Nine Decades at the Representative Church Body Library – Archive of the Month for December 2022

The year 2022 has seen the RCB Library through its 90th birthday, and a dedicated Archive of the Month for December 2022 explores its evolutionary story through nine decades and beyond.

Just before Christmas 1931, Rosamond Stephen (1868-1952) founder and original librarian of the Irish Guild of Witness library, captured the moment in her diary when she witnessed some 5,000 volumes housed within her home on Upper Mount Street, Dublin being dispatched to the headquarters of the Representative Church Body – the Church of Ireland’s central trustee body – at no. 52 St Stephen’s Green thus:
‘On Monday afternoon December 21, 1931, the books were taken to Stephen’s Green, on what was, we hope, their last journey. They went properly through the streets drawn by a fine pair of cart horses. R. S. watched them vanish into the mist’.

Nine Decades at the Representative Church Body Library - Archive of the Month for December 2022
Portrait of Rosamond Emily Stephen in her twenty-fourth year by her sister, DJ [Dorothea] Stephen, 1892. RCB Library Collection.

From the spring of 1932, dedicated rooms within the headquarters of the RCB at 52 St Stephen’s Green, together with a small basement strong room, would continue to function as the Library until October 1969, when it moved again to its present location at Braemor Park, Rathgar (Churchtown today), when a corner of the campus of the then Divinity Hostel (which has evolved into the Theological Institute) was made available along with classrooms for the developing hostel establishment. Here both institutions have evolved, where the Library continues to support the reading and research needs of staff and ordinands in training for ministry, as well as providing a repository for the Church’s records.
It is less well known that prior to its time in Dublin and eventual association with the RCB, the original content of Rosamond’s library was actually in existence from 1903 operating on the Crumlin Road in Belfast.

The Guild of Witness (later Irish Guild of Witness) which she had helped to found in that year with the Revd Raymond Orpen (1837-1930), then rector of Tralee and Archdeacon of Ardfert, can be seen as a genuine form of ecumenical outreach to Roman Catholics that was ahead of its time in some respects, trying to find common ground between ‘Roman Catholics and Protestant Catholics’. The small lending library for the use of its members included ‘a good many books on the history and doctrine of the Irish Church’, as revealed by an article published in the Church of Ireland Gazette in October 1903.
The online 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, all of which had been deposited there in accordance with the requirements of the Public Records Act since the late 19th century, were destroyed.

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.

The full Archive of the Month presentation can be viewed at