Seminar and Award Honours Former Church of Ireland Librarian and Archivist, Dr Ray Refaussé
The fact that around 90 people turned up on a wet Saturday morning for a special event to honour the career of Dr Raymond (Ray) Refaussé (who retired from the RCB Library earlier this year) spoke volumes about the high esteem in which he is held not only within Church of Ireland circles but the wider archival profession in Ireland.
Having served as Assistant Librarian in the Department of Manuscripts, Trinity College Dublin, between 1976 and 1981, Ray was appointed the first Church of Ireland Archivist at the RCB Library in 1981, and following the retirement of the Librarian three years later, became the first Librarian and Archivist in 1984, a position he held until his retirement in June 2016.
The Library and Archives Committee of the Representative Church Body, chaired by Dr Michael Webb, honoured his long and dedicated contribution by hosting the seminar “Keeping the Records Safe: A Career in Retrospect” at which a stellar line–up of speakers treated the audience to appropriate, thoughtful and often very amusing reflections about Ray’s role as Librarian and Archivist setting his work in the wider context of the Church of Ireland’s nuanced and complex evolution, for which the gathering and safe–keeping of records into the safe custody of the RCB Library (founded in 1932) remains central.
In his warm opening tribute the Most Revd Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh, expressed his own personal debt of gratitude for Ray’s “utter dedication” to his work at the RCB and for the wider Church, noting that he had actually served for two–thirds of the library’s existence, overseeing its modernisation with the introduction of a printed online catalogue and digitization of many key sources.
Two keynote talks followed. In the first, the Rt Revd John McDowell, Bishop of Clogher and former chair of the Historical Centenaries Working Group, drew the humorous analogy between Ray and Association Footballer Paul Madeley – paying particular tribute to the elegance and grace with which the former could produce sources or information, and “no matter how complex the challenge … made it look so easy”. He went on to make a strong case in favour of studying the past, in particular the Church of Ireland’s past, regarding it “as part of our vocation” to take care of it because it connects us to both the strange and the familiar in where we have come [from], enabling us to better understand who we are”.
In the second, Professor Raymond Gillespie (University of Maynooth), in putting Ray into some historical context, examined the role of diocesan registrars and their deputies, who, in the days before there was an RCB Library or any centralisation of records, were the Church’s main record keepers. With the exception of the diocese of Armagh, these – the “Rays before Ray” – kept the records in their own homes because there was no purpose–built accommodation for storing church records. Attitudes to record–keeping and accessibility have improved enormously not only within the Church, but nationally in throughout Ireland the profile of the archival profession had been raised in more recent times, “thanks to people like Ray”, he said.
Dr Kenneth Milne (Church of Ireland Historiographer), Steven ffeary–Smyrl (Irish Genealogical Research Society), and Canon Adrian Empey (former Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College) each focused on particular aspects of Raymond’s work in three further presentations.
Dr Milne specifically commended Ray’s output in the ambitious programme of publishing the contents of parish registers undertaken by the RCB Library collections (in 12 volumes),and latterly in collaboration with Four Courts Press and a range of key academics – the Texts and Calendars Series (comprising to date some six volumes) which aimed to bring little–known sources about the Church of Ireland to a wider audience. As a member of the Literature Committee, Ray has also contributed to the publishing output of more contemporary aspects of church life, notably through Church of Ireland publishing and such volumes as the Braemor Series.
Mr Smyrl said that Ray’s particular efforts to professionalize the archives of the Church of Ireland in Ireland, including securing an agreement with the Public Records Office of Ireland (now the National Archives) that the RCB Library was the appropriate place of custody for Church of Ireland parish registers, had already benefited generations of family historians and would do so for many more in the future.
Canon Adrian Empey concluded that that Ray had quite simply “transformed the RCB Library beyond measure” making Church of Ireland records relevant and available not just for the church “but nationally and internationally”.
Concluding the morning, Dr Elizabeth Mullins (School of History, UCD), who had nominated Ray for Distinguished Service Award, from the Archives and Records Association of Great Britain and Ireland (ARA) commended Ray’s contribution to the development of professional archiving in Ireland: “We have heard much this morning about Ray’s work in establishing and developing the archives of the Church of Ireland demonstrating the key professional qualities of pragmatism, intellectual rigour, and perhaps most importantly humour”, she said. “These traits were evident to me when I first met Ray in the context of bringing my class of trainee archivists to visit the RCB Library to get a chance to practice their palaeographical skills on early modern parish registers and vestry books. In a sense facilitating this visit for us each year now for over 10 years is symptomatic of Ray’s belief that the role of the archivist is not to provide a bland heritage experience, but to preserve what he once called ‘the real stuff of history for successive generations’. Ray’s success in this endeavour in relation to the records of the Church of Ireland is a lasting professional legacy”.
Dr Alexandrina Buchanan President of the Association, who had travelled from Liverpool for the occasion, together with Ross Higgins, chair of the Irish Region of ARA then presented Ray with Distinguished Service Award, making him the first (and worthy) Irish recipient.
By Dr Susan Hood, Librarian and Archivist, RCB Library
Top – Dr Ray Refaussé, Dr Alex Buchanan (ARA), Steven Smyrl (IGRS), Dr Elizabeth Mullins (UCD), Dr Michael Webb (Chair of the RCB Library & Archives Committee), the Most Revd Richard Clarke (Archbishop of Armagh), the Rt Revd John McDowell (Bishop of Clogher), Dr Kenneth Milne (Church of Ireland Historiographer), Canon Adrian Empey (former Principal CITI), and Prof. Ray Gillespie (University of Maynooth).
Bottom – Dr Ray Refaussé receiving the Distinguished Service Award. Left to right: Dr Elizabeth Mullins, Dr Ray Refaussé, Dr Alex Buchanan and Ross Higgins, chair of ARA Irish Region.