Archive of the Month
The Strokestown (Bumlin) Vestry Book 1811 – 1870
By Alan Moran
While preparing a transcription of the Strokestown (Bumlin) Church of Ireland parish registers at the RCB Library, I looked into the vestry minute book for the period 1811 to 1870 for information on the building of St John’s church, the parish church located in the town of Strokestown and parish of Bumlin.
(According to a Church of Ireland Gazette report on 16 January 1914, it is Ireland’s only octagonal church, modelled on the shape of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem)
Studying this earliest minute book of the vestry, I found so much of interest that I simply had to note down. When I realised that my extracts amounted to a good part of the book, it seemed worthwhile to attempt a complete transcription, which would make the contents available in a more accessible form, particularly if published online, and help preserve the original. Doing the transcription also drove me to find out more about the function of Irish parish vestries in that period, and to better understand the contents and context of this particular parish’s vestry minutes.
Two other vestry books have been made available through the RCB Library’s Archive of the Month; Andrew Whiteside’s work on the parish registers and vestry minutes for Killucan, county Westmeath, 1696–1786 (which is available at this link) and the vestry minute book for Killoughter, county Cavan between 1813 and 2016, which has been digitized in full for that period, with detailed accompanying historical analysis by Dr Jonathan Cherry, at this link.
19th–century vestry books have received relatively little systematic attention from scholars, though they are often mined for local and parish histories. In the Introduction to the online transcription I describe the legal framework of the vestries at this time, as well as the church wardens’ accounts, the applotments of the parishes of the Union of Bumlin, Kiltrustan and Lissonuffy, and the donations from the Mahon Charity fund in the 1830s.
The vestry minute book was presented by the Revd Edward Mahon (1776/7–1847) on his appointment as vicar in 1811. The Mahon family, as the principal landowners in the area, had dominated Strokestown since the late 17th century, and laid out the town as a planned settlement, enhancing the setting of their mansion – the big house at Strokestown. Although they produced several clergy of the established church, including the previous incumbent of Strokestown, the Revd Maurice Mahon of Clonfree (father of Bartholomew Mahon who endowed the parish charity, and a first cousin of Maurice Mahon MP, the first Lord Hartland of Strokestown House), who served as vicar of Bumlin from 1790 until 1811. It is not known whether his successor, the Revd Edward Mahon, had any family connection with them. The Elphin clergy list identifies him as the son of a farmer from county Clare.
The leather–bound vestry book cost £1–2–9, and £0–4–4 for the lettering of the panel on the cover. The first page recorded these expenses, and furthermore how that there had been no regular vestry book prior to the Revd Mahon’s presentation to the united parishes of Bumlin, Kiltrustan and Lissonuffy in 1811, centred on St John’s church in Strokestown.
The first minute, of the meeting held on Easter Tuesday 16th of April 1811, records typical business of the Easter vestry, exercising its functions ‘pursuant to an act of Parliament’ – chiefly, the determination of the parish cess.
The minister, church wardens and the Protestant parishioners set the salaries payable to the parish servants (£20 to the parish clerk and £6 to the sextoness), with a sum of £28 for keeping the church in repair, and £4–11–0 for the expense of collecting the same. The amount of cess to be raised was levied on the occupiers of property in the three parishes of the union.
The vestry book contains much detail of how the parish raised and spent its cess over the period from 1811 to 1831, and of how the occupiers of land were assessed for their share of the cess in the years 1829 and 1831.
The church wardens – the parish’s two most senior officers – were responsible for the funds collected and the expenditure, and submitted their annual accounts to the vestry (see Appendices A and B to the transcript on these links). As well as the expenses of maintaining the church, disbursements for some civil purposes were also made, such as the support of foundlings, and coffins for the poor. The vicar too was held to account: in 1828, for example, the vestry required him to pay over with interest £230 which he had received for building purposes some years earlier but not used, and in case he defaulted, to take proceedings against him for its recovery.
The vestry was from time to time obliged to deal with special matters originating from Parliament, such as the scheme of tithe composition, whereby parishioners and the minister or other tithe owners could agree to settlement of tithes by a sum of money, instead of paying them in kind. Such an agreement for the parish of Lissonuffy, for example, was minuted on 22 December 1823, when the landholders present accepted the vicar’s proposal of one shilling and eight pence per acre in discharge of the tithes, and thanked him for ‘the Gentlemanly and Liberal Manner in which he has met the wishes of the Parishioners’.
Major Denis Mahon of Strokestown House (as principal landowner in the area) presided at a similar meeting in August 1841 when the tithes were being replaced by a rent charge on owners of land.
The vestry book contains two full applotments of the parishes, for the years 1829 and 1831, setting out the occupiers of land subject to the cess, and the size of their holdings in each townland.
A charitable bequest of Bartholomew Mahon, who died in 1815, left £800 in trust to the minister and church wardens ‘for the relief of the poor of said parishes, without any distinction as to religion’. The vestry book contains a list of the donations made from the fund in the years 1833 to 1837 (see Appendix E), giving the names and circumstances of the persons assisted – widows, sick, lame, blind, orphans, foundlings – some only once, others repeatedly. A poignant glimpse of the rural poor a decade before the Famine.
The Strokestown vestry minute book reflects the general changes in the functions of the vestry and the civil parish in Ireland during an increasingly active period of parliamentary reforms, which concerned the established church itself, the introduction of poor laws, and new bases for local taxation. The cumulative effect of these reforms was that the civil role of the vestry largely disappeared after the 1830s. Though the later minutes up to 1870 are brief and uninformative, the new minute book begun in 1871, after disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, resumes a lively record of the vestry under the new dispensation.
Alan Moran’s transcripts of the Bumlin or Strokestown parish registers will follow as a later Archive of the Month. His full transcription (with introduction) of the vestry minute book is available here
An alphabetical list of the vestry minute books available in the RCB Library, organised by county, and with cover dates, may be consulted here
Alan Moran lives in county Roscommon. Since awakening to the fascination of its old graveyards a few years ago, he now can hardly pass one without stopping to see who is there. Another mid–life epiphany has been that battle descriptions in books do not always have to be skipped over. He finds that an awareness of local history contributes greatly to a sense of the meaning of life.