Added on 02/01/2014
During 2014 the RCB Library will continue its Archive of the Month initiative which aims to showcase its collections to a worldwide audience by presenting detailed catalogue lists of some collections that have recently come into its custody and been processed. To begin the year the focus is on the Meath Diocesan Archive.
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. Tragically this material had been transferred to the Public Records Office of Ireland in the 19th century, and 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 has 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 loss of so much early material notwithstanding, the surviving Meath archive provides a fascinating insight to the workings of a Church of Ireland diocese from the late 17th century onwards. The collection is sorted and arranged into some 19 record groups, beginning with the diocesan visitations being the bishop’s (later rural dean’s) inspection reports on each parish in the diocese, and includes one rare seventeenth–century return compiled by the Most Revd Anthony Dopping, Bishop of Meath, 1682–1685, covering the duration of his episcopacy, and in his hand. The collection ends with the working papers of Canon John Healy (1850–1942) who served as honorary secretary to both the Diocesan Council and Diocesan Synod 1897–1928, diocesan registrar 1904–14, and archdeacon 1914–28. These provide a vivid sense of the interconnectedness of various organs of the Church (the registry, the Diocesan Council, the Diocesan Synod, the RCB as well as the clergy and other officials representing individual parishes) and how they related to one another.
Of additional value for local and family historians is a range of materials such as the original return for the 1766 religious census of the town of Navan County Meath, 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; the detailed returns of every Protestant household in the diocese arranged by on a parish by parish basis for the years 1802 and 1803 (as commissioned by the Most Revd Thomas Lewis O’Beirne, bishop of Meath 1798–1823); and the later 19th century census compiled in the aftermath of disestablishment, again organised by parish, and providing the names of the head of each family, numbers in the each family unit, and other observations.
Concurrent with this census, completed in 1879, is the complementary collection of returns of baptisms and burials for every parish throughout the diocese including summary totals used by the diocese for parish re–organisation with the details of the actual entries. For some 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 nine–year run of entries from 1870 to 1879 may provide hidden gems of family information that otherwise have been lost.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood