The Meath Diocesan Archive
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During 2014 we hope to introduce new detailed lists of many of the collections held in the RCB Library, and to begin the year, present the contents of the collection for the Diocese of Meath. Archival work on materials transferred to the Library from the diocesan registry was completed in 2002, when the collection became D7/in the Library’s holdings and a detailed list of its content was created. It is this list, together with illustrative items of particular examples from the collection that we now present online for the first time.
Arms of the diocese of Meath. Sable: three mitres, two and one, argent, labelled or.
Image from Arms of the Episcopates of Great Britain and Ireland Emblazoned and Ornamented by Albert H. Warren, (London, 1868)
The body of records constituting the Meath diocesan archive deposited in the RCB Library is by no means complete. Until 1922, the collection consisted of a rich heritage of administrative, testamentary, matrimonial and court records, covering the period from the sixteenth century to 1870. The loss of so much diocesan material belonging to the Church of Ireland is explained by the fact that the Church Temporalities Commissioners who were charged with assessing the wealth of the Church in preparation for its disestablishment, took custody of many diocesan records which were subsequently transferred to the Public Records Office of Ireland (PROI). Tragically, all of this evidence was reduced to ashes following the bombing of the Four Courts during the Civil War in 1922. Thus, what survives for Meath represents just a small corpus of what was originally a much larger collection, and it survived solely because for one reason or another it was retained by the diocese for administrative purposes, or, remained in parish custody until transfer to the diocesan registry at a later stage.
The bulk of these surviving diocesan records were transferred from the diocesan registry in Trim to the safe custody of the RCB Library in 1991, with further transfers following from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim and from the Diocesan Board of Education in 2000. Smaller deposits of records that had been given to the RCB Library before 1991 were also integrated into the diocesan collection as a whole including papers from the parish of Ballybay, deposited in 1993; a small collection of eighteenth–century glebe maps from Church of Ireland House, and some miscellaneous papers collected by Canon C. C. Ellison, diocesan registrar 1959–1977.
The entire collection was sorted and arranged into some 18 record groups, during 2001 and 2002, while the working papers of Canon John Healy (1850–1942) who served as honorary secretary to both the Diocesan Council and Diocesan Synod between 1897 and 1928, diocesan registrar between 1904 and 1914, and subsequently as archdeacon between 1914 and 1928 were transferred and arranged at a later date, and thus they form an additional group at the end of collection (D7/19). More recent papers are retained for diocesan use in the Meath and Kildare Diocesan Centre at Moyglare.
The Meath collection is unusual compared to many other surviving diocesan archives, because it includes several items that predate disestablishment, some dating from the 17th century, and also because it is quite voluminous. Indeed aside from Meath, only the archives of Armagh, and Dublin (including the dioceses of Glendalough and Kildare that were united to it), Ossory and Tuam have substantial pre–1870 material. The Armagh material is available at the Public Record Office in Belfast, where a detailed catalogue is available at this link:
A list of the other diocesan materials at the RCB Library may be viewed at this link:
The record sections
Visitation compiled by the Most Revd Anthony Dopping, Bishop of Meath, 1682–1685, entitled ‘The Book of the Churches in the Diocese of Meath and the Unions Made by the Legislature, begun 1682, finished 1685’, RCB Library D7/1/1A
The Meath diocesan archive begins with the visitations (D7/1), being the bishop’s (later rural dean’s) inspection reports on each parish in the diocese. Whilst the Meath visitations are fairly typical of other dioceses in that they provide a good continuous coverage from the mid– nineteenth century onwards, more unusually this collection includes one seventeenth–century return compiled by the Most Revd Anthony Dopping, Bishop of Meath, 1682–1685, covering the duration of his episcopacy. It is in his hand, entitled ‘The Book of the Churches in the Diocese of Meath and the Unions Made by the Legislature, begun 1682, finished 1685’ on the title page. Consisting of 246 pages with an index, it was presented to the diocese by Lady Grogan of Dorchester, Dorset, with whose family Bishop Dopping had been connected, in 1930. As the diocesan registry was felt not safe enough for its custody, it was placed in Marsh’s Library in Dublin for safe–keeping but on the strict understanding it was ‘loan from the diocese of Meath’. When a letter recording the loan came to light as a result of the archival work on the collection, the volume was reclaimed and returned to the RCB Library, in 2001 as the conservation note on the item records.
Some 200 years later during the episcopacy of the Most Revd Benjamin J. Plunkett, bishop of Meath 1919–26, we see an example of the standard printed pro–forma layout of the visitation, which, rather than being collated by the bishop or his representative was to be returned by the incumbent of the parish concerned to the rural dean of the rural deanery in which that parish was located. Both bishops’ and rural deans’ inspections are similar in content and format, and describe the condition of parishes, glebes, fabric and furnishings, salaries of incumbents, curates etc..
The next main record group consists of the papers created by or relating to successive bishops of Meath. These begin with a small quantity of miscellaneous papers of the Most Revd Thomas Lewis O’Beirne, bishop of Meath 1798–1823, and continue up to the episcopacy of the Most Revd William Hardy Holmes, bishop of Meath 1938–45, but in the latter case in the form of single succession roll. The random nature of this section underlines the fact that bishops were inclined to consider materials created during their time in office as part of their personal possessions, which they either destroyed on retirement, or ordered to be destroyed after their deaths, not appreciating the value and long–term benefits of record–keeping and preserving an accurate record of the past. The odd items that do survive here do at least offer a glimpse of episcopal life during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Confirmation tour of the Most Revd Nathaniel Alexander, bishop of Meath, 1823–40, dated 1824, being a diary on his travels, routes taken etc, for confirmations in various parishes, 1824, with detail of the route from Kilbeggan, RCB Library D7/2/2/2
The ‘Confirmation Tour’ of the Most Revd Nathaniel Alexander, bishop of Meath 1823–40 (D7/2/2) records the distances he had to travel in a carriage to carry out confirmations, and how his journeys were meticulously calculated so that he had a bed for the night. Likewise the notebook of one of his successors, Most Revd Joseph Henderson Singer, bishop of Meath, 1852–66, entitled ‘Diocese of Meath in 1857 and catalogue of books’, contains a wide range of detail including the books in bishop’s library, his notes on individual parishes, the distances between them, the name of their incumbents, and the condition of individual churches, glebe houses, and schools, c. 1857 (D7/2/3).
The next section covers diocesan clergy, and reveals the meticulous record–keeping of Canon C. C. Ellison, diocesan registrar 1959–1977 who compiled indexes of all clergy, arranged alphabetically, giving dates, degrees, parishes served etc (D7/3/24). He also organised the wide–range of other clerical–related official documents concerning the nomination, declarations made by, licensing, and resignation or retirement of individual clerics. This example shows the signatories of the nominators on the board of nomination appointing the Revd Robert Samuel Law to the united parishes of Drumconrath and Syddan, following their deliberations on 25 June 1872.
The records of the diocesan synod, in section (D7/5), together with those of the diocesan council that follow in section (D7/6) date from the post–disestablishment period and reveal a great deal about diocesan reorganisation in the light of the post–1870 structures of the Church of Ireland, and how these impacted directly on this particular diocese with parish amalgamations; new boundaries drawn; and new lay members elected to assist in the running of the church.
The range of materials relating to the synod includes the annual order of business, lists of members and printed reports of not only resolutions but the proceedings and discussions of each one. The records of the diocesan council which was responsible for the management of the diocese in between annual synods reveal an enormous volume of business with standing orders and resolutions, as well as lists of members, correspondence and related financial records.
10a (right). Report of the Meath Diocesan Council for the year 1870, RCB Library D7/5/9/1
10b (left). Members of the Diocesan Council in 1870 from RCB Library D7/5/5/9/1
The next section covering maps and plans (D7/7) includes full–scale maps of the diocese which shows its wide geographical area comprising the entire counties of Meath and Westmeath, large parts of Offaly, with parts of the three surrounding counties of Kildare, Longford and Cavan. Efforts to re–draw boundaries and account for the extent of individual parishes in the aftermath of the great administrative changes brought about by dis–establishment are revealed by the unusual diocesan atlas, which dates from c. 1870, and shows each parish in the context of its surrounding parishes and townlands (based on the 1836 Ordnance Survey maps).
Atlas containing colour maps of each parish in the diocese of Meath, in the context of its surrounding parishes and townlands (based on Ordnance Survey) c. 1870, with detail showing the parish of Kells in the context of surrounding parishes, RCB Library D7/6/9
Another unusual and random survival in this section is a particularly colourful plan of Trim parsonage, commissioned by the then vicar, the Revd Dr Adam Lyndon, vicar 1732–53, in 1747, and featuring the robust cartographic embellishments of the surveyor Patrick McDonnell, whose plan includes location details for Trim Church, the road to Athboy gate, Trimblestown Road, Mr Seaton’s garden, and part of Lord Mornington’s estate: an invaluable resource for the local historian.
Mid–19th century efforts to account for the lands belonging to the diocese are revealed by the first volume in the next section dealing with diocesan glebe lands. This is a copy of all the information about glebe lands in County Meath as obtained from the Book of Distribution of 1641, dated 1811, as extracted made by John Pollock for the Most Revd Thomas Lewis, bishop of Meath, ‘most humbly and most respectfully presented by His Lordship’s obliged and devoted friend and servant’. The details are organised by parish and barony, as this extract of Dunboyne shows, and include full extracts of the survey, with names of proprietors, denominations of lands and observations. This volume was clearly executed for diocesan administration during O’Beirne’s episcopate which was noted for its expansion and growth of churches.
After section (D7/8) which deals with legal matters, the next section (D7/9) covers accounts. A detailed insight to the costs of running the post–disetablished diocese is provided by many of the sources in this section – this stipend schedule book demonstrating the outgoings to individual clergy and the financial scheme put in place to provide for them.
Section (D7/10) will be valuable to local historians interested in specific parishes. Whilst not every parish is as well documented as the next, the collection here is representative of materials that for one reason or another were lodged in the diocesan registry for the record and provide colourful background about the development of individual parishes. So for Athboy parish, we find a single item being the estimate for building a new steeple, as commissioned by the parish from the architect Francis Johnson in 1792 (D7/10/1).
By contrast there is a substantial quantity of papers for the parish of Clongill (D7/10/13) where there was a divided interest in the lands during the mid–18th century, and the collection including leases, deeds of partition, schedules of deeds, legal cases and correspondence relating to settlement and partition of the glebe lands provides much background about local families and their relationships.
For the parish of Skyrne, there are rare early 19th–century plans of the new rectory. Whilst the information about the architect or builder is not on the file, the detailed plans that survive give valuable information about the intimate design of a typical three storey house over basement (D7/10/41).
Of more recent topical interest the literature promoting the relaying of the Pathé film of evangelist Dr Billy Graham’s crusade to Glasgow as shown in St Mary’s church Athlone in 1955 must have generated much local interest (D7/10/3).
The next section in the Meath collection (D7/11) consists of materials gathered together because they relate to general parochial organisation, again from the post–disestablishment period onwards. Taken with the records of the diocesan synod, council and accounts evidence, these detailed papers which provide the raw data as to how the diocese was reorganised following 1870, might make an excellent topic for a study on the changing size and structure of the modern diocese.
The next section (D7/12) reveals the role of the diocesan registry as a place of safe keeping for a wide variety of miscellaneous papers. For clarity, as this section is so big, it has been divided into nine sub–sections, organised chronologically as follows:
- Items not relating to diocesan administration, deposited in the diocesan registry, probably for safe–keeping
- Census returns
- Baptismal and burial returns
- Papers relating to archdeacons of the diocese
- Papers of other diocesan officers (registrars, architects and chancellors)
- Papers relating to administration of churches
- Papers relating to administration of burial grounds and memorials
- Registry letter books
- General registry material
Some of these materials are most significant from a local historical perspective such as the original return for the 1766 religious census of the town of Navan County Meath, which was likely made by the rector at the time, the Revd Dr Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739–1821) and includes giving head of households’ names, numbers of adults, children, Protestant and ‘Papist’ servants, and total in each household, organised by location (gate, street etc) in the town (D7/2/1).
Later returns for the entire diocese accounting for the Protestants living within its boundaries for the years 1802 and 1803, arranged by parish, also survive – the result of a census ordered to be carried out by the Most Revd Thomas Lewis O’Beirne, bishop of Meath 1798–1823, in a bid to understand the extent of his diocese in the early 19th century. Whilst both census collections have been extensively used by historians and cited in published work, an array of hitherto unpublished and unexplored materials could form new studies.
Selection of the notebooks containing the accounts and other business matters of the Revd Mungo Henry Noble (later Noble Waller), rector of Clongill, 1793–1809, RCB Library D7/12/5.2 & /5.3 with detail of land values for tythes and whether or not the tythe payments had been made, which show many appear not to have been paid, RCB Library D7/12/1/5/2, and finally accompanying map to account for tythe payments in the rural deanery of Athboy, RCB Library D7/12/1/5/4
Extensive papers relating to the personal and business affairs of the Revd Mungo Henry Noble (who later changed his surname to Noble Waller), rector of Clongill, 1793–1809, for example provide rich detail about a parish rector with land interests. His notebooks, accounts, stock returns, tythe return payments, and even the details of his journey from Cheltenham to London give an unusually detailed insight to late–18th century life of a gentleman farmer, who also happened to be an ordained cleric.
Finally the collection of returns of baptisms and burials throughout the diocese during the 1870s which include summary totals used by the diocese for parish re–organisation during the 1870s also include the details of actual entries, and in a number of parishes such as Almorita whose original registers were so tragically lost in the fire at the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 (including baptismal registers to 1884 and burials to 1885) the copied complete run of entries during the 1870s may provide hidden gems of information for family historians.
Bundle of loose returns of general statistics of baptisms and burials that took place in the diocese of Meath, in 1877, RCB Library D7/12/3/1 (right) with detail of entries of baptisms in the parish of Almorita, 1870–72, returned by the rector, Revd John Brownlow, 17 October 1872, RCB Library D7/12/3/2 (left)
Section D7/13 covers the papers relating to diocesan education, and includes the early minute books of the Board of Diocesan Education commencing in 1890. Miscellaneous files i nclude some detail about the repair and upkeep of individual diocesan school houses such as Mullingar, lodged with the bishop during the 1860s for information. Later files organised by specific school (mostly parish national schools) reflect the Board of Education’s oversight of local administration and endowment schemes etc.
Papers relating to charities and charitable endowments connected to the diocese are gathered together as section D7/14, while the next section D7/15 includes the seals and stamps created for successive bishops, together with related papers concerning the significant visual matter of the diocesan heraldic identity. When the diocese of Meath was united with Kildare in 1976, the Chief Herald of Ireland at the time, Gerald Slevin provided factual advice on the heraldic symbols in use since medieval times and how they might be arranged side by side (or impaled) on the new diocesan seal.
Heraldic descriptions of the arms of the dioceses of Meath and Kildare, as outlined by the Chief Herald of Ireland when the dioceses were united in 1976. In spite of the heraldic advice provided, the arms have never been officially registered, RCB Library D7/15/9
A century earlier, one of Slevin’s predecessors, Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, who had official responsibility for issues of precedence in Ireland, helped the Church of Ireland to establish that the Bishop of Meath ‘is, as he always has been, primus inter pares among Irish bishops’ (a matter recorded in another manuscript in the RCB Library’s holding (Ms 209). The reason for this was that from medieval times the Church was divided into five provinces of which Meath was one. When the Church Temporalities Act of 1833 reformed the Church’s diocesan structure, two of the four provinces, Cashel and Tuam, were suppressed, while the number of bishoprics was reduced from 22 to 12. However, the bishop of Meath continued to have jurisdiction over the single diocese of Meath, with the result that its bishop enjoying first place among the bishops, behind the archbishops, and this did not change after the diocese was united with Kildare.
Main image bottom shows clergy group at the enthronment of the Most Revd John Orr, as bishop of Meath, at Trim, 21 October 1927, RCB Library D7/16/9 with top left clergy group at the presentation of a pastoral staff (replica of ancient crozier of Clonmacnoise) by the diocesan clergy, to the Most Revd John Orr, at Westmeath Choral Festival, 30 May 1934, RCB Library D7/16/11; and top right further clergy group at the enthronment of the Most Revd R. B. Pike, as bishop of Meath, at Trim, 12 June 1959, RCB Library D7/16/15
Photographs, mostly of clergy groups and clergy individuals make up section D7/16, while section D7/17 includes an almost complete run of diocesan magazines (originally called the Meath Parochial Magazine) from 1885 onwards.
Section D7/18 consists of copies of original documents, notes and extracts from diocesan records and other sources.
Commencing with a contemporary copy of the visitation of the Most Revd James Ussher, bishop of Meath 1621–24, dating from 1622, it also includes this early 18th century list of the patrons of each parish in the diocese together with the details of lands connected to each one, and the various statutes to which each was subject during the late 17th century.
The final section was added to the diocesan collection after the other 18 record groups had been arranged. As mentioned above this consists of the working papers of Canon John Healy (1850–1942) which provide a sense of how the various administrative bodies responsible for a range of diocesan business (the registry, the Diocesan Council, the Diocesan Synod, the RCB) as well as the clergy and other officials representing individual parishes) inter–connected and related to one another. As well as being rector of Kells between 1887 and 1917, Healy also served as honorary secretary to both the Diocesan Council and Diocesan Synod between 1897–1928; and as diocesan registrar 1904 – c.1926, before being appointed archdeacon of Meath from 1914, in which position he continued to work following his retirement from active service as rector of Kells (in 1917) until 1928. Section /19 covers the entire period of Healy’s service as diocesan secretary, and also includes some earlier material that he inherited from his predecessor as diocesan secretary, the Venerable Garrett Nugent, archdeacon of Meath 1882–98. Some of the correspondence reveals Healy’s direct dealings with the bishop, notably the Most Revd John Bennett Keane, bishop of Meath 1897–1917.
Access to the collection
As with all other diocesan collections, the materials therein are subject to a 40 year closure, but the bulk of the archive is freely available for public consultation. Specific parts of the collection that are subject to 100 year closure are legal papers (D7/8), relating to legal opinions and proceedings of the Court of the General Synod; the records concerning the Meath Protestant Orphan Society (D7/14/13A), and the files concerning endowments and bursaries for education (in section D7/13/1 & /7 & /8.
To view the complete catalogue list please click here.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood