Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

A good deed is never lost? Archival discoveries at a Dublin outdoor book stall

Written by
Dr Stuart Kinsella
Research Advisor to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Originally published in Friends’ News: Christ Church Cathedral Dublin (April 2023), 7-10.

One of the most important archival collections for the history of the cathedral, as has been mentioned before, is the Christ Church deeds, deposited for safe-keeping in 1871 in the Public Record Office of Ireland across the river from the cathedral while it was being restored by George Edmund Street. As many, who will know the end of this story, can glean some comfort from knowing, these cathedral deeds were calendared by M.J. McEnery and published as appendices with an index, in the reports of the Deputy Keeper between 1888 and 1896, such that, on the burning of the Public Record Office in 1922, at least English summaries of this vast collection of deeds survived. The published material extended only to around the year 1600, but during the Christ Church history project in the 1990s, the wonderful discovery was made that McEnery had prepared a further set of the deeds up to the year 1700 for publication. These, along with McEnery’s previous appendices, were edited and published by the present Honorary Keeper of the Archives, Dr Raymond Refaussé in 2001, and are the most substantial and valuable publication in the cathedral’s document series, covering the cathedral’s history from 1174 to 1700, but arguably reaching back earlier given their recitation of grants of land made to the cathedral by various Hiberno-Norse and Irish kings before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans.

More recently this writer, as Research Advisor to the cathedral, has been involved in migrating the collection of calendared deeds online as part of a project called Beyond 2022 which aimed to reconstruct the destroyed records of the Public Record Office of Ireland. This ongoing project is now available online as the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland ( Of particular importance is the fact that replacements for many of the short English summaries of the original Latin deeds have been found. These have taken the form of photographs, as glass lantern slides, or as transcripts, made by various antiquaries over the years. One particularly full set of transcripts was undertaken by the Revd John Lyon, a canon of St Patrick’s cathedral who encouraged the Christ Church chapter to participate in the transcription process – and modest 18th-century example of crowd sourcing – and the result of this was a three-volume compilation called the ‘Registrum Novum’, an early portion of which Maurice Sheehy made an edition of in the confusingly similarly named journal, Reportorium Novum in the 1960s. William Monck Mason was another antiquary who made extensive transcripts in the late 18th and early 19th century for an intended history of Christ Church which was never completed.

What was missing from all of this material however, were the deeds that had been deposited in the cathedral dating after 1700 presumably up to the Irish Church Temporalities Act of 1833 which divested the cathedral of its properties, if not up to the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871. The 1833 act also made provision for the unification of the deaneries of Christ Church and St Patrick’s on the death of either incumbent, which transpired to be Charles Dalrymple Lindsay (the last bishop of Kildare to also hold the deanery of Christ Church in commendam), whereupon the deanery of Christ Church in 1846 was assumed by the dean of St Patrick’s, the Very Revd, the Hon. Henry Pakenham. He was succeeded by John West in 1864, but the joint deanery venture was not a success and from 1872, the Church of Ireland constitution explicitly stated that the deaneries of the two cathedrals should never again be held by the same person. Regarding the deeds, unfortunately we have no evidence of what was lost from this collection dating from 1700 to Disestablishment. However, it is hoped that some of this material will be found to be duplicated in the cathedral chapter acts that survive as the record of the governing body of the cathedral from 1574 to 1873, in which year a new Board, comprising both clerical and lay members, was elected to govern the cathedral.

All this is preamble to a rather surprising discovery last Saturday 15 April, when the writer was walking through town and stopped for a rummage at the outdoor Temple Bar book market at Barnardo Square beside City Hall. Amongst the various second-hand books, badges, bric-à-brac, was a tub of old legal material, which it transpired, on talking to the proprietor Morrough Lacy, had come from the house of a man with a particular interest in Limerick history. As well as the characteristic folded, lined, blue paper of many 19th legal documents, several of these were written on vellum. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that one of them was a lease by the dean and chapter of Christ Church Dublin to a Richard Espinasse for land in county Dublin for 21 years from 25 March 1832 with a rent of £38, 15s. 5d., a rare surviving Christ Church deed from the 19th-century!


Temple Bar book market on Barnardo Square by City Hall
Temple Bar book market on Barnardo Square by City Hall. Photo courtesy of the author.
Tub of legal documents for sale
Tub of legal documents for sale. Photo courtesy of the author.
Portion of a Christ Church deed from 1832 leasing land to Richard Espinasse
Portion of a Christ Church deed from 1832 leasing land to Richard Espinasse. Photo courtesy of the author.

Unfortunately, the upper portion of the parchment, which may have featured a map, was missing, but the lower portion of the deed still had the seals of both the dean, Charles [bishop of] Kildare on the lower left, and that of Richard Espinasse on the lower right. Beneath Charles Kildare’s signature was that of the chancellor, Stewart Segar Trench, chancellor of Christ Church (1826-53), and a distant cousin of the Richard Chenevix Trench who would become archbishop of Dublin (1864-84) as well as dean of Christ Church (1871-84). The other signatory was that of John Torrens, who was archdeacon of Dublin and rector of the now demolished St Peter’s church originally on Aungier Street (1818-51). Torrens also signed the lease on behalf of other members of the chapter, namely the precentor, then a William Robinson; the prebendary of St Michael’s, Thomas Bewley Monsell (later also archdeacon of Derry); the prebendary of St Michan’s, John Rowley, sometime sub-dean of the cathedral , as well as the prebendary of St John’s, then Thomas Percival Magee, son William Magee, archbishop of Dublin (1822-31). Furthermore it was noted that the dean has signed and sealed the lease in the presence of two individuals: one as yet undeciphered, and one, James Elliott, who would serve the cathedral as verger for 28 years from 1838 until his death in 1866, as noted on a memorial which survives to him in Street’s ‘Lean-too’ at the east end of the cathedral nave south aisle. The whole lease was also signed sealed and delivered in the presence of both Thomas J. Harris and a probably quite venerable Michael Harris, a notary public, who by then had acted as registrar and chapter clerk to the cathedral for about forty years, and a very familiar name in the chapter acts of the cathedral.

Richard Espinasse appears to have been either the son or grandson of Isaac Espinasse of Kill Abbey and Kilmacud in County Dublin. The son, Richard, married to Jane Luffingham, was engaged in a case against the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests on 21 January 1841 in the Rolls Court, while the grandson, Richard, a barrister-at-law and justice of the peace, married Martha Vickers the same year, 1832, as the lease was made. The next step will be to consult the chapter act books for March 1832 and see whether the details of this lease were also transcribed into the record of the cathedral chapter. If so it will confirm the importance of the series of thirteen volumes of cathedral chapter act books from 1574-1873 as containing replacement material for the Christ Church deeds destroyed on that fateful day on 30 June 1922.

Dr Stuart Kinsella
(Monday 17 April 2023)