Tuesday 3 March 2020

Monaghan rector refuses to take Disestablishement on the chin

The RCB Library's Archive of the month for March looks at an angry 'for posterity' response from a rector in County Monaghan when the Church of Ireland ceased to be the Established (State) church of the island.

Under the Irish Church Act of 26 July 1869, which passed into law in 1871, the union between Church and State in Ireland that had existed since the Reformation was dissolved, and the Church of Ireland ceased to be established in law, leaving it ‘free to shape her future course, independent of state control’ (as stated in the Journal of the General Convention, 1870, pp v-vi).

The legislation was desired by a very few within the Church and, for most, the dominant prevailing emotions were those of resentment and fear. In some cases, this boiled over into anger, and one of the more unusual responses to the changing realities of the period is to be found on the title page of the combined register of baptisms, marriages and burials for Killeevan parish, County Monaghan (Diocese of Clogher), where the Revd John Flanagan LLD served as rector from 1853 to 1876.

Amid hand-written details of the succession of clergy of the parish, he penned his feelings about the Act: ‘Protestants of Ireland! Remember 26th July 1869. Plundered by a tyrannical rabble in the House of Commons, Betrayed by Lord Cairns, Bishops of England and others in the House of Lords. Deserted by your Nursing Mother, the Queen, who had solemnly sworn to maintain your rights’. See image below.

Flanagan’s annotated entry in the title page of the Killeevan Register of Marriages, Burials & Baptisms, 1838-1876,
RCB Library P805.1.2.

Flanagan’s tone was likely shared by others, but he is the only cleric to have annotated a parish register in such a manner. The annotated register parish is currently on display in the RCB Library’s entrance foyer where visitors are most welcome to view it. Further items from the Library’s collections documenting the Disestablishment story also form part of the Dublin and Glendalough Disestablishment exhibition currently on display in the Lady Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.