Thursday, 1 February 2018

RCB Library releases online finding aid for Irish Huguenot Archive

February’s Archive of the Month at the RCB Library showcases the Irish Huguenot Archive, and makes available online for the first time a detailed finding aid to its content.

In 1993, the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland entered into an agreement with the Representative Church Body to allow the RCB Library to host what was to be called the Irish Huguenot Archive. It was hoped that this new entity would develop as a centre for Huguenot studies in Ireland and so serve a similar purpose to the Huguenot Library in London.

The title page from a genealogy of the
La Touche family, RCB Library Ms 128.
The initiative was overseen by the former Librarian and Archivist of the RCB Library, Dr Raymond Refauss√©, who became the Archive’s first curator, and although now retired, has written the introductory text that accompanies this latest online exhibition which is illustrated with examples from the collection.

Many of the Huguenot refugees to Ireland had, eventually, conformed to the discipline of the Church of Ireland. In time, they ceased to hold their services in French and they were absorbed into the mainstream of the Church of Ireland, being distinguished only by their names and their history. Thus even before the creation of an official archive, the RCB Library had already been a place of resort for those interested in Huguenot families, where its unrivalled collection of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials (click link for list) contained many entries with Huguenot names, while its considerable collection of parish histories, many with limited circulations, included references to Huguenot families who had settled in various parts of Ireland.

The Library also had some existing Huguenot material in its manuscripts collection. This included the papers of JJ Digges La Touche, who had been Deputy Keeper of the Public Records of Ireland, and, himself, a descendent of one of the more considerable French families to settle in Ireland, had copied the minute book from the French Church of St Mary in Dublin, for the years 1706-17, together with his notes on the Dublin banking firm of David La Touche, and a copy of a La Touche genealogy. With such materials already in its custody, it made sense for the Church’s record repository and reference library to become the permanent home of the materials pertaining to the Huguenot community.

With the inauguration of the Irish Huguenot Archive in 1993, material began to flow into the RCB Library on a regular basis, and has continued to do so. Many of the accessions have been random, in the sense that people have decided, for reasons of their own rather than having been targeted, to present material, but the collection also includes the work of genealogists and historians into the lineages of some Huguenot families.

The collection also includes a large number of printed books, periodicals and off-prints, all of which have been added to the RCB Library’s online catalogue of printed books.

Most valuable are the Huguenot Society’s publications – the many short articles which have been published in the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland (now titled The Huguenot Society Journal) and the more substantial publications which have appeared as parts of the Quarto Series.

Scholars and researchers have furthermore been generous in presenting off-prints of articles, some published privately or in local journals, such as the many contributions to the history of the Huguenots in Portarlington by John Stocks Powell. The recent decision of the Irish Section to give an annual purchase grant has ensured that new books can be regularly added to the collection.

All of the original archive materials have been catalogued as a stand-alone collection consisting currently of 101 manuscripts – although this number is increasing incrementally with new donations. Whilst details of the printed materials have been available online through the Library’s online catalogue for some time, access to the content of the archive part of the collection was only possible in-house through index cards. Thanks to the work of Julia McCarthy, an undergraduate student at Trinity College Dublin, who worked in the Library as an intern during the summer of 2017, the rich detail from these cards has now been transferred to a searchable database at http://bit.ly/2DMpfTb and through the online exhibition.

The Irish Huguenot Archive has grown largely due to the generosity of those who have been involved in or who have been interested in the history of the Huguenot refuge in Ireland, and as it has grown, so too has its usefulness. The current Curator of the Irish Huguenot Archive, Dr Susan Hood, will always be glad hear of prospective donations.