Added on 17/01/2006
Through the good offices of Canon John Crawford, vicar of the St Patrick’s Cathedral Group of parishes in Dublin, and author of The Church of Ireland in Victorian Dublin (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), the RCB Library has just acquired a substantial collection of letters written by the Richard Mant (1776-1846), Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, 1823-48.
There are over 100 letters written by Bishop Mant between 1823 (the year he was translated from the see of Killaloe to Down) and 1846 (less than two years before his death), all of which are addressed to Canon William St. John Smyth, Precentor of Connor and Rector of Ballymoney, 1843-47, and also Chancellor of Down, 1828-43. As well as serving as a senior cleric in the bishop’s united diocese, Smyth was also related to Mant by marriage, having married a daughter of Mant’s brother Henry, in 1827. As recipient, the letters belonged to Smyth, and reveal his close, if formal, relationship with his wife’s uncle.
As well as providing important biographical and family information, the bishop’s letters cover a range of interesting topics, providing an insight to the demands of episcopal life in early 19th-century provincial Ireland – a constant round of visitations; confirmations; bishops’ meetings, creating new parishes and opening new churches; his interest in history (his History of the Church of Ireland from the Reformation to the Revolution, published in 1840, is still highly regarded); as well as enlightening comments on the burning political issues of his day such as Catholic Emancipation, the Church Temporalities Act of 1833 and reform of national education.
In addition to the bishop’s correspondence there are letters from other correspondents to Canon Smyth. These include letters from other members of the Mant family, other clergy, as well as a revealing exchange of correspondence between Smyth and his parishioners at Ballymoney concerning a controversy over ‘innovations in conduct of service’, 1845-46.
The collection is currently being catalogued at the RCB Library, where it will soon be available to the public. It is likely to bring significant research interest, especially as relatively little manuscript material for Bishop Mant survives – the only other collections being located in the Public Record Office in Belfast, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the British Library in London.
Canon John Crawford presenting the collection to Dr Raymond Refaussé, Librarian and Archivist, RCB Library, Dublin
Portrait of the Rt. Revd Richard Mant, bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, 1823-48.