Today, in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, young people from Ashton School, Bandon Grammar School and Midleton College, accepted the invitation of the Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, to join him, some of the clergy of the Diocese, Dr Richard Clarke (recently retired Archbishop of Armagh) and Bishop Michael Mayes, in re-enacting a seminal moment in the history of the Church of Ireland: the reading of the Church’s Preamble and Declaration for the first time by Bishop John Gregg of Cork on 19th February 1870 at the General Convention of the Church of Ireland.
Amidst the fallout of the passing of the Irish Church Act in 1869, the Church of Ireland had just over a year to organise itself on a new footing before it would be disestablished on 1st January 1871. A new Constitution was required, and a body to be legal trustee of the Church’s property (the Representative. Church Body) was to be set up by Royal Charter.
In 1870, therefore, a lot of homework having been done by an Organization Committee, the Archbishop and Bishops, together with clergy and lay people elected from every Diocese, met for two extended sessions as a General Convention in Dublin: a Spring session of 41 days and an Autumn session of 16 days.
At the outset it was essential to set down first principles; a new Church was not being founded, rather it was a continuation of the ancient Church, catholic and apostolic, which had espoused also the principles of the Reformation.
On Saturday 19th February 1870, the fifth day of the General Convention, having first put in place the rules to order the way it would work, the meeting turned, as of first importance, to first principles: the continuity, tradition and key beliefs of the Church of Ireland. These were set out in a Preamble and Declaration which was proposed for adoption by the Bishop of Cork, John Gregg, and seconded by the Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Chevenix Trench. So solemn was the moment that the Journal of the General Convention records that those present were’ standing their heads uncovered’; they removed their hats.
This short but powerful and symbolic moment in the history of the Church of Ireland was re-enacted in part of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork which was transformed to emulate the Antient Concert Rooms on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) Dublin where the General Convention convened.
The Chaplains of the three schools – Drew Ruttle, the Reverend Anne Skuse, and Canon Andrew Orr – recruited the cast who were decked in period costume sourced by Drew Ruttle who also oversees the drama department at Ashton School. Dr Richard Clarke fulfilled the role of his predecessor Archbishop in Armagh, Marcus Gervais Beresford. Bishop Mayes took the part of the Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Chevenix Trench.
The re-enactment was filmed for posterity, with a number of rehearsals and ‘takes’ during the morning. In a rest between filming, Bishop Colton introduced the students to one of the Trustees of the Diocese, Mr David Bird, whose great-grandfather, D.R.P. Sarsfield, J.P. of Doughcloyne in Cork was one of the laymen representing the Diocese. Sarsfield Road and the Sarsfield Roundabout on Cork’s South Ring Road are named after him.
It is a fact that women were not members of the General Convention in 1870. Indeed, they were not part of the decision-making synods of the Church until the 1950s. It is not known whether or not they attended as guests, but in this re-enactment they did, emphasising the historical fact of their non-participation.
Having rehearsed and filmed, before packing up, the entire moment was solemnly re-enacted in commemoration of that historic moment on 19th February 1870 when Bishop John Gregg read aloud the Preamble and Declaration for the first time.
After the re-enactment, the entire cast, accepted the Bishop’s invitation to lunch at the Bishop’s Palace across the road where everyone relaxed under the watchful eye of the portrait of Bishop John Gregg, and, indeed, the portraits of bishops as far back as 1582.
A full gallery of photos is HERE
A short video will also appear here in due course.