Tuesday 6 December 2022

Nine decades of the Representative Church Body Library

The Representative Church Body Library (RCB Library) reached the grand age of 90 earlier in 2022 and rounds off its nine decades as the Church of Ireland's archive and library with a look back and a look forward in this month's Archive of the Month.

The only interior photograph known to survive of the original
RCB Library as it was at Church House, 52 St Stephen’s Green.
(Church of Ireland Gazette, 3 April 1970)

The story dates back to the days leading to Christmas 1931, when Rosamond Stephen (1868-1952) founder and original librarian of the Irish Guild of Witness library, recorded the despatch of some 5,000 volumes housed within her home on Upper Mount Street, Dublin to no. 52 St Steven's Green.

This was the HQ of the Representative Church Body – the Church of Ireland’s central trustee body.

She wrote: ‘They went properly through the streets drawn by a fine pair of cart horses. R.S. watched them vanish into the mist.'

Prior to its time in Dublin and eventual association with the RCB, the original content of Rosamond’s library had been in existence from 1903 operating on the Crumlin Road in Belfast.

The online Archive of the Month presentation tracks the journey from Belfast to Dublin, and explores how the new Library acquired oversight of archives and record-keeping on behalf of the RCB following the loss of many records that had been in the Public Records Office of Ireland in 1922 when over 500 collections of parish records, together with the medieval and early modern diocesan archives, were destroyed.

Portrait of Rosamond Emily Stephen in her 24th year by her
sister, DJ [Dorothea] Stephen, 1892. RCB Library Collection

An important early remit for the fledgling library was to focus on collecting copies of manuscripts concerning the Church of Ireland that had been lost.

This far-sighted approach has reaped many rewards for the Church at large, and today in addition to its printed collection of over 60,000 volumes, it holds vast archives.

These include some 1,132 collections of parish records together with the archives of the Church’s dioceses, cathedrals, architectural drawings, the administrative records of the Representative Church Body and its multiple committees, and thousands of manuscripts relating to the Church’s people, buildings and activities, spanning from medieval times to the present.