Archive of the Month
‘A list of Persons who renounced the errors of Romanism in St Audoen’s Church [Dublin] and who afterwards subscribed the roll of converts’, 1827–47.
Archive of the Month – March 2016
An unusual source was recently brought to the attention of the RCB Library staff by professional genealogist, Máire Mac Conghail, who is a regular user of the Library’s family history resources. Having consulted the combined register for St Audoen’s parish Dublin comprising baptisms 1837–1917; marriages 1837–1860 and burials 1837–1885 (RCB Library P116/1/4) she discovered an extensive list of names appended at the end of the run of marriages in the volume, which appeared under this running title: ‘A list of Persons who renounced the errors of Romanism in St Audoen’s Church and who afterwards subscribed the roll of converts’, covering the period from 6 May 1827 to 31 July 1847.
She asked for further information, which initially library staff was not able to provide, because they had never seen such a list before. However, having researched the background, the true origins of this list have been uncovered and we present these for the March 2016 Archive of the Month.
Whilst civic convert lists were compiled by the state, under the requirements of the ‘Act to prevent the further growth of popery’, and for which Church of Ireland bishops and clergy were, from time to time, called upon to provide evidence in the form of a certificate testifying that a person had become protestant (evidence which as kept by the Court of Chancery in the form of Convert Rolls) there was no requirement on the part of the Church of Ireland either to keep such information. However, as the nineteenth century progressed especially after Catholic Emancipation in 1829, a degree of fluidity in church attendance crept in, and there was no obligatory requirement for a person to account for their religious denomination – attendance at church and belonging was enough.
So in this context the St Audoen’s list is a rare item deserving further attention. The background is personal, as the list was initially compiled by the Revd Mortimer O’Sullivan (1793–1859) who served as Prebendary of St Audoen’s from 1824–30. The prebend of St Audoen’s had been attached to St Patrick’s cathedral since the Reformation, and prebendaries automatically served as rectors of the parish.
O’Sullivan was a complex character, highly educated and a published intellectual especially following his ordination for Church of Ireland ministry c. 1823. Born in Clonmel in 1793, he was the younger son of John O’Sullivan, the Roman Catholic schoolmaster at Clonmel, County Tipperary, where he and his older brother Samuel were educated by Dr Richard Carey, a member of the Church of Ireland who had an influential role in the conversion of the brothers to the Church of Ireland as they grew up. Both attended Trinity College, Dublin, and won scholarships: Mortimer in 1813 and Samuel the following year. Mortimer received his BA in 1816, an MA in 1826 and following ordination served initially in a teaching capacity as Second Master in Tipperary Grammar School, then at the Royal School Dungannon where he was First Master, before his first clerical appointment as curate of the fashionable St Stephen’s church in Dublin where he served from 1824 to 1827. His clerical appointment coincided with his marriage to Elizabeth Bloomfield Baker, an evangelical preacher, in 1824, and the couple would have four children, including Emily who became Professor of Modern Literature at the Academy of Public Instruction in Paris. Full details of Mortimer and Samuel’s biographical details are provided in the entries for them as published in the clerical succession lists for Dublin and Glendalough, edited by Dr Ronnie Wallace (see below).
In December 1827 he was appointed to St Audoen’s, Cornmarket, and it was from here that his active involvement in religious controversies began in earnest. Having been a Catholic, and whilst maintaining good relationships with the rest of his family who remained so, O’Sullivan became overtly anti–Catholic in his outlook. He belonged to the Protestant Association, a movement that proactively encouraged an ‘Irish Reformation’ especially among Catholic priests. Later he became a Chaplain of the Orange Order.
It is significant that the list of converts that was maintained in the St Audoen’s register from 1827 (coinciding with O’Sullivan’s appointment, but continued by his successors after 1830 when O’Sullivan departed for the parish of Killyman in county Armagh) up to 1847, includes the names of no less than six priests and two student priests, several from Tipperary or dioceses near the county where O’Sullivan originated.
So we find Solomon Frost, described as ‘late a Priest of the Church of Rome, Diocese of Limerick’ being entered on the list on 5 May 1844, and a few months later, Samuel Phillips Day, ‘late in connexion with the Youghal Monastery of Presentation Monks’ from 7 July 1844. On 30 November 1845 Roderick Ryder ‘lately a priest of the Church of Rome, Diocese of Kilmacduagh’ was added, and the following year on 1 March 1846 William Davock who hailed from much nearer to the parish, being described as ‘C.S.K., St Michael and St John’s, Dublin’. On 7 March 1847 Rev. Nicholas Beatty, ‘late a priest of the Church of Rome’, and Rev. Patrick H. Brennan, ‘PP late of cure [?] Diocese of Elphin’ were added along with John O’Brien ‘lately a student for Thurles College’ and William Cleary, ‘lately a student of St Mary’s College, Galway’.
Additionally the final annotation to the list was signed by Thomas Scott Clrk. The Revd Thomas Scott, served as curate of St Audoen’s 1831–48 but in this source further describes himself as the ‘Hon. Sec. of the Priests’ P. Society for Ireland’ which must stand for the the (Reformed Romanist) Priests’ Protection Society (founded in the 1840s under the auspices of the Earl of Roden). Concluding the list Scott ‘certifies that the above [list of 165 names] is a correct register’ dated the 31 July 1847. Thereafter the list appears to have ceased to have been maintained, perhaps coinciding with the impact of the Great Famine and changing times.
Despite the strong connection with former Catholic priests, the St Audoen’s list appears principally concerned with lay people, whose names appear under some 26 different dates during the 20–year period between 1827 and 1847 indicating that on specific days some kind of religious ceremony was performed at which the person formally renounced their allegiance to the Church of Rome. It is interesting to see several family members all subscribing in one go – for example three Hughes women on 26 September 1841, and three members each of the Kerr and Kavanagh families on the same date.
Another conversion on that date, of Mary Eggleton may have been followed at the next ceremony, held on 12 June 1842, either by her husband or brother: James Eggleton. All of these stories and more are revealed by this rare source that underpins the complexity and fluidity of religious expression in mid–nineteenth century Ireland, and records personal faith journeys.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood