Dublin Unitarian Church Collection

Repository: Royal Irish Academy

Identity Statement

TitleDublin Unitarian Church Collection
Archive ReferenceIE RIA DUC
Web Link to this Entryhttps://iar.ie/archive/dublin-unitarian-church-collection
Creation Dates1730-1992
Extent MediumContact RIA Archives Service for information


Creator(s): Dublin Unitarian Church

  • Administrative History ↴

    The birth of Unitarianism in Ireland can be traced back to the arrival of English Puritans on Irish soil, and a substantial number of Scottish Presbyterian Planters in Ulster, during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. During the early 18th century opposing views of the doctrine of the Trinity lead to tensions between Presbyterian communities. In 1702, Thomas Emlyn, the minister of the Wood Street community was imprisoned for his opinions which were adjudged to be heretical. During the 1720s, in an effort to enforce orthodoxy, Presbyterian communities were required to subscribe to the ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’. When John Abernethy and sixteen other ministers refused to do so they were expelled from the Synod of Ulster thus leading to the emergence of the ‘Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.’ Abernethy later became minister at Wood Street. Continued efforts during the mid-1800s to enforce conformity and other factors resulted in Unitarianism being centred in Dublin. Prince’s Street community in Cork city was the only congregation outside of Dublin, not to be restored to mainstream evangelical Presbyterianism. The two Dublin congregations were based in Strand Street and Eustace Street. Amalgamations appear frequently in the history of Irish Unitarianism and both Dublin congregations merged in 1866. The Strand Street congregation erected a new Meeting House in the 1760s and their numbers were strengthened shortly afterwards when the community at Wood Street merged with them. The Cook Street congregation followed suit shortly afterwards, moving to Strand Street in 1787. In 1857 the Strand Street congregation purchased a site on the west side of St. Stephen’s Green using money bequeathed to them by Thomas Wilson. In 1863 the congregation opened their new church at 112 St. Stephen’s Green. This Gothic Revival building, designed by architects Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon of Belfast, continues to be used by the Unitarian community today. The Eustace Street congregation was originally based in New Row. In the late 1720s they took a lease for a new site on Eustace Street where they too built a new Meeting House. In July 1866, following a resolution of the Committee of Eustace Street congregation, it was resolved that the Eustace Street and Stephen’s Green Congregations should amalgamate. The newly constructed building on St. Stephen’s Green became home to both congregations. The congregations benefited from bequests which were managed by Trust Funds. This allowed them to operate a number of charitable institutions and schools including the Damer and Singleton Schools. Records of these trusts and schools are included in the collection. Following the closure of the Damer School at St. Stephen’s Green the premises was leased as a theatre, known as the Damer Hall. From 1910 until 1962 the congregation was ministered to by Rev. E. Savell Hicks. The majority of the draft sermons and lectures contained in this collection come from the pen of this renowned preacher and thinker.
  • Archival History ↴

    The Dublin Unitarian Church Collection was donated to the Royal Irish Academy by the Dublin Unitarian Church in two separate deposits. The first deposit was made in 2006, with the second occurring in 2008. As a result, the two deposits were processed and catalogued by two archivists working in 2007 and 2010 respectively. While there are certain differences between the types of material contained in each deposit they, nevertheless, both contain documents arising from the same church activities and dating from the same period. It was decided, therefore, to amalgamate both catalogues into a single volume, while at the same time retaining the separate identity of each. The processing of the collection was part-funded by Heritage Council grants received in 2007 and 2009 and from funding provided by the Dublin Unitarian Church in 2010.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Dublin Unitarian Church ↴

    The first deposit is comprised of documents relating to the Unitarian community of Dublin and some of its predecessor congregations, located over time at premises in Wood Street, Cook Street, Eustace Street, Strand Street, and St. Stephen’s Green. Consisting of over 1700 documents, the collection includes committee minute books, cash books, collection books, subscription lists, petty cash books and other financial material, school registers and account books, correspondence, reports, sermons and lectures. These documents were created and maintained by congregation members, acting in their various official capacities e.g. Management Committee secretaries, Trustees, School Board members etc.

    The second deposit consists overwhelmingly of papers relating to the various Trust Funds or Properties operated by the Unitarian congregation. These papers were originally held by Hone and Falkiner, solicitors who managed the trusts on behalf of the congregation. They typically consist of title deeds, wills, deeds of conveyance, legal opinions, building and valuation reports, correspondence with tenants of properties and dealings with the Land Commission. The trusts operated principally during the later 19th and early 20th centuries but the collection also contains some original documents from the 18th century as well as copies of deeds from that period. Hone and Falkiner clearly filed documents together by Trust Fund, rolling the papers of each trust into a number of bundles. They did not, however, create a consistent order, chronological or otherwise, within each bundle or between bundles. It appears likely (based upon physical observation alone) that the bundles had not been opened or the order disturbed since their return to the congregation.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    The majority of the documents contained in the first deposit were ‘Church and School records’ (predominately bound minute books and financial ledgers ) created by the forerunning congregations of the present day congregation. These congregations were located at Cook Street, Eustace Street, Strand Street and ultimately St. Stephen’s Green. A decision was made, therefore, to arrange the documents according to congregation and within each congregation to order the documents chronologically. Five files, containing loose drafts of sermons and lectures, were included in the first deposit. As this material did not fit alongside the aforementioned documents it was decided to place it under a separate heading entitled ‘Sermons’. The files are bulky and contain over 650 individual items in total. Printed sermons and a small number of ‘Magic Lantern’ lecture-slides from the second deposit have also been placed alongside this material. The first deposit also contained eight documents originating from the ‘Widow’s Fund of the Southern Association of Ireland’ and the ‘Irish Unitarian Christian Society’. These documents have been arranged separately under the heading ‘Irish Religious Bodies’.

    For the second deposit, it was decided to follow the overall order of the documents, as imposed by Hone and Falkiner, with every effort being made to retain their original order. The arrangement of the second deposit is, therefore, mainly based upon the six main Trust Funds, namely; The Rankin Trust, The Singleton Trust, The Cook Street Property/Trust, The Lowton Trust, The Damer Trust, The Huxley Trust (later to become the Margaret Huxley Public Utility Society). Documents within each Trust Fund have been arranged chronologically. Transactions involving the Strand Street and St Stephen’s Green Property were also handled by Hone and Falkiner and documents relating to these properties can be found under these headings. A small number of sundry property documents, which do not appear to relate to any of the main trusts, were bundled together by the solicitors – these documents remain together under the title ‘Sundry Properties’. While the majority of documents fell under the aforementioned headings, there were some documents that were clearly unrelated to the Trust Funds. These documents resemble material contained in the first deposit, consisting of general administration documents and a small number of sermons and pamphlets. The general administration documents have been catalogued together under the title ‘General Administration of Stephen’s Green congregation.’ A decision was made to place copies of ‘The Irish Truth Seeker’ and the monthly Unitarian Church bulletin with the Royal Irish Academy’s Periodicals Collection. As mentioned earlier printed sermons and a small number of ‘Magic Lantern’ lecture-slides were placed with corresponding sermons in the first deposit.

    The collection also contains a marriage register from the Strand Street congregation, 1782-1812.

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Available by appointment to holders of an RIA Reader's Ticket Some documents in the Dublin Unitarian Church Collection contain sensitive information about persons and families, whose right to privacy must be protected. In order to ensure this, closure periods have been applied to some of the more recent. The archives will be made available without restriction after one hundred years has elapsed following the final entry in the particular volume or file. Material that contains personal data is subject to a one hundred-year closure period, and more routine material (financial ledgers etc.) that contains less sensitive information has a fifty-year closure period. Entries affected by closure periods are identified in the catalogue. Researchers can apply to access material and an application form can be obtained from RIA Library staff.
Conditions Governing ReproductionContact RIA Library for reproduction information.
Creation Dates1730-1992
Extent MediumContact RIA Archives Service for information
Finding Aids Descriptive list. Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Related MaterialA collection of documents relating to the Cork congregation located on Prince’s Street, forms part of the holdings of Cork City and County Archives. It includes vestry minutes, baptism and marriage registers, lists of subscribers and financial records. Material relating to other congregations, outside of Dublin and Cork, is held by Dr. Martin Pulbrook of The Walnuts, Enniscoffey, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteRoisin Berry, 2007. Martin Fagan, 2010.
Rules/ConventionsIGAD: Irish Guidelines for Archival Description, Dublin Society of Archivists, Ireland, 2009. ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, 2nd ed., Ottowa, International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions2007 & 2010