Writing notes on parish history for our diocesan magazine, there was an intriguing insight into parish life in the late Eighteenth Century. Seir Kieran Church of Ireland parish lies six miles west of the Co Offaly town of Birr and had a population of thirty-four souls at our last diocesan census. Lest this seem a catastrophic decline, in the years before the First World War, when rural Ireland was considerably more populous, the number of members of the Church of Ireland in the parish was eighty-six.
Whether one looks at the parish in the Twentieth Century or the Twenty-First Century, the Church of Ireland parish of Seir Kieran is very different from the depiction of the parish in the Eighteenth Century. JB Leslie’s “Clergy of Ossory” published in 1933 includes the following notes:
A return made to Parliament in 1777 by Rev. Joseph Robinson, Vicar, is as follows,
“This Church was built in the 5th cent. . . . and is the Foundation of the See of Ossory, but none of the Fabrick remains, but one of Chappels which is resorted to as the Place of Worship by a large Neighbourhood. The Parish is inhabited chiefly by Presbyterians, who have a Kirk in it and who have constantly a Majority at the Vestry and never grant more than £7 to £10 at most, which is not half a farthing per acre, 5 Pound for the Clerk and the rest to the Sexton, and ordinary charges, viz. Bread and Wine, washing the Church Linen, and Visitation Fees, so that there remains very little for the repairs of the Church. Besides, this money is never collected till Easter, so that when the winter storms strip the roof or break the windows, unless I advance the money they remain so till then. There is no ceiling and nearly half the Ayle on each side is without seats. I have often apply’d to fill up bu building one yearly, but they refuse. This is very much wanted, for the poorer part of the congregation has no place to sit or rest themselves. It is three year last summer since the Church was robbed of the hanging Cloth belonging to the Communion Table, together with that of the Pulpit and Cushion, and the Surplice, and I have not been able to replace since, except the last mentioned. When the Act passed for enclosing the Churchyards they in like manner refus’d, saying there was no penalty for non attendance.”
11 Oct. 1777, Joseph Robinson, Vicar
In 2016, the church is in fine order and community relations are excellent. When there is a tendency to regard the past as some “golden age” in church life, it is worth reading the notes.