Irish Roots

Protestants and the Irish Society for Archives

 

I saw my first Protestant at the age of 10, when he joined fifth class in St Paul’s National School in Castlerea. After ascertaining that he wasn’t trying to enslave me, steal my land or force me to speak a foreign language, I counted his digits, orifices and appendages. Astonishingly, he had precisely the same number as me. His name was John Smith, but his father was the heroically exotic Houston Wells, the lead singer of our local country-and-Irish showband, the Premier Aces.

That deliriously confusing early lesson in cultural diversity came to mind at the recent launch of the 2014 edition of Irish Archives, the journal of the Irish Society for Archives, which is dedicated to the records of the Church of Ireland. The launch was held in the deanery of St Patrick’s Cathedral and performed by the Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan, the first person born into the Church ever to hold that post – another small but important victory for the Other Ireland.

Unusually for such events, the Minister had actually read the publication. She spoke with great feeling about the distorting stereotypes of wealth and foreignness imposed on Church members in Ireland for much of the 20th century (hence my memory of Houston Wells). She focused on Martin Maguire’s superb article on the micro-history of the Protestant working class and, unsurprisingly, Robbie Roulson’s account of the records of the tangled relationship between C of I educational establishments and the Irish State.

These articles, like almost everything mentioned in the journal, eventually lead back to the Representative Church Body Library (bit.ly/10rbQqT). Ray Refaussé’s lucid and amusing account of the RCBL’s history clarifies its glories and peculiarities, while Susan Hood’s thorough overview of its web activities shows just how broadly the institution conceives its mission.

The society (irishsocietyforarchives.com) is wonderful and so is its journal. Both deserve to be much better known.

irishroots@irishtimes.com irishtimes.com/ancestor