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: http://bit.ly/2JBSJ46

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: www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/history

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: http://bit.ly/2msmPOs

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: www.ireland.anglican.org/about/rcb-library/coi-gazette-digitization

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 www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archive