherine’s parish, Dublin (commencing in 1636), Lisburn Cathedral, County Antrim (commencing in 1637), Holy Trinity parish in Cork city (commencing in 1641), and Derry Cathedral (commencing in 1642), for example, but the start date of 1619 for St John’s makes it the oldest by 17 years. As with other early 17th century registers which have been transcribed, indexed and published as part of the Library’s publication series, printed copies of this extraordinary volume are available for sale from the Church of Ireland online store:

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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:

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  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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