Archive of the Month
Architectural Drawings Project Moves West: The Tuam Diocesan Collection
By Dr Michael O’Neill
The latest phase of the project to digitize, catalogue and make available online the RCB Library’s collections of architectural drawings of churches has resulted in the processing of drawings from the western diocese of Tuam.
To date (as of May 2017) over 5030 drawings have been made available online for the churches in 20 of a total of 30 dioceses. Further background description information about the project is also available here: archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org
From the 12th century, the diocese of Tuam was part of the larger ecclesiastical province of Tuam. The dioceses of Tuam and Cashel were absorbed into the provinces of Armagh and Dublin respectively in 1833.
The architectural drawings of churches for Tuam (in Portfolio 26 and RCB Library MS/138) date from the middle decades of the 19th century and give a good indication of the state of the diocese at that time, while further 20th –century drawings continue the picture up to more recent times (including several glebe houses). A previous online exhibition features the Library’s collection of glebe house drawings here:
There are drawings for 39 churches in the Portfolio collection, while MS/138 has drawings for 26 churches in Tuam, giving information on 16 additional buildings. Tuam diocese is thus well served, with drawings for some 55 churches indicating their appearance and internal layouts in the mid– 19th century. Indeed, in 1837 Tuam diocese was made up of 33 benefices, which included 16 single parishes and 17 unions of from 2 to 8 parishes comprising the unions. Of these, there were 30 churches in repair (14 of which had been built or rebuilt in the first three decades of the 19th century) and 21 glebe houses.
Tuam cathedral (east end) and St Nicholas Galway are glorious medieval churches. This plan of Tuam cathedral c.1828 was drawn by Joseph Welland before the addition of the crossing, transepts and nave by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (1861–78). The Romanesque choir was then used as an entrance porch. The choir stalls were located mid–way along the eastern limb, the bishop’s throne further east and a tall pulpit allowed the clergyman to address the congregation at gallery as well as ground level.
The parish church dedicated to St Nicholas in Galway was one of the largest medieval parish churches in Ireland, and this plan by Joseph Welland c.1830 shows its internal arrangements before the influence of the ecclesiologists in church furnishings and layouts. Like many cathedrals at this time, the aisled nave in effect served as a forechurch, church services took place east of the crossing. Box pews in the former chancel and bench seatings in the transepts all focussed on the double decker pulpit flanked by choir stalls located at the west side of the crossing facing east. The communion table was located under the readers’ desk.
As well as the diocesan cathedral and Galway parish church, other medieval churches still in use in the 1830s were at Crossboyne, Dunmore, Headford, Kilconta, and possibly Moylough. Eighteenth century churches were built at Ballinrobe, Drummonaghan, Kilkerrin, Ballincholla, with Annaghdown, Lewisburgh and Westport built in the last years of that century.
These so called ‘First Fruits’ churches, featuring a plain rectangular interior and western tower of the early 19thcentury had an interesting variety of furnishings, quite a number with a triple–decker pulpit located behind the communion table. Two 18th–century churches with more developed plans had the triple–decker pulpit and communion table located in different limbs within the church (Killrenan, Moore Drum).
The architectural drawings for Tuam diocese in Portfolio 26 are similar to those for other dioceses published to date on this website in two respects. Many depict proposed rearrangements of church interiors – removal of pew boxes and triple decker pulpits and their replacement with bench seating and a separate reader’s desk and pulpit located towards the east end, with more prominence given to the communion table and often the provision of chancel rails.
This was part of a country–wide phenomenon in the 1850s and 1860s which saw what were essentially preaching box interiors changed into spaces more in line with ecclesiological theories current in the aftermath of the Oxford movement. Secondly there are quite a number of drawings for new church builds from 1845 right up to Disestablishment in 1870 (under the auspices of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners) including churches at Spiddal, Ballyovie, Clifden, Cong, Kilmaine, Errismore, Renvyle, Oughterard, Castlekirke and Rahoon.
Spiddal church was designed by John Semple in 1845, either the Dublin architect or a member of the Semple family of building contractors in Galway. The vast majority of new churches were designed by Joseph Welland or the partnership of Welland & Gillespie. This is explained by the fact that Joseph Welland had been diocesan architect for Tuam province under the Board of First Fruits, and after 1837 he was architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the entire country. The Welland name continued as he was succeeded by his son William in partnership with William Gillespie.
Unusually in this diocese, and not found in the drawings for any of the 16 dioceses catalogued to date, are churches described as ‘mission churches’ or as ‘licensed houses of worship’. Drawings for Achill Missionary church date to 1851, and those for an additional missional church in Achill c.1855. Drawings for Roundstone in 1865 and Bunlahinch in 1866 are described as licensed houses of worship.
The Achill Island Mission, located near the village of Dugort was founded by the Revd Edward Nangle who moved permanently to the new colony in 1834. Nangle died in 1883 and the colony was failing by that time. Indeed the Welland plan for the church on file in the portfolio dating from the mid–1850s shows a proposed spire for the building, which does not appear to have been executed, and to this day the little church remains a humble structure. The driving force behind the expansion of the Irish Church Mission (ICM) after 1849 in west Galway (and subsequently in Dublin’s slums) was the Revd Alexander Dallas who moved for a while to Castlekirke on Lough Corrib, where he set up a school. Other mission centres were at Clifden and Tourmakeady, and more generally in Connemara.
The church drawings for Tuam diocese will undoubtedly be of interest to parishioners, vestry members and historians of the various parish churches within the diocese. Moreover taken as a collection they assist in tracing the history of the Church of Ireland in 19th and 20th centuries. These visual records document the reform and extension movements of the first decades of the 19th, and then the further expansion and remodelling in the decades leading up to Disestablishment. In the case of this diocese, they also document part of the story of the ‘Second Reformation’ campaigns in Achill and Connemara.
When we consider that today the diocese consists of just four unions and 14 churches, the content of this particular Portfolio provides an important visual record of many buildings that may no longer be in use as churches, yet continue as part of the rich architectural tapestry of rural Ireland.
As with all of the drawings catalogued and digitized to date, the Tuam drawings may now be viewed here: archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org/
Librarian and Archivist
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
Librarian and Archivist