Archive of the Month
The Killoughter Vestry Minute Book
by Dr Jonathan Cherry
Killoughter parish is located in north Cavan close to the village of Redhills. Its vestry book provides a unique record of the origins, development and concerns of this rural parish in the diocese of Kilmore, from its establishment in 1813 to 1972. A vestry book covering the period from 1972 to the present day is currently in use in the parish.
In May 2016, the vestry book was digitised, and now for the first time a digital version of the manuscript covering the period 1813 to 1916 may be accessed online at this link. The section of the vestry book covering the years from 1917 down to 1972, being subject to 100–year closure for materials uploaded online (as a mark of respect to people or their children who may still be alive), are not available online. Readers will note that some accounts from the early years of the church between 1819 and 1827 are to be found in the vestry book between the record and minute of meetings in 1884 and 1885. It is most likely that these early pages were mistakenly placed at this point when the vestry book was rebound in 1914.
What is a Vestry Book? Raymond Refaussé in his guide to Church of Ireland Records notes in answering this question that ‘Vestry minute books record the civil and religious activities of the parish, the administrative decisions of the vestry, and details of those responsible for taking those decisions’ (Refaussé 2006, 30). Alongside parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, vestry books form an important and significant component of the records of the Church of Ireland.
Pdf copies of the hand–lists of all the parish record collections held by the RCB Library are systematically being uploaded online to assist researchers – providing an insight to the content for specific parishes. This work is in progress and has to date covered parishes beginning with letters A–G, all of which are available through the definitive List of Parish Registers at this link. Each parish hand–list provides an invaluable tool for those interested in the history of a specific parish and/or local studies.
The records of the vestry meetings include the names of those who held the principal vestry offices. The minutes were usually signed by the clergy who traditionally chaired the meetings and in some instances by the churchwardens or other members of the vestry who had attended the meeting. Frequently the addresses of these individuals are included in the records and such information proves invaluable for genealogists as they attempt to connect people and places.
The book itself (into which the Killoghter minutes were faithfully entered) was originally purchased in 1813 from Chambers, Hallagan and Chambers, stationers who had their premises at No. 4 Abbey Street, Dublin. The first entry from 30 March 1813 outlines the creation of a new parish which was to be ‘known by the name of the Parish or Chapelry of Killoghter’. The proposed construction of a new church building, funded through a loan from the Board of First Fruits, was detailed. Carved out of the existing parish of Annagh (Belturbet), the new parish encompassed over 40 townlands extending to over 9,000 acres.
Until the passing of the Irish Church Temporalities Act in 1833*, the repayment of the loan for constructing the church, the maintenance of the church building and its furnishing, clergy and sexton salary costs, the cost of bread and wine for Holy Communion, the cost of clerical attire such as surplices and various civil undertakings including the care of the poor of the parish were paid with by funds raised through a local tax. This was known as a cess and was levied on the occupants of the parish, regardless of their religious denomination. Like most taxes it was unpopular and in particular was resented by Roman Catholics and Presbyterians who gained no benefits in paying it. In the first financial year 1813–1814, £60 and 18s was paid out in such expenses in Killoughter.
(*Note: the Irish Church Temporalities Act, 1833 removed the legal powers of the parish to levy taxes on the inhabitants of the parish and as such ‘it became solely a religious unit’ as ‘the parish was disestablished’. For more detail on this act see Donald Akenson, The Church of Ireland, Ecclesiastical Reform and Revolution, 1800–1885 (New Haven, 1971), pp 177–79.)
A ‘Transcript of Applotment’ in 1813, recording the names of the townlands comprising the parish, is an important record of the spelling of these placenames in the early 19th century. It also records placenames such as Coolcassig which no longer exist. This illustrates the importance of such sources for historical researchers. In county Cavan, rather than basing the rate of the cess on each acre of land, it was based on the number of carvaghs contained within each townland. A carvagh was a measurement of the amount of arable land in each townland. Cumulatively, the parish of Killoughter contained 304.5 carvaghs, ranging from the 13.5 noted within the townland of Cloonandra (Clonandra) to the 1.5 in the townland of Shannow, reflecting the agricultural productivity of these lands and thus potential of occupants of the lands to pay the cess.
An entry from a vestry meeting which occurred just after Killoughter Church had been consecrated in April 1814 by Bishop George de la Poer Beresford, recorded the signatures of the Churchwardens and members of the vestry beside a statement which stated that ‘We agree to pay six pence a carvagh towards the Roman Catholic Chapel’. This reflects as Donald Akenson noted in his The Church of Ireland, Ecclesiastical Reform and Revolution, 1800–1885 the fact that ‘illegal though it was, in some areas the vestry became a truly ecumenical unit by allocating some of its funds for the construction of Roman Catholic chapels and Presbyterian meeting houses’(1971, 54). Similar funding is detailed in the accounts for November 1831 with ‘sixpence a carvagh be given to repair the Roman Catholic Chapel’ and a similar amount for the same purpose recorded again in April 1832. Indeed in May 1841 it was one ‘C O’Reilly PP’ (Charles O’Reilly, Parish Priest of Annagh East from 1830 to 1842) who signed the record of the meeting which recorded the names of the individuals from the townlands within the parish and several of those which bordered it, who had been nominated to collect the county cess in each townland.
The information contained within the vestry book of Killoughter parish sheds some light on the socio–economic structures of rural Cavan society during the 19th century. The main landowners in the parish were the Whyte family of Redhills House who owned around 2,500 acres in county Cavan at the time and like many landlords were deeply committed to and involved in parish affairs; indeed the first churchwarden appointed in 1813 was Francis Whyte then head of the family. In 1831 Whyte and his wife Eliza commissioned the sculptor Thomas Kirk – one of whose, best known commissions was the statue of Nelson which topped Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin’s O Connell Street – to create a wall monument for Killoughter church in memory of their two adult sons who had died in 1822 and 1830. The fact that they were able to afford such a monument reflects their socio–economic status. A vestry meeting record of April 1831 noted that Whyte was to ‘be allowed to build a pew for himself and family in this church in front of same’ illustrating that where one sat in church at this time was an indicator of wealth and social status. The empty pews, characteristic of many churches today are a far cry from earlier times as indicated by several other details relating to pews and their occupation recorded in the vestry book. The minutes from the Easter Vestry held in April 1873 noted that the churchwardens were requested to provide one Mr James Hyde with ‘two sittings in the third pew from the front on the south side’ while the entire third pew from the front on the north side of the church was to be given to Mr Lowands and his family. Discontentment amongst some parishioners around 1904 with regard to their occupation of specific pews in the church necessitated a visit from the archdeacon of Kilmore who after reading ‘the laws of the Church of Ireland with reference to sittings in places of worship’ appealed to those who had been aggrieved ‘to let the past be past and strive after peace’.
Reflecting the civic dimension of the parish some details on the educational and charitable aspects of parish life, are recorded. In July 1820 the vestry agreed that a ‘voluntary contribution of one shilling per carvagh, be levied … for the purpose of remunerating Patrick Flood for educating all the children of this parish’ indicating that some rudimentary educational instruction was provided at this time. Expenses relating to the nursing and maintenance of foundling or abandoned children appear on numerous occasions in the minutes. In 1818, £1 10s and 3 ½d was spent on sending a child to a foundling hospital, while £1 2s and 9d was spent on clothing for two orphan children. In 1830, three families described as being ‘in fever’ were provided with financial support by the parish. It often fell to the parish to provide coffins for the very poorest in society to facilitate a decent burial and the purchase of coffins are a regular feature of Killoughter parish accounts down to the mid–1830s. Some level of poverty was still evident in the 1870s as a weekly allowance ‘to the poor of the parish’ was noted in August 1872. For others, emigration in escaping poverty or wishing to make a new life and fortune for themselves was to prove an option, and in 1828 the vestry book recorded that John Scott and Jeremiah Roberts had ‘went to America’ reflecting the phenomena of pre–famine emigration from Ulster.
The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 and the impact of this in terms of the introduction of new structures for church governance are captured in the minutes of the vestry meetings convened from 1870 onwards. The new suite of offices established including those of rector’s and people’s churchwardens, the twelve members of the select vestry, two synodsmen and the parochial nominators are recorded in addition to those – all men at this time – who had been nominated or elected to them
A notable feature of the vestry book minutes from the 1870s onwards is the greater level of detail on decisions made by the vestry and resolutions passed by them. This provides an insight into the different personalities involved in the life of the parish. The glowing tribute paid to the Revd A J Pike, who left the parish in 1894 for missionary work in Uganda, for example, gives an indication of his character, personality, and work in the parish and local school that might be otherwise unrecorded.
The Whyte family of Redhills who had altered their surname to Whyte–Venables in 1847 continued to support the church throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1893, the head of the family, the Revd Edmund Burke Whyte–Venables and his wife Georgina were thanked by the vestry ‘for their praise worthy exertions in raising money and helping in every way they possibly could to have the church so beautifully renovated and the new chancel erected; and also for their continued support and exertion from year to year since the church was disestablished in giving and collecting funds for the sustentation of the parish and for the active party they from time to time took in getting up concerts etc etc for the benefit of the parish’. Their descendants continued to play an active role in the parish until 1984, when the last of the family to reside in Redhills House Miss Gladys Whyte–Venables died.
The last minutes available for consultation in this digital online version are a record of the general and select vestry which met on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916. We will never know whether the rector and the nine vestry men who had assembled were aware of the military rising that had started that morning 85 miles to the south–east of where they were meeting at Dublin’s GPO. Following the appointment of the rector’s and people’s churchwardens it was proposed that the select vestry from the previous year be re–elected. It was proposed and agreed that the sextons pay be increased to £7 and a vote of sympathy to the family and friends of a member of the select vestry who had died during the previous year was made. The meeting closed with the rector thanking the secretary / treasurer and those who had played the organ in the church during the year. All in all these were very regular and ordinary minutes of a vestry meeting held on one of the most significant and extraordinary days in Irish history.
Today Killoughter parish comprises around 15 families and is part of the Drung Group of Parishes www.drungchurches.com under the care of Revd Nick Jones. In April 2014 a book entitled Killoughter Parish 1814–2014 A Journey Through Time was compiled by one of the parishioners Jennifer Dunne and a committee comprised of Hilary McPhillips, Ivy Roberts and Robert Sturgeon. It was launched as part of the bi–centenary celebrations. For readers interested in purchasing a copy of the parish history they should contact Hilary McPhillips via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The first chapter in this book was a re–production of a 1914 publication entitled History of Killoughter Parish Co Cavan Diocese of Kilmore which had been compiled by the then rector of the parish Revd Dr William Gamble.
Jonathan Cherry is a lecturer in Geography at the School of History and Geography, DCU. He is an historical geographer and his research interests lie in the evolution and transformation of the Irish landscape over the past four centuries. His research examines the influence of the landowning elite on both rural and urban landscapes; the demise of this elite and their legacy in the form of planned towns and villages, ‘big houses’ and demesne landscapes during the period.
Librarian and Archivist
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
Librarian and Archivist