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A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World

A large audience gathered at the Irish Architectural Archive (IAA), on Merrion Square, on Tuesday evening for the launch of A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World – an exhibition of the Church of Ireland’s historical architectural drawings.

The exhibition was launched by the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, and attended by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson.  This is among the events marking the 150th anniversary of the Church of Ireland’s Disestablishment, enabled by the Irish Church Act 1869.

Dr Susan Hood, Archbishop Richard Clarke, Dr Michael Webb, Colum O'Riordan (CEO, IAA) and Dr Michael O'Neill, architectural historian and exhibition curator.
Dr Susan Hood, Archbishop Richard Clarke, Dr Michael Webb, Colum O'Riordan (CEO, IAA) and Dr Michael O'Neill, architectural historian and exhibition curator.

Archbishop Clarke commented: “It’s totally right that we do reach back into our past.  Any of us who have any grounding in history will always feel that you cannot really grasp the present unless you know where you have come from, and you certainly cannot look – with any confidence – into the future if you can’t somehow relate the present to the past,and hence look towards the future.”

Queen Anne was instrumental in providing funds for the building of churches and there was “a huge burst of activity” in their construction after the Act of Union 1800.  Archbishop Clarke made a presentation to Dr Michael Webb on his retirement as Chair of the Representative Church Body’s Library and Archives Committee.  Dr Webb is also Chair of the IAA’s Board of Directors, a role in which he will be continuing.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Michael O’Neill FSA and draws on his extensive research into the Church’s architectural history, which has included the digitization of more than 8,000 drawings over eight years to safeguard them for future generations.  The full collection of digitized drawings is catalogued and searchable online here.

Dr O’Neill recounted the Church’s architectural history under the Board of First Fruits (1711–1833) and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (1833–1871).  Many of the drawings were office copies, drawn on tracing paper – their fragility makes the rationale for digitization even greater.  He related that there are “wonderful synergies” between the work of the RCB Library and the IAA and thanked all those who had helped to bring the exhibition to fruition, including the former and present Librarians, Dr Raymond Refaussé and Dr Susan Hood.

Dr Hood noted that attendees had come from as far as Faro, Omagh, Armagh, Belfast and Jordanstown, and acknowledged the support of funding from the Esme Mitchell Trust, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Christ Church and St Patrick’s Cathedrals, and the Representative Church Body.

“This exhibition is one outcome of the dedicated hard work of Dr O’Neill who first brought the Church’s attention to the value and uniqueness of its drawings,” she remarked.  It was “a mammoth task but also a labour of love.”  The Library staff are pleased that they can now present the documents digitally rather than handling them.  Digitization is therefore a form of preservation and protection for archives.  Thanking the IAA, she commented that both the archive and the Library have a small dedicated staff, are open to public, and their multiple audiences have large expectations.  Dr Webb was presented with a framed copy of the Visual Window poster in recognition of his work as chair of the Library and Archives Committee which he has served since January 2008. He then closed the launch with his thanks and added that the Library and Archives Committee was “the friendliest and happiest of committees”.

Admission is free and the exhibition will be open to the public from Tuesday to Friday (10am–5pm) until Friday, 30th August.  A series of lectures is planned for Heritage Week, which runs from 17th August to 25th August.

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