Archive of the Month
50 years at Braemor Park: documenting an evolutionary story
Archive of the Month – February 2014
February 2014 is an auspicious month in the calendar of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI) – formerly the Theological College (until 2008) and before that the Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel, founded in 1913. The 17 February 2014 will mark fifty years since the official opening and dedication of the premises at Braemor Park, Churchtown (formerly Rathgar) in Dublin.
To mark the occasion, this month’s Archive of the Month at the Representative Church Body Library (which is part of the CITI campus) features of the resources available in the Library to document with accuracy the evolutionary story of this central Church institution, and thus contribute positively to its anniversary.
RCB Library, Divinity Hostel Minute Book no. 2, 1964–2000
Journal of the General Synod, 1964
Editorial outlining the need for the new premises in the Church of Ireland Gazette, 21 February 1964
Service Sheet for the opening ceremony and dedication of the Divinity Hostel, 17 February 1964
In addition to keeping safe two concurrent minute books of the Divinity Hostel (evolving into the Theological College), for the period 1913 to 2000, the Library also holds an array of supplementary printed materials that help to flesh out the story. These latter include the Reports of the General Synod published annually, which document the administration and funding of the institution; the news pages of the Church of Ireland Gazette which in February 1964 include pictures and reports covering the re–opening in Braemor Park some fifty years ago; and even the order of serviced used in the chapel of the “new hostel” on the very day when the Most Revd James McCann, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland opened the it, and when the chapel was dedicated by the Most Revd George Otto Simms, Archbishop of Dublin.
The minute books, as original manuscripts, are subject to normal 40–year closure rules, so they are available for public consultation up to and including the year 1974.
The first book covers the management of the Divinity Hostel from inception in 1913, when house number 25 Mountjoy Square was acquired for the accommodation of students of divinity at Trinity College Dublin, up to December 1963, when the re–location took place. In two annexed memoranda to this volume we find the original raison d’etre of the hostel, recognised as “a lodging house” by the authorities of Trinity College Dublin, and:
‘intended primarily for students attending lectures in the Divinity School of the University of Dublin, and seeks to offer to those not residing within the walls of Trinity College the opportunity for such advantages of a religious and social kind as might be looked for in the common life of students preparing for Holy Orders’.
For digitized copies of these memoranda please click here.
Initially some 15 students were accommodated at Mountjoy Square, at a weekly boarding fee of 15 shillings. Numbers soon increased, and within a year the management committee had seen fit to purchase the adjacent house of number 26 Mountjoy Square a further minute of a special sub–committee documenting the successful purchase. By the following year in 1915, the student intake had increased to 27 students.
Here the evolutionary story would continue in the city centre until demands for an enlarged and more modernised premises culminated in the news reported by the Representative Church Body to the meeting of the management committee in October 1961, that: ‘the Body had purchased the Fetherstonhaugh House, Rathgar’, as a Divinity Hostel’.
Formerly a nursing home for the Adelaide Hospital, the original Victorian premises on the hill overlooking the River Dodder in Rathgar was, in the words of the architect Ian Roberts: ‘ill–adapted for subdivision as accommodated. So this building was reconfigured as a chapel, common room, games room, and lecture hall, with offices and a residential flat for the warden upstairs, to which were annexed a new dining hall, kitchen and additional staff bedrooms above. Alongside the original house, a new wing of 45 study bedrooms for students plus an additional staff flat were constructed to meet the growing needs of students in training, and tastefully positioned with the windows facing south–easterly towards the Dublin Mountains.
The contents of the second minute book which commences in 1964 with the opening of the ‘new hostel’. The new management committee for the Braemor Park premises is listed on the page before the minutes of the opening meeting, its extensive amendments accounting for changes of members address, or as members died or resigned. The first meeting was held at the new hostel, Braemor Park, Rathgar, Dublin at 4.30pm on Tuesday 4 February 1964 – two weeks before the official opening.
From the pages of the Church of Ireland Gazette we learn that students had in fact transferred out to Braemor Park some eight weeks before the official opening. It reported how on 4 December 1963, they had begun their in chapel at Mountjoy Square, and afterwards left for College lectures. They returned in the evening ‘as usual to the Divinity Hostel for Evening Prayer and dinner’, but it was not to Mountjoy Square they returned:
‘for in the course of the day the move to Braemor Park had taken place. After 50 years a new era had begun in the life of the Hostel’.
Further coverage in the Gazette includes the advertisement of the main contractors for the work, with photographs of the interior, which indicate how little the premises would change in the next 44 years until the Theological College finally got an upgrade in 2008. Back in 1964, Archbishop McCann would declare in the dining hall at the reception following the service of dedication that he had been ‘born forty or fifty years too early … And I envy the young men who are here today’.
The Report of the General Synod in 1964 confirms the details of the opening ceremony on 17 February 1964, and reveals initial running costs set at £6,500 in its first year, as reported to the General Synod.
The full text of the service to mark the opening can be viewed by clicking here.
The re–location of the Divinity Hostel in 1964 would have repercussions for the RCB Library, founded in 1932, and originally occupying the top floor of the Church’s central administration at 52 St Stephen’s Green. When Church House re–located, the decision was made to move the theological and reference library of the Church of Ireland, as well as the principal repository for its written heritage in proximity to the Divinity Hostel, to facilitate the students in training. Today it’s printed collections of books and periodicals and used on a daily basis by the current generation of ordinands. As Professor John Bartlett, former Principal of the Theological College put it writing in the commemorative booklet published to mark 25 years of the library in Braemor Park A Library on the Move (1995):
‘The College [now Institute] and Library have belonged together in spirit since 1932; and in close physical proximity, harmony since 1970. … [They] are inseparable, enjoying close and friendly relationships at all levels, and we rejoice in the fact that the Library was located and built in the College [Institute] grounds.’
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood