Archive of the Month
St Peter’s Drogheda registers 1702–1900 indexes online
Archive of the Month – March 2014
To view various indexed transcripts click here.
Continuing our commitment to publish and make more widely available the vast collection of parish registers available in our custody, the RCB Library, in conjunction with the parish of St Peter’s, Drogheda, is pleased to release online pdf indexes to the parish registers 1702–1900, as March’s Archive of the Month.
A database of all of the entries of baptism, marriage and burial for this parish during this period has been available for some time locally and also in the library, thanks to the initiative of the Revd Mervyn Kingston (1947–2013) who was serving as rector of Ballymascanlan union of parishes from 1990. It was Mervyn’s vision that that making accessible and sharing church records from the different denominations provided an opportunity for ecumenical and cross–community engagement and promoting tourism.
From about 1997 onwards, he initiated the task of transferring the extensive records of the seven parishes that then comprised his own parish group. The work of transcribing was ably carried out by Miss Carmel Clyne through FAS (the Irish government’s training and employment agency), over a period of 12 months. Mervyn founded the South Armagh Genealogy project covering the parishes of south Armagh and county Louth as a public database, and many of the church records transcribed for the project can still be viewed at this address:
We now make available pdf copies of the indexes of surnames of all the people baptised and buried in the parish, and in addition the surnames of brides and grooms married in the parish from the beginning of the 18th century and up to 1900, which we hope will assist researchers with ancestry and local history interests in this important community. These indexes cover the contents of six of the seven combined registers (where the baptisms, marriages and burials are in the one volume), two separate baptism registers, three marriage registers and two burial registers.
When Mervyn and his team worked on the St Peter’s collection, the records were still held in local custody, but subsequently during the early 2000s, these were transferred to the RCB Library, by the rector, the Revd Michael Graham, who made an additional smaller deposit in 2012, and where they are catalogued as P854. A summary hand–list of the contents of the parish collection is available at this link.
It will be noted that the oldest parish register covering the period 1654 to 1701 was not included in the parish indexing project. This particular item is more fragile than later volumes, having been damaged during the Cromwellian period with the first eight pages of entries from 1649–53 deliberately cut out. Record–keeping became more regular in the aftermath of the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and the re–bound volume may be viewed in its original format in the RCB Library.
It is in fact fortunate that the St Peter’s collection of registers survives at all. Following the first Public Record Office Act of 1875, the registers were transferred to the newly established Public Record Office of Ireland (PRO) in Dublin. According to Canon J.B. Leslie, one of the combined registers also had ended up in the Tower of London, but was reunited with the collection at the PRO in the late 19th century. Annotations on the title pages of several other volumes reveal that they were re–bound by the PRO in 1907.
Thereafter, amendment of the Public Records Act (1876) gave local incumbents the option of re–acquiring their records, on condition that they could provide fit and secure buildings for their safe custody, and happily this occurred at some point before 1922, when the earliest 14 volumes of registers were sent back to St Peter’s parish church, thus escaping the fate of over 500 other parish collections that were so tragically consumed by fire during the bombing of the Four Courts complex where the PRO was located.
The parish history of St Peter’s opens with this arresting statement: ‘St Peter’s Church of Ireland, Drogheda, is built on a site which has been a centre of worship at least since the founding of the town itself’. The town of Drogheda was an Anglo–Norman foundation, and its strategic location on the river Boyne, and at the most northern extremity of the Pale resulted its early designation as a borough with its own corporation, and royal charter.
The original medieval church dedicated to St Peter reflected the political and strategic importance of what soon became an English garrison town with an active commercial life from medieval times onwards. With cross, aisles, three chancels, transepts and possibly as many as seven side chapels, the original building was a large parish church. In spite of enduring severe structural damage during the siege of Drogheda under Cromwell, the original structure appears to have continued in use until the 1740s, when, what remained was pulled down and a new church re–built from 1748. Described by architectural historians as ‘one of the best provincial churches erected in Ireland during the 18th century, and one of the most richly endowed’, St Peter’s today remains one of the Church of Ireland’s finest. The medieval font is the only surviving relic still in use in the current church.
September 2002 marked the 250th anniversary of the original dedication of the Church, and to commemorate this, a major celebration was held in the church marking the end of a three–year program of restoration of the church after a devastating arson attack in May 1999. As had occurred in the 17th century, the church’s interior was again severely damaged, so the Select Vestry decided not only to repair the damage caused by the fire but also to undertake a complete restoration of the building. The roof was completely replaced, the church rewired, a new heating system installed, as well as new lighting and a new sound system, and the building completely redecorated. The stonework of the tower, which had always given problems since the day the church was built, has been completely restored and upgraded.
As well as weekly services of worship on Wednesday and Sunday, St Peter’s Church is also used by the wider community in Drogheda for the appreciation of the musical arts. An open area at the front of the church provides the entire town community with a 450–500 seat performance space noted by performers and audiences alike for its superb natural acoustics.
For further background see www.stpetersdrogheda.ie/history
For information about upcoming events in the Church, see www.stpetersdrogheda.ie/news/concerts/
For the links to the parish indexes click here.
We acknowledge the enthusiastic support of the rector of St Peter’s Drogheda, Revd Michael Graham, and also the late Revd Mervyn Kingston’s partner Richard O’Leary, for their assistance.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood