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Rosamund Stephen’s Record

The current ‘Archive of the Month’ presentation from the RCB Library is a discussion of  Rosamond Stephen’s correspondence and journal, ‘The Record’.

Rosamond Stephen was a grand–daughter of a British colonial under–secretary and academic, daughter of a High Court judge and a cousin to Virginia Woolf. She was brought up as a theist, but this proved unsatisfactory for her spiritual needs and she eventually found an amenable and amiable home within the Church of Ireland, being confirmed in 1896. Holidaying in Louth in the late nineteenth century seems to have awakened a love for Ireland and she eventually moved to Belfast in the early twentieth century, describing herself simply as ‘a church worker’.

In 1901 she formed the Guild of Witness the purpose of which was a prayerful encouragement of ‘patriotism and [to] discover fresh ways by which the Church could fulfil her mission to the nation’. This became the Irish Guild of Witness in 1918 with an emphasis on Irishness, including the language.  Rosamond lived in Belfast until 1919 when she came to Dublin. She had a small but eclectic lending library. With 5,000 volumes, in 1931 it became the nucleus of the present–day RCB Library – in Archbishop Gregg’s words after Rosamond’s death ‘a most valuable possession’.

Another ‘most valuable possession’ is Stephen’s ‘Record’, a largely copy–typewritten set of letters returned to her by the recipients (her mother until her death in 1912, and then mainly her sisters, Dorothea in India and Kate in Cambridge) and her own journal entries that cover the years from 1902 to 1940. These letters and observations chronicle Ireland north and south. Stephen turned out to be an acute and perceptive observer of the Irish revolutionary period in its big things and little things.  

Rosamond was an ‘ordinary’ observer and so the ‘Record’ is concerned not only of events but, perhaps more significantly, with reactions, tone, atmosphere in this turbulent period of the island’s history. Her conversations with the citizenry bring larger political, social, economic and cultural disputations alive.  This ‘Archive of the Month’ takes a thematic approach, aiming to interrogate and analyse the ‘Record’ and how it fits into the chronicling of an Ireland slowly solidifying into the two jurisdictions that were to determine the island’s development over the succeeding century.

The RCB Library acknowledges the support of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for its support in bringing this important resource to public attention.

To view and search Rosamond Stephen’s ‘Record’ from 1912–23 (with some additional smaller excerpts for the period 1902–07) click on this link:

On Sunday 10 September the annual Elizabeth Bowen Commemoration will be held in Farahy church, near Mitchelstown, at 3.30pm. The service will bel ed by the Revd Dr Robert MacCarthy and the address will be given by Dr Nicola Darwod, from the University of Bedfordshire who is the President of the Elizabeth Bowen Society of Great Britian. The music will be directed by Dr Ian Sexton.

The new Community Chorus in Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, will meet every week from 12 September onwards on Tuesdays at 7.30pm, ending at 9.30pm. Community Chorus is open to all regardless of experience or ability. Anyone with an interest in singing in a choir is encouraged to join us for practices and concerts, which will be friendly social occasions as well as providing a rare opportunity to sing in the Cathedral.  Please contact Tomos at tomos.watkins@christchurch.ie for more details.


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