The premise of this talk is that thousands of church buildings across Ireland are an underused resource for Irish social history. Many of us with interest in Ireland’s past know the value of church archives – parish registers, especially – for uncovering aspects of the lives of our ancestors. But fewer of us perhaps appreciate that the spaces in which those ancestors worshipped, still with us today, can also offer strong evidence of how they worshipped, their relationship with the Church, their standing in the parish and so on. Based on a chapter in the book I am writing about the finances of the Irish Catholic Church, in this lecture I will present a very visual illustration of what closer examination of church interiors can do for our understanding of Irish people in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is by way of introduction to a spin-off project I am leading. PARISH, which stands for  ‘Preserving and Recording Ireland’s Sacred Heritage’, is a collaboration between Maynooth University and the University of Notre Dame (US) which aims to produce an online database containing comprehensive photographic and other data records of the interiors of (initially) all Catholic churches on the island of Ireland.

In the context of a changing religious landscape, with clergy shortages leading to more limited opening hours and even permanent closure or demolition of some church buildings, this will be a vital record of the Church’s infrastructure at this pivotal moment in time, and of the communities that built it across the last two centuries. Focusing especially on the social heritage of memorial and sponsorship inscriptions, PARISH will create a fully searchable and freely available digital research tool, which will be of value to social, economic, art and architecture historians, as well as family and local history researchers. Participation of local communities, as I will emphasise in my talk, is envisaged as a vital part of the project.

Biography: Dr Sarah Roddy is a Lecturer in Irish Social History at Maynooth University and formerly a Senior Lecturer in Modern Irish History at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Population, Providence and Empire: The Churches and Emigration from Nineteenth-Century Ireland (Manchester University Press 2014) and co-author, with Julie-Marie Strange and Bertrand Taithe, of The Charity Market and Humanitarianism in Britain 1870-1912 (Bloomsbury, 2018). Her current book project is Visible Divinity: An Intimate History of
Money and Irish Catholicism, 1850-1921.

This CHAS talk will take place on Wednesday 19 April 2023 at 8pm in the Seven Oaks Hotel. All are welcome.

The talk will be videoed for future viewing and will be available on the CHAS YouTube channel:


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