Archive of the Month
Killucan parish register 1696–1786, transcribed and edited by Andrew Whiteside
Archive of the Month – May 2013
Killucan parish register 1696–1786,
|To access the full digital transcript of the registers click here.|
Details of the church (no. 2) and glebe house (no. 4) from ‘a map or survey of the glebe land belonging to the Church of Killucan, in the barony of Ferbill and county of Westmeath, containing in the whole five acres, and twenty–five perches plantation measure’, in the parish record collection. Dated. c. 1799, with later nineteenth–century annotation. RCB Library P238/27/1.
Today Killucan is a little–known Westmeath village, in which St Etchen’s parish church is located – one of four parish churches comprising the Mullingar Union of parishes. During the 18th century, however, it formed a parish in its own right, and was home to several leading families in provincial Ireland, including that of Anthony Dopping (1675–1743) who was serving as the rector of the parish when this volume commenced.
Dopping was well–connected and would go on to have a distinguished ecclesiastical career. His father, the Most Revd Anthony Dopping (1642–1697), was bishop of Meath between 1682 and 1697, and in 1741, the younger Anthony would follow his father into the ranks of the episcopacy when he was appointed bishop of Ossory directly from this parish, which he held until his death two years later in 1743.
Dopping’s brother–in–law (from his marriage to Dorothy Howard of Shelton Hall, county Wicklow) was the Rt. Revd Robert Howard, bishop of Elphin from 1730 to 1740, and a record of whom is covered by this volume. Other families represented among the clergy during this period include the Beamishes of Mount Beamish, county Cork, the Pakenhams of Pakenham Hall, county Westmeath, the Swifts of Swift’s Heath, county Kilkenny and the Wynnes of Hazelwood, county Sligo. Killucan’s role as a highly influential parish in the diocese of Meath was to continue well into the 20th century when the bishop was resident in a house within its boundaries.
Gold leaf on vellum cover of the earliest and combined register of Killucan parish. Note that originally the date was incorrectly entered and amended in ink at a later stage, probably the late 18th century. RCB Library P238/1/1.
This combined register gives us an insight to the lives of people who lived in the communities around the villages of Killucan and its neighbouring Rathwire (archaically used as the name of the parish at this time) and the postal town of Kinnegad for the 90–year period from 1696 to 1786. It documents the workings of a country parish, not only in its devotional life but also in its civic duties. These were similar to those of the local authority today including oversight of education, social welfare, road maintenance and tree planting, and elements of law and order in the form of the parish watch. As a result, its importance as a source of information on the socio–economic history of this part of eastern county Westmeath is considerable.
Perhaps its importance as a combined register is greater in a national context than in a local one as the binding together of a wide variety of parish records into a single volume meant that some rarer details were preserved that could easily have been excluded from a single register of baptisms or burials or a vestry minute book. For example, we learn that this parish was asked to assist with charitable appeals in support of distressed individuals and communities around the country (and even in Scotland) and these mentions provide tantalising insights into events for which little or no record has survived. So we get a full list of parish subscribers to the fund to support victims of the ‘great fire’ of Lisburn, co. Antrim, in 1707 seen here, there is a similar list for the fire disaster that befell Portarlington two years later in 1709. The majority of what were termed ‘briefs’ were presented to the parish in support of needy cases identified by civil authorities. The briefs were announced during the service and a special collection was then made, building up a picture of the parish’s support of various aspects of social welfare.
It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many registers are contained in this volume. Pagination provides some clues. In addition to the page numbers that have been used to cover the whole volume, there are remnants of sequences from several of the constituent registers (for example, pp. 14 and 15, containing baptisms for 1708, are marked as 11 and 12, while burials for the same period are marked as 53 and 54.) From p. 111, it seems that there is a single sequence of original page numbers for some 100 pages. The vestry minutes, beginning in 1700, comprise a separate register as they follow pages of accounts for a much later period. This register has some contemporary pagination to assist with cross reference (see, for example, pp. 262 and 264). The indications throughout are that there are four of five registers combined with several smaller collections of records or miscellaneous loose pages that happened to be extant. The process of combination of registers might have been an ongoing process. The several references to bookbinding, however, do not use the word ‘register’ and often specify the binding of the books used in the service.
What is clear is that there were initially two contemporaneous registers of baptisms and burials that later ended up being bound as part of the one volume. Perhaps one was a copy register for the information of the diocese. If this is the case, however, it is unclear why it was returned to parish custody some time later. It is also not evident why one register is, helpfully for the researcher, more detailed than the other. Particularly interesting is the listing of godparents of children baptised (relatively rare in Church of Ireland registers) which presumably indicate either family relationships or close friendships little documented by other sources. After 1713 each entry of baptism and burial is just entered once. Not all burials took place in the graveyard. Some were in the body of the church, others in outlying cemeteries, as the volume unusually reveals. Conversely, not all burials in the graveyard are recorded in the register, as it would appear from headstone evidence that many Roman Catholic burials were presumably registered separately. A listing of graveyard inscriptions has been recently undertaken by parishioners and will be a useful complement for the records in this combined register in due course. For a complete index to all of the names recorded in burials and baptisms click here.
Unusually, no entries of marriages are recorded in this combined register. This might indicate that none were extant at the time when individual pages were bound up as a single volume, or simply that for some unexplained reason marriage registers were excluded. Whatever the case, marriage entries are not extant. However, from a range of other sources, including private family records, pedigrees published in sources such as Burke’s Gentry and Peerage, as well as other parish register collections, we know who some of the people baptised or buried in Killucan were married to during this period. For an index to the names of people married in the parish during this period which provides a useful indicator of connections between parish families click here.
Preceding and following these records of parishioners’ lives are a wide variety of financial and administrative records. These include the vestry minutes of the parish, lists of communicants at services, churchwardens’ accounts, and poor money lists such as this example here for 1709.
Appointments of Thomas Judge Esq and Mr Peter Purdon as churchwardens, and Mr John Smyth, Mr James Petit, Cornet Rich. Berry and John Stoakes as overseers of the highways, in the context of other vestry business, 10 April 1710, RCB Library P238/1/1 p. 254.
From these additional sources, we not only get an insight to the role of the parish in areas of social responsibility, but also are able to trace the contribution made by individual parish families – generation after generation – who were entrusted with parochial offices and a wide variety of duties. Some of these families, such as the Pakenhams and Purdons, are well known in the county even today; others, such as the Berrys and Coopers are no longer familiar. Lists of subscribers to appeals, such as the Lisburn and Portarlington fires, provide an indication of the relative wealth of parishioners, though some may well have been particularly generous in order to safeguard their reputation. The outstanding names are Berry, d’Arcy, Judge, Nesbitt, Nugent, Purdon and Smyth, who lived in many of the big houses that provided focal points in the parish landscape, and whose occupants included the landowners their employees and administrators up to the 20th century: Wardenstown, Hyde Park, Grangebeg, Cushinstown, Craddenstown, Lisnabin and Griffinstown respectively. The influence of these families can also be traced in the lists of signatories of vestry minutes and indeed in the succession of churchwardens.
The duty of maintaining the registers appears to have been undertaken, at least partly, by the parish clerks, four of whom are named in the early years of the record–keeping: Richard Purdon, Marmaduke Fermor, Thomas Clarke and William Clarke, while for much of the later period there were two parish clerks, one in Killucan and another in Kinnegad. It is interesting that one of the appropriately–named clerks is likely to have been a son of Thomas Clarke, parish clerk of Maynooth (see p. 31). Many of the entries made in the registers by the clerks were counter–signed by the rector or curate of the day, presumably to indicate authentication. The accounts suggest that the parish clerks did not necessarily have responsibility for writing the vestry minutes (as a separate vestry clerk is referred to on several occasions). There is some indication that clergy often had influence in the writing of the minutes as can be observed in the change in spelling of names when a new rector or curate had taken office.
It would be wrong to think of the combined register’s importance today being limited to the information it reveals about members of the Anglican minority only. Members of the local Roman Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter communities (with occasional mentions of baptisms of parishioners brought up as Anabaptists or Quakers) are recorded too. In many cases, recipients of poor money were Roman Catholic, while more controversially there are a few entries indicating where people renounced their Roman Catholic faith to become fully–fledged members of the Church of Ireland (see for example p. ix).
Thus the register is an invaluable source of information about life in provincial Ireland on the cusp of the Enlightenment period – covering wealthy and impoverished alike, landed and landless, rural and urban (the settlement at Kinnegad shaped around the busy road), Anglophone (several spellings show how English was pronounced in the area at the time) and Gaelophone (for example, a blind woman being referred to as Else Doll using dall, the Gaelic word for blind). Undoubtedly it contains unique references to some of the poorest people in the district whose existence is overlooked by all other local records. The parish maintained lists of indigent, disabled and marginalised inhabitants for the distribution of poor money (these lists probably contain unique records of the deaths of several people not recorded in burial registers; such as the death of a man aged 92 on the image above). So, too, there are mentions of foundlings and people passing through. These glimpses help us to construct a picture of society and landscape in the various localities of the parish in the early 18th century that would otherwise be impossible.
The economy of the parish is partly revealed by the occupations of parishioners mentioned in baptismal and burial entries. It is important to exercise some caution though when taking these details into account as they are not necessarily representative of the whole population. Whereas the members of the Church of Ireland parish were both rich and poor, it is conceivable that they were over–represented in some occupations and under–represented in others (and probably absent from a few). Among the interesting observations that can be made about the rural economy is the presence of linen production evidenced by the presence of several flax dressers (pp. 47, 80, 81) and also weavers and millers (at Balloughter, Cushinstown, Riverstown and Thomastown).
Unfortunately, little can be ascertained about the type of agriculture engaged in by those listed as farmers except there were, as we would expect, many of them. The presence of farriers and blacksmiths do not definitively point to any particular agricultural practice as horses were equally important for transport, and wheelwrights and coachmen are also mentioned. As for the urban economy of Kinnegad, there are carpenters,
masons, smiths and turners; bridle cutters and saddlers; clothiers, collar makers, glovers, hatters, shoemakers, tailors and tanners; barbers and wigmakers;
as well as some unusual occupations including this dancing master, suggesting considerable commercial (and cultural) activity.
Entry of the baptism of the son of James Davie, of Killukan, Dancing Master, 6 February . RCB Library P238/1/1 p. 59.
The fact that there were several coopers, ale sellers and innkeepers does not necessarily indicate a dependence on alcohol (untreated water was not safe to drink; weak ale was). Whereas butchers are recorded, bakers are not – perhaps indicating that bread was made domestically (the accounts mention money being paid for bread but do not mention a bakery).
For the general index of all the names mentioned in the register excluding the baptisms and burials click here.
As this online publication of Killucan’s earliest register coincides with the bicentenary of the current parish church in Killucan (completed in 1813) and the 2013–dedication of a substantially–renovated building to meet the needs of a congregation that has grown with young commuting families settling in the parish, we are reminded in the parish records that such a reconstruction project was necessary about every 100 years.
The parish accounts record ongoing maintenance, funded by levies on land held, and larger projects, which were additionally funded by private subscription, sometimes in return for the right to a pew in the church. There are references to work being carried out on three church buildings in the register: two at Killucan (the main church and the adjacent chapel) for which we see here, and also for the church at Kinnegad. All the time and expense of works mentioned in the minutes and accounts of this combined register would be obsolete by the late 18th century,
indicating how quickly the building had become unsuitable for worship.
Vestry minute resolution recording that an area of the churchyard be used for a school house, 16 June 1700. RCB Library P238/1/1 p. 242.
Soon after, work commenced to rebuild it, culminating in the completion of the new church opened in 1813.
Notwithstanding the change to bricks and mortar, the continuity of heritage of preceding generations of worshipping parishioners and others in this local community, in which ‘they lived and moved and had their being in communion with their God’ is captured by the survival of the earliest register, which we now bring to life in digital format.
For the complete list of parish registers from Killucan all of which are located in the RCB Library, and of which this register is the first, click here.
Click here to download the registers as a PDF file.
For further information about the calendar of events marking the bicentenary of Killucan Church see www.mullingarunionofparishes.net
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
Churchtown Dublin 14