Archive of the Month
Strokestown (Bumlin) Parish Registers and Monuments
by Alan Moran & Mark Williams
The Archive of the Month for January 2019 presents the transcribed registers of the former union of Bumlin, centred on St John’s church in Strokestown, County Roscommon, together with the inscriptions on the monuments in the church and the surrounding churchyard. As the vestry minute book for the years 1811 to 1870 was featured in the Archive of the Month in May 2018, and permanently available here.
This collective work now makes Strokestown one of the first Church of Ireland parishes to have all its principal historical records transcribed and available online. Together, these offer a rich resource to local and family historians, with an abundance of records of individuals.
The registers and memorial inscriptions have been transcribed and edited as part of the Anglican Record Project (initiated by Mark Williams), a long–running series of mainly Church of Ireland parish record transcriptions, available on the RCB Library website
In 1751 Thomas Mahon M.P. of Strokestown House conveyed to the Bishop of Elphin an acre of land in Strokestown, for the purpose of erecting a new church, as the ancient church of Bumlin was declared to be: ‘in a decayed and ruinous condition and the site thereof inconvenient’ to the new planned town which he was developing. The new church was confirmed as the parish church in place of Bumlin in March 1754. In 1813 the Vestry sought a loan of £1,000 from the Board of First Fruits to add a tower and steeple, which had not been built before the church was destroyed, apparently by a storm, in the winter of 1818/19.
The present church was built in 1820 with a loan of £2,700 from the Board of First Fruits. The architect of the unusual octagonal design was John Lynn, who also worked on Rockingham House and Strokestown House. The floor plan is shown below.
The church, dedicated to St John the Baptist, was consecrated on 27 August 1820, and remained in use until 1977, re–opening as a heritage centre in 1982. It is now home to the County Roscommon Heritage and Genealogy Centre, and both it and the churchyard are very well maintained.
The earliest surviving registers and the vestry minute book were presented by the Revd Edward Mahon (1776/7–1847) on his appointment as vicar in 1811. Indeed, on the preliminary page of the earliest register, Mahon’s personal annotation reveals his conscientiousness to be a good record keeper: having ‘found no such thing as a Registry Book’ and ‘no registry whatsoever of Burials!!!’ he took it upon himself to provide the book, which he purchased for £1.10.4. Fortunately, the collection as a whole was retained in its local parish custody and thereby escaped the disastrous destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in June 1922.
The registers of baptisms, marriages and burials were kept up from 1811 until the church and churchyard closed, although there are gaps for some years up to 1847. Prior to the introduction of civil registration in 1864, baptismal certificates were increasingly used as evidence of age for official purposes, which may have prompted the parents of two families to have the baptisms of their children entered retrospectively in 1857, having been performed during one of the gap periods. In the example below, recording the retrospective entries of the baptisms of Theodosia, John, Robert and Susanna Morton, the children of Thomas and Sarah Morton of Castlenode born and baptised on various dates between 1839 and 1845, the Revd Richard Cowen, curate of the parish, notes that whilst the baptisms occurred ‘at the times and dates entered’, the actual written evidence was ‘made now, having been neglected at the proper time’, and dated May 29 1857.
The run of marriage entries up to the 1850s includes a considerable number relating to local Catholic couples, often illiterate and signing the register with their mark. Presumably their intention was to obtain the benefit of the official status of Anglican marriages, before civil registration and full recognition for Roman Catholic marriages. In the example below the marriage of Margaret Geraghty to Thomas Mulvany, both of Killtrustan, includes not only their marks, but the marks of their witnesses, Geo. McAdams and Thomas Conlon Ratinagh. Also of interest and quite unusual in the entry, consent to the wedding is given by ‘her friends’.
Details of social history appear, such as the burial of the infant Matilda Beaumont in September 1833, who died while her father, a private soldier, was on the march with his regiment from Mullingar to Boyle, a reminder that soldiers were often accompanied by their families, or the fact that baptisms of ‘natural children’ of unmarried parents were recorded as such, with the parents’ names, until 1848, but not after that; and in the cholera epidemic of 1832, the burial of victims without a funeral service being performed, for fear of contagion.
Analysis of the registers shows that the number of baptisms per decade was in the 50s until 1870, then dropped into the 30s until 1900, and thereafter fell sharply to less than ten per decade during the 20th century – in some decades none at all. The last marriage in the church took place in 1919, but burials continued in low numbers until the churchyard closed. This of course reflects social changes in that long time–span, chiefly emigration of the younger generations of what was always a small Anglican community; and the withdrawal of Protestant members of the RIC (police), military and related officials who were stationed in the area prior to 1922.
While the registers record 233 burials, only a small minority of these are commemorated by inscriptions in the churchyard. The monuments however record burials before the commencement of the registers in 1811, the earliest dating to 1766, after the first church was built. The memorials also supply some of the gaps that occur in the burial register up to 1847. Of interest is the fact that the churchyard, though an 18th–century (and thus post–Reformation) foundation of the Established Church, was also used for Catholic burials, in a distinct section. This facility was apparently intended by Thomas Mahon M.P. for the benefit of tradespeople and merchants who settled in the town, rather than their having to use the ancient and crowded burial ground at Bumlin some distance away. Some Catholic burials continued at St John’s long after the new municipal cemetery of Strokestown opened in 1928.
Among the curiosities of the graveyard are the fine box tomb of Revd Edward Mahon, the vicar of Bumlin, and creator of the earliest register, which is firmly marked with the date 1817, although he died in 1847 – perhaps it had been prepared for someone else who did not use it – and the three large rustic–looking vaults, like Nissen huts made of stones, of the Hemsworths, Mahons and Brownes.
The interior of the church, in a light Regency Gothic style, has no monument earlier than the brass plaque erected by Grace Pakenham–Mahon to the memory of her husband, who died in 1893. Two other plaques commemorate her daughters Florence and Maud, and Grace’s own death in 1914. After the murder of her father Major Denis Mahon in 1847, she lived at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, where the church, also dedicated to St John, has commemorative plaques identical to the three in Strokestown.
The publication of the Strokestown record collection demonstrates that the value of each one is enhanced by the availability of the others. Cumulatively, the vestry minutes, parish registers and memorial inscriptions provide an important source for tracing the history not only of the Church of Ireland parish but the wider local community, over two centuries.
The RCB Library acknowledges the kind permission of the Director of the National Archives of Ireland to reproduce images from the earliest registers and transcribe entries before 1871.
For a more detailed introduction to the transcription of Bumlin registers, with background history of the parish and St John’s Church (including a list of clergy), available as a standalone pdf, see below.
Bumlin Baptisms 1811–1919
Bumlin Marriages, 1811–1919, and Banns 1812–1818
Bumlin Burials 1812–1969
Alphabetical Master Index to all the register content
Monumental Inscriptions of Strokestown burial ground