29 November 2013

The Early Irish Church and Iar Connacht

When I started this project, I just wanted to account for all the old churches of Iar Connacht, or at least as many as I could find.  My goal was to then post them on my blog, but I realized that would be devoid of context.  From there, things progressed exponentially.

In order to view the ecclesiastical history of Iar Connacht, we need to do so in context.

(To see Iar Connacht in relation to the rest of Ireland, scroll down to the map at the end of the essay.)

Patron saints of all Ireland

The modern patron saints of all Ireland are St. Patrick of Armagh, St. Colmcille of Iona, St. Brigid of Kildare, and, in some lists, St. Ailbe of Emly.  But that list dates no earlier than the late 9th century, long after the early period of the Irish church, when Patrick was little discussed and would have been absent from the list while in his place stood St. Ida of Kileedy.  Quite frankly, in addition, the cult of St. Ailbe of Emly as a national patron saint
 is based more on the rivalry of the Eoghanachta in Cashel with the Ui Neill of the north than on reality of the time in which he was contemporary.

An honest, objective study of Ireland’s ecclesiastical history will demonstrate that the 5th century Patrick of Armagh (as well as Ailbe of Emly) did indeed do great things both for Ireland and for the Church, and that his influence was felt across the north.  However, his star was eclipsed in the 6th century by Colmcille of Iona, whose works were much greater and influence across an area much broader.

Part 1: The Irish church before Patrick

The true first of the Irish saints was St. Ciaran the Elder, bishop of Saighir in the kingdom of Ossory, a territory originally part of Leinster but then part of Munster, then back in the sphere of Leinster, and finally semi-independent.  Ciaran was born around 375 CE, was converted and left the island for pursuit of religious study on the Continent after his conversion, then returned around 425, six years before the arrival of Palladius.  He died sometime after 455.

Around the same time (early 5th century) as Ciaran’s floruit, St. Declan of Ardmore was evangelizing and organizing the Deisi Mumhan of Munster.

That there were Christians in Ireland at this time is not surprising due to couple of major factors.  First of all, Munster hosted numerous harbors and ports that traded with Continental Gaul and Spain in the Christian Roman Empire, while Leinster carried on a brisk commerce with next-door Roman Britain.

Second, beginning in the 4th century, several Irish tribes had planted colonies in various parts of Christian Roman Britain: the Ui Liathain of Munster in north Wales, then later in Devon and Cornwall; the Deisi in southwest Wales, where they gave name to Dyfed and to Brycheneiog; and the Laighin for whom Leinster is named in later northern Wales, where they  left their name in the Lleyn Peninsula.  The Ui Liaithain left their legacy in Gwenydd, which derives its name from “Feni”, an older name for the Irish as a whole, from which they were driven by Cunedda Wledig and his sons and their followers. 

These latter were Votadini warriors, foederati of the empire, who belonged to the tribe that formed the kingdoms of Manaw, Eiddyn, and Gododdin in southeast Scotland, and who had migrated from Manaw to what became Gwynedd in probably the mid-5th century, possibly at the invitation of the Romano-British leader known as Vortigern.

A major influence on the direction of Christianity both in Ireland and in Britain was St. Martin of Tours in Gaul, who lived 316-397 CE.  Inspired by the cenobites of Egypt, Martin became the founder of Western monasticism.  He was also an ardent Trinitarian and strongly opposed putting heretics to death.  With Ireland, this influence came from two directions, directly from Gaul and by way of Britain.

With several exceptions, more so in later years than earlier, Insular monasticism often took form in conhospitae, or joint houses of monks and nuns living together.  In Ireland the most famous example is the conhospita of St. Brigid at Kildare.  At least in Ireland, many of the monks and nuns married and raised their children there, and monastics moved in and out of the convent as they felt the call.

St. Pelagius

At the beginning of the 5th century, an ascetic British monk named Pelagius living in Rome began to teach against the doctrines of predestination and of original sin espoused by Augustine of Hippo, which was near Carthage in North Africa, and to teach in their place free will and the innate ability of humans to choose between right and wrong.  When Atilla and the Huns sacked Rome in 410, he and his chief assistant Celistius fled to Carthage, where he actually met his ideological opponent.  Not long after, the two moved once again, this time to Palestine.

During the short time the two were in North Africa, Pelagianism took hold and spread rapidly, especially in the vicinity of Carthage, the seat of the Roman province of Africa, which is the main reason Augustine opposed it so fiercely.  By contrast, though Pelagius and Celestius (whose views were more heterodox) found in Palestine an opponent in the theologian Jerome, the Synod of Diospolis (aka Lydda, now Lod) called by the bishop of Jerusalem in 415 absolved Pelagius of any heresy and declared him orthodox.

Three years later the Council of Carthage called at the behest of Augustine condemned Pelagius, Celestius, and their writings and followers, a judgment subsequently affirmed by Pope Zozimus at Rome.  At the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431 primarily to condemn Nestorianism (which led to the secession of the Churches of Persia and Mesopotamia), the church leaders reiterated that decision. 

Decisions of faraway theologians and church leaders meeting in the eastern end of the empire meant little to Christians in its far western reaches, and Pelagianism remained widely popular in Gaul, where Rome’s control was tenuous at best, and in Britain, from which the empire had withdrawn in 410, as well as among Christians in Ireland.  Evidence suggests the return of some imperial presence to Britain around the year 417.


In 429, a synod in Gaul sent two of its bishops, St. Germanus of Auxerre and St. Lupus of Troyes, to Britain to preach against Pelagianism.  While the two were there, Germanus, who had previously been a military man, led the Christian Britons in battle against the (probably) pagan Irish and their Pictish allies who at the time controlled near all of modern northern Wales.  The battle near the Welsh border was a lop-sided victory for the army led by the Gaulish bishop.

The two Romano-Gauls stayed in Britain about a year before returning.  Germanus came back around 447 with another bishop in Gaul, St. Severus of Trier.  Germanus was called into service as a soldier once again, this time recovering the territory that became Powys.

The Pope sent Palladius to Ireland as his emissary in 431, with largely the same assignment as Germanus and Lupus in Britain in 429: to combat Pelagianism among Christians, which implies a sizable enough community of which to take notice.  Though Patrick’s hagiographers portray him as staying but a little while before relocating east, the most reliable texts count Palladius’ Irish ministry as lasting three decades, with him dying in 461.

Many saints formerly associated with Patrick are now known to have been instead disciples or students of his predecessor Palladius.  Foremost of these are St. Isernius of Ui Cheinnselaig in Leinster (died 456), St. Auxilius of Killashee in modern Co. Kildare (died 459), and St. Seachnall of Dunshaughlin, near Tara, in Meath (died 468).

Myths about Patrick of Armagh

According to the traditional Church version deriving from the backers of Patrick’s cult in Armagh eager to assert their power and influence and reap a share of the tithes from across the island, Christianity first came to Ireland with Patrick, who arrived as specially appointed missionary bishop.  He drove the snakes out of Ireland, used a shamrock to amaze the ignorant Irish with the mystery of the Trinity, defeated the druids in a mystical contest, and evangelized the entire island.

The problems with this set of assertions is that there have been no snakes in Ireland since before the last Great Ice Age, the pagan Irish had so many triune deities of their own that they probably explained the concept of Trinity to Patrick, and the stories of his mystical encounters with druids, while perhaps based on real incidents, are the result of imaginative embellishment.

Patrick has also been credited with heading a commission of twelve men who codified Irish law under appointment in 438 by Laoghaire, high king at Tara, with the results pronounced three years later in the Laws of the Fenechas (freeholders).  This law was divided into the Senchus Mor (criminal law) and Lebhor Achaill (civil law).  These same historians also credit Patrick’s alleged favorite disciple, St. Benin of Armagh, with the promulgation of the Book of the Rights and Privileges of Kings.

Those who made up this fantasy apparently did not realize that neither kings nor Christian clerics had much to do with legal matters in 5th century Ireland, that being solely the domain of brehons (judges) and dalaighs (lawyers) at the time.  Besides, Patrick was probably only born around 423, so if the codification of the Laws of the Fenechas truly did take place in 441, Patrick was barely eighteen.

Until recently, historians of the early Irish church organized its development into three “orders” of saints, with specific years for the ending of each “order”.  In this scheme, Patrick consecrated 450 bishops to carry on his mission, which included organizing the church in Ireland along Continental lines.  In the second wave, women were excluded from convents, priests used various rites, and abbots increased in importance.  The third wave increased all the points of the second wave.

The main problems scheme are (1) that there were already Christians in Ireland long before Patrick and (2) the spread and development of Christianity in Ireland can’t really be divided into neat “orders” since characteristics of each supposed “order” existed simultaneously throughout the history of the early Irish church.  Christianity had, in fact, existed in Ireland several decades before Patrick’s arrival in the north, especially in Leinster, through contact with Roman Britain, and in Munster, through contact with Roman Gaul and Spain. 

Historians of the early Irish church now date Patrick’s death to 493 (the date that the Annals of Ulster give) rather than 461, and place his arrival around 455 rather than in the year 432, which the advocates of the cult of Patrick in Armagh chose in order to minimize the mission of St. Palladius, whose accomplishments they unfairly belittled.

Several of the saints traditionally associated with Patrick by adherents of his cult come from disparate time periods stretched across two centuries and often have no relation to Patrick or each other.  Much the same desire for convenience brought together  heroes and prominent figures from across the 5th, 6th, and early 7th centuries in Britain, from the Firths of Scotland in the north to the shores of the Oceanus Britannicus and the Mare Frisia in the south, have been rolled into the tales of Arthur. 

Arthur himself is another figure besieged by myth, a real-life military figure, whether general of a mobile army or leader of a guerrilla-style war band, whom later tellers of tales and political expediency turned into a mystic once-and-future king.  And there’s a good chance he was Irish by birth instead of Briton or Roman, certainly not Sarmatian.

Or, for another example, one more closer to our subject, look at the way a number of Irish saints from different periods were brought together under the roof of the school of St. Finnian of Clonard as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland by Irish hagiographers.

Part 2: Some Irish political and ecclesiastical terms

Political polity in Ireland followed the same lines as the Church, before and after the reforms of the 12th century.  One often chose the direction for the other, as when the province of Meath was obliterated at the Synod of Kells both ecclesiastically and politically.  Or, from the other direction, when the same synod made Tuam an archdiocese because it had become the seat of the high king of Connacht; a century earlier and the province of Connacht may have been presided over by the see of Cong.

Divisions and subdivisions

National government, which is perhaps Ireland’s most ephemeral and changing level, is at the top.  High King and council at Tara, floating high kingship, absentee lordship, Ascendancy parliament, direct English rule, Free State, now Republic.

Province is just below the national level.  At the Synod of Kells in 1152, Ireland’s traditional five provinces were reduced to four, partly over the needs of the Church and partly over the fact that the reason for the existence of Meath was to host the seat of the high king and his court at Tara, something it hadn’t done since 565 CE.  Ecclesiastical and political provinces are the same.

County is the next level, first imposed by the Anglo-Norman invaders in the 13th century, then gradually expanding and reshaping.  The system of counties reached its present 32-county form in the early 17th century.  Boundaries of some counties have changed a little and a few have new names, but the rule of 32 has remained.

Barony is below the county level, largely based on traditional tribal kingdoms of the level of “overkingdom” between the basic tuath and the province.  For example, the barony of Moycullen is based on the former Delbhna Tir Da Locha, the barony of Clare is based on Muintir Murchada (aka Ui Briuin Seola), and the barony of Ballynahinch is based on Conmaicne Mara.  The present baronies were delineated in the Elizabethan Indentures and Compositions of 1585.

Parish is what we have next, delineated in the same manner as parishes in England but due to church reform before and rather than after the conquest.   These were often based on the territory of a tuath, a smaller local sept, such as the parish of Ballynacourty, based on the territory of the Meadhraighe, or on that of a couple of tuatha, such as Oranmore, based on the territories of the Clann Fearghail and the Ui Briuin Eola (related to but different than Ui Briuin Seola).

Before the 12th century, there was no difference in Ireland between rectory and vicarage, with local churches being alike in their dependence on the chief local abbey and/or to a federation of churches founded by one of the more influential saints.  In fact, even well into the medieval period, all churches not directly attached to a monastery were called vicarages.

At the 12th century reforms, the most important local church in a parish became the parish rectory, the others within its boundaries vicarages and chapelries.  A major part of the reason for the change was the same as the reduction in the number of dioceses: to give each parish a more sustainable base upon which to support itself and, more importantly, to provide Rome with money from tithes. 

Though ecclesiastical parishes have changed over the centuries, the boundaries of civil parishes have largely remained static, with some exceptions, such as the creation of Omey parish from that of Ballynakill and the dissolution of Killinkelly parish into Kilcummin or the merger of the parish of Loch Measg into its neighbors Ballinchalla and Ballinrobe.  The first of these is in the barony of Ballynahinch, the second was in the barony of Moycullen, the third belonged to the barony of Kilmain, just on the edge of h-Iar Connacht.

Townland is what we have one step down, most of which date back centuries if not millennia.  One’s townland (baile in Irish) is an inherent part of an Irish-person’s identity, so much when the Royal Mail Service proposed to abolish townland designations for mail at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics, nationalist and unionists alike joined together in protest in the “Townlands Campaign” of 1972.

Cartrons, or quarters, often temporary and almost never of any regular size or shape are subdivisions of townlands.  Not a governmental unit, one does see it in deeds and such.

Church lands

Glebe refers to any land belonging to a church for the purpose of providing its incumbent with a benefice for support.  Usually when a land is called “glebe”, it is detached, separated from the immediate grounds of the church, for example, Kingstown Glebe in Omey parish, originally intended to provide a benefice for the incumbent of the Church of Kill nearby, perhaps, or else that of the church on Omey Island.

Termon has a dual meaning, at least in Ireland.  The termon lands are the glebe lands in the immediate vicinity of the church, usually surrounded with a wall or hedge to mark the boundary clearly.  In Ireland, termon lands provided sanctuary for those running from the law or from vengeful persons.  Violation of the termon lands at Kells was the true reason for the Battle of Cul Dhreimhne in 561 rather than any unauthorized psalter.

In the days of the early Irish church, all of the income went to the abbey and all incumbents of outlying churches were its monks.  Therefore, all clergy were regular, even if the “regular” was much different than what “regular” meant on the Continent.  So the separate designations of rector and vicar were meaningless until the division of clergy into regular and secular in the 12th century.

Local churches and their priests

Incumbency is the position of priest of a local church regardless of status.

Rectory is a parish church whose incumbent receives the full amount of the tithe and of the benefice from any termon and other glebe land.  A rector belongs to the rectory alone, with no superior other than the diocese.  There is no more than one rectory per parish, but a parish does not necessarily have to have a rectory. 

Vicarage refers to a church that is usually not the parish church, to which the local abbey provides the incumbent along with one-third of the tithe revenue, and sometimes of the one-third of the benefice too.  Usually the vicar came from the abbey, but not always.

Curacy was when an incumbent received a straight cash payment, usually at a rate far below that of a vicar, not to mention a rector.

Chapelry refers to a small overflow church dependent upon a larger parish church and usually serviced by its incumbent, though not always.  A good example is that of Rathmyalid Church in Cargin, which started as an overflow chapel, probably for Killursa parish, then grew, and in the 12th century became the seat of the Archdeacon of Annaghdown.

Regular clergy

According to medieval rules, an abbey was a monastery or nunnery presided over by an abbot or abbess, with at least ten other cenobites (communal) or anchorites (quasi-hermits but part of a community), or even eremites (hermits).  His or her chief assistant, the Continental counterpart to the Irish ferlegind, was a prior.  A prior could also head a dependant house.  In Ireland, however, the terms “abbot” and “abbey” were used rather loosely.

A monk was a male cenobite, a nun was a female cenobite, and a friar was a wandering preacher and/or teacher, or at least one who interacted with temporal society more routinely.

A monastery houses monks, a nunnery houses nuns, a convent can house either (though it usually refers to a nunnery), and a conhospita once housed cenobites of both sexes.

The Irish had two words for abbey or convent:  mainistir was by far the most common, and thompuil very rare.  The Irish didn’t make Continental distinctions in any strict way, and “mainistir” can be correctly translated as either “monastery” or “abbey”.

The three major words for “church”, though maybe intended at first to refer to differing status and size are in practice interchangeable:  domnach and cill and teampull.  Sometimes which was chosen had more to do with the rest of the church’s name.  For example, almost all of St. Colmcille’s churches were designated “Teampull” so that they didn’t get stuck with “Cill Colmcille”, which I imagine would be awkward in Irish.  Or the Church of the Wood on Ballyconry Peninsula in Connemara, which in Irish if the designation were not “Teampull” would be “Cill Coille” (and pronounced “kill kill”).

Titles unique to the Irish church

Coarbs were the successors of the founder, either of a particular abbey or of a family of abbeys and churches, sometimes both.  In the early Irish church, a coarb was always an abbot.  For example, the abbot of Iona was the coarb of Iona as well as the coarb of St. Colmcille.  On the other hand, the abbot of Cong over the abbey founded by St. Fechin was coarb of Cong but not of St. Fechin, whose coarb was at Fore.  The position was hereditary by election within the three generations of the local ruling family called the “derbhfine” among qualified candidates, i.e., those with the knowledge and training.  In later years, clerical branches became their own families, called “fine erluma”, like the O’Duffys of Connacht.

After the changes of the 12th century, the bishop of a diocese was considered coarb of the founder rather than the abbot, if an abbey persisted, or the dean of the cathedral chapter.  In cases where an abbey dissolved without a succeeding institution, the position of coarb became a hereditary rank of almost nobility, completely secular.  The MacGinnains in Muintir Murchada were coarbs of Kilcoona and of St. Cuana while the O’Callanans were coarbs of Kilcahill and St. Cathal. 

Several families in Scotland with clerical origins became chiefs of clans by virtue of being the coarbs of a local saint.  The Macnabs are coarbs of St. Fillan of Glendochardt; the Rosses are coarbs of St. Maelrubha of Applecross through their O’Beolain ancestors; and the Livingstones are coarbs of St. Moluag of Lismore.  The Hamiltons are the coarbs of the Abbots of Abernethy.  The Mackays of Strathnaver are the heads of the Kindred of St. Columba in Scotland and coarbs of the Abbots of Dunkeld.

Erenaghs were managers of the church lands, usually restricted to the church’s termon lands, though in some cases other glebe lands were included.  The position became hereditary within a single family; for example, the O’Duanes were erenaghs of Killursa, the O’Mallins were erenaghs of Kilkilvery, and the O’Lees who were erenaghs of Annaghdown.  Just as  the O’Heaneys were erenaghs of Ballynspiddal (St. Enda) and the MacAneaves of the same vicinity were erenaghs of Cloghmore (St. Colmcille).  Or the O’Solans were erenaghs of Cong.

Abthanes were unique to the Scottish branch of the Church, at least in title, but they performed largely the same functions as erenaghs.  Some of the abdens, or abthaneries, may have been under the jurisdiction of the Scottish crown, others were certainly under bigger abbeys, such as St. Andrew’s.  Most cite only the three attributed to Crinan, Abbot of Dunkeld, but research in the last two centuries has shown there to have been many more.  Those discovered so far include: Dunkeld, Dull, Kilmichael, Madderty, Montrose, Monifeith, Kinghorn, Ratho, Kettins, Blairgowrie, Lindores, Kinkel, Lismore, Inverlunan, Morfie (Ecclescraig, now St. Cyrus), Melginch (St. Martin's), Rossie, Lindores, Abernethy, Ratho, Brechin, Airlie, and Edzell (Edale).

There is some indication that the title might have been imported from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to the south before the Norman Conquest.  In The history and antiquities of the city of Bristol, William Barret cites abthanes of Kent and Somerton in England dating back to before that date.

Types of martyrs

In the early Irish church, there were three classes of “martyrs”.

Red Martyrs in Ireland are what we usually think of when we hear the word “martyr”.  Before the Viking Age, red martyrs among the Christian missionaries of Ireland were few and far between, even in the early stages.  One notable example is St. Gregory Ceannanach.  While preaching among the pagans of the Aughris Peninsula, he ran afoul of the local chieftain who ordered him beheaded.  He is one of the few known.

Green Martyrs in Ireland were hermits, but they often didn’t remain hermits for long, as these tended to attract followers around them, by choice or otherwise.  An good example from Connemara is St. Sinach Mac Dara, who exiled himself to a small island off the southern coast where he soon found himself surrounded by other “hermits”.

White Martyrs were those who left Ireland to carry the gospel to other lands, usually intending their self-exile to be permanent.  For instance, St. Fursa of Rathmat Abbey on the shores of Loch Orbsen resigned his abbacy to lead a mission to East Anglia, relocating again in 644 to Neustria in northern Gaul, where he died about 650.

Part 3: Iar Connact before the Church

The name Iar Connacht first appears as “Iarthar Chonnacht” in annals from the years of the Vikings War, refers to the geographic area of Connacht and to no particular dynasty.  The title “king of Iar Connacht” was first used in the death notice of a king of Ui Briuin Seola in the mid-10th century, but it was another hundred years before use of that title became regular. 

As part of that title, the term Iar Connacht was reduced to Muintir Murchada, the tribal name of the lead sept of Ui Briuin Seola.  Effectively, this meant the barony of Clare minus the parishes of Abbeyknockmoy, Killererin, Monivea, and Kilmoylan, then roughly half of Clann Taidg.  The lands of the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad to the north belonged to Iar Connacht until they were seized by the Sil Murray 1118.  The rule of the O’Flahertys did not reach across Loch Orbsen until their expulsion to that area in the first half of the 13th century.

The Aran Islands at the onset of Christian evangelization belonged to a sept of the Corco Mruad who occupied the area of the modern baronies of Burren and Corcomroe in Co. Clare, all of which belonged to the Ui Fiachrach Aidne until the early 8th century.  After conquest of the region by the Eoghanachta, the islands remained part of Munster until 1582, when the O’Flahertys took them from the MacTeige O’Briens who had taken them from the Eoghanachta Ninussa.  They have been part of Iar Connacht ever since.

Peoples and territories of Iar Connacht

At its greatest extent geographically, the name Iar Connacht applies to a wide swath of territory that includes the lands of the following tribes at the time Christianity arrived:

Fir Ui Mhaille, in the modern baronies of Burrishoole (aka Umhall Iochtar, or Lower Umhall) and Murrisk (aka Umhall Uachtar, or Upper Umhall) in Co. Mayo around Clews Bay.  The writers of the various annals counted the territory as part of Iar Connacht, at least until the rise of the O’Flahertys.  The O’Malleys, quite formidable in their own right, never submitted, and even took Inishbofin and Inishark Islands away from them in the 14th century.

Partraige Locha, in the modern parishes of Ballinrobe, Ballinchalla, Loch Measg, and Cong in the Co. Galway barony of Ross.  They were dominated by the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad from an early date. 

Partraige an-t Sliebh, in the modern parish of Ross in the barony of Ross in Co. Galway, also dominated early on by the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad.  Their territory was later known as Ui Orbsen, and as Joyce Country after Thomas de Joyce acquired it in the late 13th century.

Conmaicne Cuile Tolad, in the modern Co. Mayo barony of Kilmaine.

Delbhna Cuile Fabhair in the modern barony of Clare, once known as Maigh Seola.  The area later formed the core territory of the Ui Briuin Seola, or Muintir Murchada in the 8th century, with its former rulers then confined to the much smaller territories of Cuile Fabhair, Muintir Faghairtaigh, and Fiodh Luaraigh, but still styled “kings” even by their overlords.

Delbhna Tir Da Locha, in the modern barony of Moycullen, ruled by the MacConroys, later divided into Gno Mor and Gno Beg by the eastern branch of the O’Flahertys.  They remained in the territory for over a millennium, relocating west when the O’Flahertys and their retainers arrived, establishing themselves in the extreme west of Connemara between Mannin and Streamstown Bays.

Conmaicne Mara, in the modern barony of Ballynahinch.  Like the Delbhna, the Conmaicne Mara retained their territory for over a millennium.  In the 13th century, when the O’Flahertys came, the chiefs, the O’Kealys, removed to Ui Orbsen, but the rest of the septs stayed.

Corco Mruad Arann, in the modern barony of Aran.  They were a sept of the Corco Mruad in Corcomroe and Burren of what is now Co. Clare.  At the dawn of Christianity in Ireland, they were part of Connacht, and remained so until the late 8th century.

Politically, the Fir Umhall were never part of Iar Connacht, regardless of their geographic location.  After Turlough O’Connor, king of Connacht, expelled the O’Flahertys from their territory, the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad were no longer a part either, politically speaking.

Old gods in Iar Connacht

Iar Connacht held onto the Laws of the Finechas, the Brehon Laws, until 1625, longer than any other region in Ireland, including western Ulster, which lost its legal autonomy with the Flight of the Earls in 1607.  Even today it is the strongest part of the Gaeltacht of Ireland.

Likewise, a millennium and a half ago, the region was the last holdout of the old paganism of the ancient Irish.  Many of the place-names still in use refer to the ancient deities or otherwise recall their presence.  For instance, the hill of Knockmaa (Cnoc Meadha) in the townland of Caltragh in the parish of Belclare in the barony of Clare is the home of Finvarra (Fionnbarra), high king of the Daoine Sidhe and 11th high king of the Tuatha De Danaan, the tribal name of the ancient gods, in Ireland, as well as his queen, Maeve (Medb), one of Ireland’s many goddesses of battle.

Knockmaa stands in Maigh Seola, or “the plain of the gliding”, which gives the whole region on the east side of Loch Orbsen, or Loch Corrib, its ancient name.  The plain itself occupies most of the area of the townlands of Caltragh and Cahereeny.

Doon Hill on Irros Mor, otherwise called Bunowen or Ballyconneelly Peninsula, in Connemara has also long been identified as another seat of the Daoine Sidhe (the name of the Tuatha De Danaan after they went underground following the Battle of Tailtu).

Speaking of Loch Orbsen, it is named for Manannan mac Lir, god of the sea and 10th high king of the Tuatha De Danaan in Ireland, in his human guise of Orbsen Mac Alloid.  In this guise he was drowned in the lake named for him on its western shore forming the Maigh Uillin, which is named for the one who drowned him, Uillin, grandson of the 1st and 3rd high king of the Tuatha De Danaan in Ireland, Nuada Silverhand, as well as brother-in-law to the champion of all Ireland and chief of the Fianna Eireann, Fionn Mac Cumhail.

Mannin Bay in the parish of Ballindoon in the barony of Ballynahinch, which at the time of the introduction of Christianity into Ireland was the territory of the Conmaicne Mara, is also named for Manannan mac Lir.  Such is also the case for the Isle of Mann in the center of the Irish Sea and for the region about the head of the Firth of Forth in the southeastern Pictish territories known as Manaw that once belonged to the Gododdin.

Maigh Uillin, or Moycullen, gave its name not just to the plain but to a village, a townland, a parish, and the barony which comprises the territory of the Delbhna Tir Da Locha, who ruled the land from Loch Orbsen west to the head and eastern shores of Kilkieran Bay and south to the northern shores of Loch Lurgan, or Galway Bay.  It is from these two lakes, Loch Orbsen and Loch Lurgan, that this branch of the Delbhna people drive the name of their territory Tir Da Locha, Land of the Two Lakes.

Along with their cousins the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair east of Loch Orbsen, the Delbhna Tir Da Locha once formed a single kingdom with five or six other groups dispersed across central Ireland just before or early into the Christian era of the world.  Unlike their nearby cousins, they remained independent of outside domination until the High Middle Ages.  For over a millennium, until the rise of the Dal gCais as a major power in the island, the Delbhna as a whole claimed to have originated as descendants of the god Delbaeth mac Ogma.

Delbaeth mac Ogma was also known as Tuireann, and in addition being the god of thunder and a war deity was accounted the 6th high king of the Tuatha De Danaan in Ireland.  Delbaeth was credited as the father by his spouse the goddess Ernmas ni Etarlam (granddaughter of Nuada) of the trinity of battle goddesses Macha, Badb, and Anann (the latter better known as Morrigan), and by the goddess Brigit of the trinity of smith gods Creidne, Luchtaine, and Giobhniu, along with eight others in the Tuatha De Danaan pantheon.

The Conmaicne claimed to be descended from Conmac, son of the warrior Fergus Roi and the human Queen Medb of the Fir Ol nEchtmachta, the rulers of the province before the rise of the Connachta.  One branch, the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad, claimed to also descend from Orbsen Mor, otherwise known as Manannan mac Lir, the same for whom Loch Orbsen is named.

Part 4: The early Irish church

Eastern influence

As much as by the form of its druidic predecessors who studied and practiced in “colleges”, the Irish church was influenced by the practices of the East rather than of the West, as were those in Gaul and Britain.  In fact, nearly all of the practices overturned at the Synod of Whitby (but only accepted piecemeal by the various Insular churches) were those shared with the East.  Like its dating of Easter and worship on the actual Sabbath, the Irish church followed the form of the rites of the East, and continued to do so long after all its parts accepted Whitby.

The capital of the empire, Constantinople, lay in the East even though its origin remained in the West.  The East, its central base, continued as the Roman Empire nearly a millennium after the last emperor in the west had died.  That, by the way, happened in 480 rather than in 476; his name was Flavius Julius Nepos.  However, the Prefecture, later Exarchate, of Italiae continued for several more centuries, as did the Prefecture/Exachate of Africa revived in the mid-6th century.  The Senate of Rome continued well into the 7th century, at the beginning of which statues of the then emperor and empress were place in the Forum.

The Diocese of Britain, made up of five provinces, was cut off or cut itself off from the empire during the reign of the usurper Constantine III, to whom Britanniae, Galliae, and Hispaniae gave allegiance.  Its powers-that-be took the opportunity to seek independence as did their cousins in Armorica, the later Brittany, around 410.  By 417, six years after the collapse of Constantine III’s rebellion, some imperial presence had returned to both outskirts.

An imperial diocese, as opposed to an ecclesiastical diocese, was the larger unit made up of smaller provinces.  In the church, this was reversed, with the province being the larger unit made up of smaller dioceses.  The governor of an imperial diocese was called a vicar, while the governor of a province was called a rector; in the Church, the importance of these two offices was likewise reversed, the rector being over a parish and the vicar over a mission or a small church dependent on a larger institution.

In 461, after Roman Gaul north of the River Loire was cut off from the rest of the empire by conquests of the Visigoths and Burgundians, the Magister Militum of Gaul, Aegidius, established an exarchate of the empire with its seat at Noviodunum, the later Soissons.  Often referred to as the Domain of Soissons by historians, in succeeding decades of the contemporary period this would have been called the Ducatas Noviodunum and may have been so at the time.  Under Aegidius and his successor, Syagrius, the exarchate lasted until 486, and with it was closely associated the diocese of Britain.

This chaos in the western half of the empire, even in the part that did actually remain part of the empire, played a large part in the primary influence upon Irish ritual and practice coming from the East farther away in distance. 

The main differences between Insular practice and Continental practice were:
  1. The method of tonsure (Romans shaved the top of the head while the Celts shaved the front, like the druids)
  2. The way the date of Easter was calculated; the Irish tied their date of Pascha to that of the Jewish Passover as Christians did in the East
  3. The Irish practice of “going into exile for Christ”—aka White Martyrdom
  4. The unique method of conducting penitentials among the Irish and those whom they influenced; on the Continent the procedure was public confession and public penance while in the Isles both were done in private
  5. The Irish focus on monasticism, which was more fluid there than on the Continent.  Besides the predecessor of the druidic colleges, for the entirely rural life in Ireland, church life centered on monasteries was a better fit.  In fact, the monasteries fueled the growth of towns.
  6. In Ireland, in the early years at least, abbeys were more often conhospitae (mixed, or coed) and often monks and nuns would marry and raise their children together in service to the new faith.  In later stages this changed, especially after convents became large, wealthy, and politically influential.
  7. Many communities in Ireland still worshipped on the Sabbath (as they all did originally) rather than on Sunday.
  8. The manner of holding one’s fingers when signing the cross:  on the Continent, believers used the first two fingers, while in the rest of the Isles they used the first, third, and fourth fingers to symbolize the Holy Trinity
  9. Irish liturgies followed the overall outline of those used in the East, as in the Stowe Missal and the Bobbio Missal.
  10. In the earliest centuries of the Irish church, the primary liturgical language was Greek.
These were the largely differences over which the Synods of Magh Lenn (630), of Whitby (664), and of Birr (697) were eventually called.

The Irish church did not have one identifiable liturgy, but was quite varied in practice.  Its influences came from the Gallican rites in southern Gaul as well as directly from that region’s main influence, the churches of the East, particularly those of Ephesus and Alexandria.  The latter of those two churches was also an influence on the monastic focus of the Irish church, along with the Gaulish St. Martin of Tours.

The Eastern influences can be readily identified in the primary surviving liturgy of the Irish, the Stowe Missal, as well as in the in the Bobbio Missal, the Bangor Antiphonary, the Book of Dimma, the Book of Mulling, the Book of Hymns, and in various fragments.  In these sources, one can see that the order of Irish rites conformed more to that of the Eastern Divine Liturgy than the Roman Mass, though those differences are largely superficial.

The surviving rites are structured like those of their Eastern forebearers, divided into a Liturgy of Preparation, a Liturgy of the Catachumens, and a Liturgy of the Faithful, much like the liturgies of ancient times.  In these, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed comes after the dismissal of the catachumens and passing of the peace, as it does in the Divine Liturgy of the East, and, like those churches, lacks the Filioque clause.

Ireland’s Golden Age

From the mid-5th century to the beginning of the Viking Wars in 795, the Irish experienced a golden age during which it found itself the center of education and culture in Europe as well as the preserver of its literary antiquities.  Students from across the Continent and from next door flocked to its monastic schools, which quickly supplanted the druidic colleges.

Patrick’s first stay in Ireland was as a slave captured during a raid on Roman Britain by warriors from the island next-door.  When he returned as missionary bishop, he did not go to the already evangelized south but to the pagan north (Ulster) and later the more pagan west (Connacht).  St. Ailbe of Emly, claimed in Munster as a predecessor and in Ulster as a successor, was probably a contemporary, as was St. Ibar of Beggerin in modern Co. Wexford.

The generation after them included St. Abban of Moyarney (Co. Wexford) and Killabban (Co. Laois) in Leinster; St. Brigid of Kildare, abbess of a conhospita (dual abbey of monks and nuns) with a famous school founded in 468 who was also a consecrated bishop; and St. Enda of Aran, credited as founder of Irish monasticism, though by this is meant that he founded the first single-sex convent of ascetics such as those on the Continent. 

Enda’s abbey on Inishmore included what became the best known seminary and college of Ireland.  Legend has it that Enda was granted the territory by the king of Munster, though since at this time the Aran Islands were ruled by a branch of the Corco Mruad in the later Co. Clare which was then part of Connacht, the donor was more likely the king of Connacht, or of Corco Mruad.

The exponential spread of schools across Ireland came with the generation that followed.  St. Finnian founded Clonard around 520, the school mistakenly credited as the well-spring of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland”.  Later in that decade, St. Jarlath founded the abbey at Tuam which came to host among other things one of the best medical schools on the island.  Two decades later, St. Ciaran the Younger founded Clonmacmoise, around 545, but died the next year ending a long life of teaching.  St. Ida of Kileedy, “foster mother of the Irish saints”, established her abbey and its school in the middle of the century, as did St. Brendan of Clonfert.

Ireland’s greatest saint, St. Colmcille of Iona, born into the Cenel Connaill of the northern Ui Neill, is credited with founding 150 abbeys and other monasteries in Ireland and among the Cruithni (Picts) of northern Britain, not to mention hundreds of local churches.  He established his first abbey among the Cenel Connaill at Derry in 545, the same year that Ciaran founded his last at Clonmacnoise the year before his death.  The Cruithni, incidentally, rather than being an entirely different ethnic group, were actually non-Romanized Britons in the northernmost reaches of the island of Britain, by this time having coalesced into two confederations whose descendants were to dominate the politics of Scotland down to the mid-13th century. 

Colmcille’s most prominent abbeys were at Doire (Derry) and Raphoe in Tir Connaill, Kells in Meath, and Iona in the Sea of the Hebrides in the sphere of influence of the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu.  The last became the single-most important and revered center of Christianity in Ireland and northern and western Britain until the Viking Age.  No other see or abbey came close.

Besides manual labor and missionary work, one of the chief occupations of the Irish monks and nuns was collecting and copying literary works, not just Scripture or those of Christian theologians, but of classical authors shunned on the Continent.  Had it not been for the Irish, along with the scholars of the Islamic Caliphate on the other side of the still extant Roman Empire, many of the most treasured of ancient works would have been lost entirely.

Part 5: The conversion of h-Iar Connacht

 (NOTE:  All placenames, unless otherwise noted, are of the townland in which the church or convent is located; the name may be the same as that of a parish or even barony.)

Patrick of Armagh in Iar Connacht

Christianity first arrived in Iar Connacht in the mid-5th century, at least in its eastern regions straddling Loch Orbsen.  In the far reaches of the Conmaicne Mara, it took a little more time.  According to most accounts, Patrick of Armagh brought the religion here himself.

While his importance may have been exaggerated to mythic proportions by proponents of his cult and of the power of the see of Armagh, Patrick was indeed an important figure in the early Irish church, at least in Ulster and Connacht, and probably Meath.  Among the non-Armagh examples of this is a Paschal tract owned by St. Cummin Fada, Abbot of Clonfert (died 661), which he attributed to “sanctus Patricius, papa noster”.

In the 5th century, Patrick established two abbeys within Iar Connacht, one at Roscam among the later Clan Fearghaill, probably then part of the territory of the Meadhraighe, and another among the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair east of Loch Orbsen in Abbeytown.  The first failed to make it through the early decades of the Viking Wars, but the latter under his disciple St. Felart, known as Donaghpatrick Abbey, survived into medieval times to become the regional center of the churches in the Muintir Padraig and later the seat of a an early diocese.

Among the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair, Patrick and/or his followers established churches in the townlands of Donaghpatrick, Oranmore, Roscam, and Killower.  To the north of them among the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad they established a church in Cahernicole West.  Across Loch Orbsen among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha, they founded a church in Turlough, and in Loch Orbsen itself within the territory of that same group another on Inchagoill Island.

Patrick’s contemporaries here

Two contemporaries of Patrick with strictly local influence also put their efforts into attempts at evangelizing the region’s pagan populace.  One is the “Pious Foreigner” for whom Inchagoill Island is named and where he had his home.  His name is not recorded unless he was actually named Gall; there is a church founded by or at least dedicated to him in the townland of Killaguile among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha.  The other is the female St. Anhin, who may have had the early convent on Inishmacatreer Island and for whom two churches are named in the townland of Killannin as well as the townland itself and the civil parish.

Aran of the Saints

What is by far the most important and influential Christian institution in Iar Connacht is the Abbey and College of St. Enda on the eastern end of Inishmore Island in Loch Lurgan in the area known as Killeany, founded in 485.  Enda was a prince of the Airghialla in Ulster converted by his sister, St. Fanchea.  After his conversion, he went to the abbey and school of St. Ninian at Candida Casa across the Irish Sea among the Novantae in the region of southwest Scotland later known as Galloway.

Though communal living had been a feature of the Irish church since Christianity was first introduced, Enda is called the father of Irish monasticism because his foundation was the first major house that practiced the asceticism of the Egyptian desert monks, with their life revolving around manual labor, prayer, and study. 

Most accounts claim that Enda was given Aran by his brother-in-law, the then current king of Munster, but at the time the islands were ruled by a sept of the Corco Mruad.  The main body of the Corco Mruad inhabited the northwest of what is now Co. Clare, the whole of which formed the southern territory dominated by the Ui Fiachrach Aidne of Connacht.  The later Co. Clare and the Aran Islands did not fall to the Eoghanachta until the mid-7th to early 8th century.

A disagreement between Enda and one of his disciples led to St. Brecan establishing another abbey at the western end of the island now known as Eoghacht.  Another famous prodigy was St. Ciaran, later of Clonmacnoise, whom Enda encouraged to establish another monastery in the middle section of the island now called Mainistir.  Around a dozen monasteries eventually dotted the landscape of the relatively tiny island.

Among other standout luminaries who lived, worked, studied, and trained under Enda and his colleagues and their successors were St. Colmcille of Iona, St. Brendan of Clonfert, St. Finnian of Moville, and St. Jarlath of Tuam.

At the beginning of the next century, upon finding Inishmore somewhat crowded for his taste, St. Cavan founded an abbey on Inisheer, the island closest to the coast of Aidne .

In addition to study and the contemplative life, the establishments of Inishmore evangelized the countryside, especially along the coast.  Enda himself founded a satellite monastery on the northern shore of Loch Lurgan among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha at Ballynspiddal (now Spiddal West).  From there his monks spread out, founding two churches next to the monastery, two more among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha in Killagooly and Cloonif and one among the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair in Cloghanower.

Meanwhile, Brecan established a satellite monastery of his own among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha upon Rosmuck Peninsula at the head of Kilkieran Bay at Kilbrickan with a dependent church, and two other churches in the hinterland at Rosscahill East and at Kilannin.

One of Enda’s monks named Gregory made the first attempt to evangelize the Conmaicne Mara at the extreme northwest of their territory on Renvyle Peninsula, but he incurred the wrath of the local chieftain, and possibly the enmity of his druids.  His subsequent beheading around the year 500 was one of the few cases of “red martyrdom” among the Irish during the period of evangelization.  Better known as St. Ceannanach, he is now the patron saint of the parish of Ballynakill and once had a church dedicated to him on Inishmaan Island, the middle of the Aran archipelago.

In the wake of his death, St. Rioch found a more hospitable reception among tribes from the same people, but somewhat to the south.

A companion of Enda’s, St. Coelan, set up a small monastery in Loch Orbsen on the island of Inishgarraunmore, where his mentor stayed with him for a time.  The island lies in the territory of the Delbhna Tir Da Locha.  There was another church dedicated to him on Croaghnakeela Island off the coast of Ballyconneely Peninsula south of Cashla Bay which may have been founded by him as well, plus another in the lands of the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair at Kildrum.

The next generation of missionaries

After a seven-year stay on Inishmore, Enda’s disciple Ciaran left the island for the mainland, establishing a monastery and church in the southwestermost territory of the Conmaicne Mara, at Kilkieran on the western side of the mouth of the same-named bay.  His greatest center in the vicinity, though, at least in later years, was the abbey he founded at Annaghdown among the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair. 

While the abbey later came under the Rule of St. Brendan of Clonfert, the earliest mentions of it in the annals identify it with Ciaran of Clonmacnoise.  Under the later rulers of the territory, the Ui Briuin Seola also known as the Muintir Murchada, the abbey rose to become the center of a diocese that survived attempts to eradicate it by the rival see of Tuam until the 16th century.

In addition to these, Ciaran, or his disciples, established two churches among the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad at townlands both since named Kilkeerin.  After a long life of teaching, Ciaran founded his crowning achievement, the abbey and school at Clonmacnoise.  Unfortunately, his tenure as abbot there lasted only a year before he died in 546.

A Christian convert named Sinach left Inishmore in the early 6th century to live a life of contemplation as a hermit on a small island off the coast of Carna peninsula between Kilkieran and Cashla Bays.  The island lies in the territory of the Conmaicne Mara.  As so often happened with the green martyrs of Ireland, he began to attract disciples and companions to what is now known by his patronymic as St. Macdara’s Island.

Possibly working from a base on Inisheer Island where they are reputedly buried, the Seven Daughters of Connemara worked throughout the territory of that people, at least along the coast, and were revered throughout the territory.  Also referred to as the Seven Sisters, none of them are known by name.

During the time he stayed on Inishmore, or perhaps immediately after leaving, St. Brendan established a monastery on Omey Island at the far western reaches of the territory of the Conmaicne Mara.  He also organized a church on Inishnee Island off their southern coast. 

The pinnacle of Brendan’s career was the abbey of Clonfert among the Ui Maine along with its college, which became their foremost Christian institutions, as well as one of the most respected in the Isles.  From Clonfert, he established a satellite abbey and church among the Partraige an-t Sliebh in Iar Connacht.

Near Ciaran’s abbey at Annaghdown, he set up a convent for his sister St. Briga.  When he retired from his position of abbot at Clonfert, Brendan went west to live near his sister and established a small abbey on Inchiquin Island in Loch Orbsen just off the coast.  Upon handing over that post to St. Meldan, he lived in his sister’s convent until his death.

St. Brigid of Kildare visited the area and worked among its people, but confined herself to the Partraige an-t Sliebh, among whom she founded two churches.

Somewhat later in the century, most likely between the foundation of the abbey of Derry in 545 and the foundation of the abbey of Iona in 563, Colmcille returned to Iar Connacht, perhaps revisiting Inishmore initially, to plant a number of abbeys and churches.  Here he established an abbey and church at Cloghmore on the shores of Loch Lurgan among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha, but there is no record of whom he left in charge there. 

At the head of Loch Lurgan, a contemporary admirer of Colmcille, St. Colgan, established Kilcolgan Abbey in the territory of the Meadhraighe, while his sister, St. Foilan, established another just to the east at Killeely.  Very active, Colgan established a daughter church just north across the river in Stradbally South, and also what became the parish church of Ballynacourty.  Colgan later became abbot of Clonmacnoise.

In the lands of the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair, Colmcille founded Kilcoona Abbey and church at Kilcoona, leaving St. Cuana in charge.  To the north, at the intersection of the lands of the Partraige an-t Sliebh, the Partraige Locha, and the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad, he set up an abbey and church on Inishmaine Island under the care of St. Cormac.

Cormac’s abbey established daughter churches on the islands of Inishrobe and Ilauncolmcille, making it a virtual Columban lake.  The monks there are probably responsible for the church of Colmcille in the townland of Ballinchalla.  From Kilcolgan Abbey, Colgan’s monks established at least one daughter church in Ballynacourty townland.  Kilcoona Abbey founded daughter churches in Callownamuck among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha and at least one other among the Soghain to the east in Garrafine.

Before he founded the famous Fenagh Abbey in the lands of the Conmaicne Magh Rein, later of the Ui Briuin Breifne, St. Callin, a near contemporary of Colmcille, studied at Taghmon Abbey in Munster, under its abbot, St. Fintan.  Callin was born among the Conmaicne Dunmore, just outside the boundaries of Iar Connacht.  Though there is no record of any missionary activity by him in the region, there were churches dedicated to him in Dovepark and Killcallin among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha and among the Conmaicne Mara off the coast of Ballyconneely Peninsula on Chapel Island.

Iar Connacht’s third Christian century

In the late 6th century, a scion of the Cenel Aeda na hEchtage in Aidne later known as St. Colman Mac Duagh studied at Inishmore under the successors of Enda, then returned home early in the 7th century to found an abbey at Kilmacduagh that became the central institution among the Ui Fiachrach Aidne.  His female associate St. Soarney founded an abbey at Drumacoo, probably a satellite of Kilmacduagh. 

Among the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair, he or his monks founded an abbey and church at Baile Clair (now Claregalway), of which the church named for him in Moyrus townland in the territory of the Conmaicne Rein is probably a satellite.  On the northeast shore of Loch Lurgan, among the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad, he or his monks founded an abbey and church in Ramolin, and another church at Kilmainebeg.

St. Mochua, also known as St. Cronan, founder of the abbey of Balla among the Partraige Ceara, established churches at Barna among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha and across Loch Orbsen at Annaghkeen among the Delbhna Cuila Fabhair.

After years of study at Brendan’s abbey on Inchiquin Island in Loch Orbsen under the founder’s successor Meldan, St. Fursey crossed to the shore and established Rathmat Abbey in the Killursa parish townland of Ower.  Naturally, it followed the Rule of St. Brendan. 

The abbey and its daughter church (called the Church of the Two Kings) in the townland of Killursa, both in territory then held by the Delbhna Cuila Fabhair, eventually became the patron establishments of the Ui Briuin Seola after their invasion and conquest of the region.  Another daughter church stood among the Partraige Locha in Ballymacgibbon North.

Fursey became the first Irish missionary among the pagan English when he went to East Anglia in 633 with volunteers he recruited among his monks.  He and some companions, both Saxon and Irish, departed for France in 644.  Fursey died at Mezerolles, which was renamed Forsheim in his honor.

The founding saint of the 7th century monastery in the northern Delbhna Tir Da Locha townland of Lemonfield (formerly known as Kilcummin) may have been purely local, but this St. Cuimin could also be St. Cuimin Fada, abbot of Clonfert.  That would explain why the O’Flahertys so readily adopted his cult after their exile from Maigh Seola (and displacement of the MacConroys and the O’Heaneys); their own patron St. Fursey also followed the Rule of St. Brendan.

Further west, on the peninsula now named for him between Mannin and Ardbear Bays, St. Flannan of Killaloe made his home at the monastery and church he established among the Conmaicne Mara.  A colleague of Fechin of Cong, he later became abbot and bishop at St. Molua’s abbey at Killaloe.  Flannan had another church at Gortnashingaun among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha, and he also worked among the Dal Riata in the Hebrides.

By far the most significant figure of this period is St. Fechin, for centuries dubbed the Apostle of Connemara.  His principal house was at Fore, founded in 630, but in Connacht he is known as Fechin of Cong, after the abbey he founded there among the Partraige Locha on the outskirts of their territory with those of the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad.  For a time the kings of Connacht made their home in its vicinity, raising its stature.

Histories disagree about the order in which Fechin founded his abbeys and other houses and churches, but Ballysadare Abbey among his own people the Luigne may have been his first house.  He went west to the furthest reaches of the lands of the Conmaicne Mara, where he founded abbeys on Omey and High Islands.  He had another abbey on Inishmaan Island among the Corco Mruad Arann, apparently having found Inishmore too crowded.  Refusing the entreaties of his disciples, he continued aiding the stricken during the Plague of Connaill in the mid-660’s and eventually succumbed to it himself.

In the third quarter of the century, St. Colman, formerly of Lindisfarne, arrived in the extreme northwest of the territory of the Conmaicne Mara, bordering the lands of the Ui Mhaille.  He came with a retinue of fellow Columban monks, exiles from Northumbria who were both Irish and Saxon.  On the island of Inishbofin off the western coast, he founded an abbey for himself and the men who had come with him in 667.

After a year, it became obvious that habits of the Irish and of the Saxons were becoming incompatible.  Colman therefore took his Saxon monks inland to the territory of the Ciarraighe, where he founded for them a house which became known for centuries as Mayo-na-Saxon since until the 12th century it housed only English monks.  Mayo became an independent house under St. Gerald after two years.

Lesser known luminaries of Iar Connacht

In probably the 7th century, a hermit now called St. Leo set up a cell on the island of Inishark just south of Inishbofin.  Like his fellow green martyr Macdara, he soon attracted a number of others seeking to emulate him.

The Delbhna Tir Da Locha had a St. Corkey, who established a church in the townland since named Kilcorkery.

A St. Kilkilvery had a church in Bunrabaun among the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair.

Nothing but a name is known of St. Mocan who had his abbey of Barraderry or St. Kelly who may have had the abbey of Maumeen on Gorumna Island (the former parish of Killinkelly and a chapel on the adjacent shore of the mainland were named for him).

Interestingly, there is a church named for a St. Cuthbert in the Delbhna Tir Da Locha townland of Curraghrevagh.  Perhaps this refers to the St. Cuthbert who succeeded Colman as abbot and bishop of Lindisfarne.  Or it could have been a same-named missionary from the abbey of Mayo-na-Saxon.

There are others, of course, but they are all listed in Part 11 at the end of this essay.

Some of the churches are not named for saints at all, though at least two of these are known to be dedicated to specific saints. 

The Church of the Love of God on Inishmore Island is dedicated to St. Gobnait. 

The intriguingly named Church of the Secret in the Tir Da Locha townland of Laghtgannon is dedicated to one St. Croinne, a virgin venerated in the Carlow area of Leinster.

The most interesting name of the others is the Church of the Thorns in Rathfee townland in the territory of the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair.

Part 6: The polity of the early Irish church

Early primacy in Ireland

Though the See of Armagh has long held the primacy of Ireland, recognized as the first of all the metropolitan (a bit of a misnomer until the 20th century) sees of Ireland since the councils of the 12th century, Iona held not only the primacy of the Columban houses but the precedence of all the Irish church until the late 9th century.  Its authority extended over the Cruithni of Fortriu and of Alba as well, Northumbria and Mercia until the 664 Synod of Whitby, Strathclyde, and the kingdoms in Wales and the rest of southwest Britain.

One can clearly see from Adomnan’s presiding at the Council of Birr in 697 the ranking of Iona vis-à-vis all other sees.  The town, then a small village, of Birr is near Uisneach, the geographic center of Ireland, and the council made decisions not only for all the Irish church but for laws of the whole land.  Unlike the fictitious committee of twelve plus its head St. Patrick alleged to have codified Irish law, the Council of Birr is well-documented by records that are both contemporary and external as well as internal.

Armagh’s star did not really begin to rise until the relics of St. Colmcille were removed from the island of Iona to Kells and Dunkeld in 878.  Most of the hagiography of and exaggerated claims about St. Patrick by backers of his cult, and of the power of Armagh, began near the end of the 9th century, or at least only began to gain traction then.  Its rise greatly accelerated in 891 when the abbot of Armagh and coarb of St. Patrick, Mael Brigte mac Tornain, became abbot of Iona and coarb of St. Colmcille as well.

Local church polity

The scheme on the Continent in the empire in which a bishop governed his diocese from its major city and boundary lines were territorial did not work out in a land which was entirely rural and boundary lines often fluctuated.  Instead, polity worked along tribal and clan lines, with abbacies and bishoprics, with office holders being elected from among the derbhfine of the ruling clan as were its chiefs, or kings.  A derbhfine took in three generations of men of the ruling family; succession was not by primogeniture, never in Ireland and not in Scotland until the High Middle Ages.

The center of the Irish church was the abbey.  Its abbot was elected by the derbhfine of the local ruling clan from qualified candidates among it who had the requisite education and training.  Next in rank was the ferlegind, or rectaire, the executive officer who oversaw most of the day-to-day business of the abbey.  The bishop, also attached to the abbey, ranked in the third position, although in some cases abbot and bishop were one-in-the-same.

The abbot was the coarb, or successor, of its founder.  The sitting abbot of the primary house of the founder was coarb of the saint himself, such as abbot of Iona being the Coarb of St. Colmcille or the abbot of Clonmacnoise being the Coarb of St. Ciaran, or of the saint herself, such as the abbot, or abbess, of Kildare being the Coarb of St. Brigit.

Abbeys and churches did not belong to a specific territory but to the primary house of their founder, which was not always the first house he or she established.  For instance, the abbeys and churches founded by Colmcille of Iona and his followers fell under the ultimate jurisdiction of his coarb, whether at Iona or Kells or Raphoe, though his first house was at Derry. 

This family of institutions tied to St. Colmcille, their common progenitor, and his successors was called the Muintir Colmcille, or Family of Colmcille.  Likewise, there was a Muintir Padraig, a Muintir Brigid, a Muintir Brendan, a Muintir Fechin, etc.

Individual churches fell under the nearest house of their founder, even though that might be a long distance away.  All clerics were monks under an abbot’s jurisdiction, and at least in early centuries nuns served as priests and even bishops as well as men.  Likewise, monastic institutions and the churches attached to them, and in Ireland all churches were so attached, following the rules of their founder. 

Until the dioceses were created, ecclesiastical polity followed tribal and clan lines.  There were also strong ties between monastic houses tied to a single founder and following that founder’s rule.  The two systems both interconnected and repulsed each other.

Tribal Connacht under the abbots

First let’s look at the tribes, as they were in the first two centuries of the Christianization of the island as a whole.

Among the Ui Amhlaigh (in the later barony of Tirawley), the leading institutions were the Abbey of Errew, which followed the Rule of St. Tigernan, its founder, and the Abbey of Killala, which followed the Rule of St. Cormac O’Liathain, its founder.

To their east, the most important institution of the Ui Fhiachrach Muaidhe (in the later barony of Tireragh) were the Abbey of Aughris which followed the Rule of St. Molaise, its founder, and the Abbey of Drumcliffe founded by St. Colmcille among the Cenel Cairbre and naturally following his Rule.

On the other side of the Ui Amhlaigh, the Cenel Feidhlimidh (in the later barony of Erris) mostly fell under the Abbey of Inishglora founded by St. Brendan of Clonfert or the Abbey of Inishkea founded by St. Colmcille, and following their respective Rules.

The major abbeys of the Ui Mhaille (in the later baronies of Murrisk and Burrishole) were the Abbey of Aughagower founded by St. Senan and under the Rule of St. Patrick, his mentor, and the Abbey of Oughaval founded by St. Colmcille and under his Rule.

The most important house among the Conmaicne Magh Rein was the Abbey of Ardagh, founded by St. Mel, under the Rule of St. Patrick because Mel was his disciple.  There were other major centers at the Abbey of Coonaquin founded by St. Fraech, the Abbey of Mohill founded by St. Manchan, and the Abbey of Fenagh founded by St. Callin, each of which presumably followed their Rules.  All these came under the Ui Briuin Breifne in the 7th century.

The northeast of their territory that later became Muintir Maoilmhordha of Ui Briuin Breifne (later formed East Breifne in the still later Co. Cavan) held most dear the Abbey of Kilmore founded by St. Felim, but they also respected the Abbey of Drumlane founded by St. Mogue.

The Muintir Annaly (in the later Co. Longford) had in their territory Loch Ree, which supported the abbeys on Inishmore, founded by St. Senan, on Inishbofin, founded by St. Rioch, and on Inishaingain, founded by St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise before his more famous house.

Back towards the west, the major house of the Luigne (in the later barony of Leyny) was the Abbey of Achonry founded by St. Nathi, who followed the Rule of St. Finnian of Clonard, but the Abbey of Ballysadare under the Rule of St. Fechin was also important.

Their neighbors the Galenga (in the later barony of Gallen), who were their occasional rulers, mostly followed the Abbey of Meelik founded by St. Broccaidh.

The Partraige Ceara (in the later barony of Carra) mostly fell under the Abbey of Balla founded in 616 by St. Mochua and following his Rule, but  the Abbey of Turlough founded by St. Patrick was important too.  These Partaige found themselves displaced later in the century by a branch of the Ui Fiachrach called the Fir Ceara who adopted Balla as their spiritual center, and were reduced to Odhbha, which became the parish of Ballyovey and is now the parish of Partry.

When St. Colman of Inishbofin, formerly of Lindisfarne, founded the Abbey of Mayo-na-Saxon for the Inishbofin monks from Northumbria, he placed it among the Ciarraighe Uachtair in the later barony of Clanmorris, at the junction of two of their divisions with the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad to the east.  Despite its comparatively late foundation, the abbey quickly became the most important institution among all the Ciarraighe, whether living in the territories of the Ui Briuin Ai or those of the Ui Fiachrach Muaidhe.

The Sil Murray, the leading sept of the Ui Briuin Magh Aoi and of Teora Connacht, had the Abbey of Elphin founded by St. Patrick as their central religious institution and most of their churches followed his Rule.

The (rest of the) Ui Briuin Ai followed the Rule of St. Coman, being under his Abbey of Roscommon, or else the Rule of St. Beoidh, founder of the Abbey of Ardcarn.

The churches among the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad and the Conmaicne Mara mostly followed the Rule of St. Fechin, who founded the Abbey of Cong about 623 after leaving Ballysadare, choosing that location because it was the junction of the territory of those two groups with the Partraige na Locha, who were dominated by the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad.

Circumstantial evidence indicates the Partriage an-t Sliebh, sandwiched in between the two branches of Conmaicne in the territory called Ui Orbsen, followed the Rules of Patrick, of Colmcille, and of Brendan initially, but in later centuries were governed by Cong and therefore under the Rule of St. Fechin.

The churches of the Conmaicne Dunmore fell under either the Abbey of Tuam which followed the Rule of St. Jarlath or the Abbey of Kilbennan, founded by St. Benan and following the Rule of St. Patrick. 

Among the Ui Maine, the central house was the famous Abbey of Clonfert, and most of its churches followed the Rule of St. Brendan.

The Soghain, a subject tribe of the Ui Maine of Cruithni, or Pictish, origin, were evangelized by St. Jarlath from the Abbey of Tuam and St. Cuana of the Abbey of Kilcoona.

The Delbhna Cuile Fabhair next to them on the west followed the Rule of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, founder of the Abbey of Annaghdown, as well as the Rule of St. Brendan of Clonfert, founder of the Abbey of Inchiquin on Loch Orbsen, to which he had retired after leaving Clonfert, as well as the Convent of Annaghdown, founded for his sister St. Briga.

To these was added Rathmat Abbey founded by St. Fursey, who had been educated at Inchiquin under Brendan’s successor, St. Meldan.  Fursey, later of East Anglia in England and Neustria in northern Gaul, began his foundation about the same time as the Ui Briuin Seola (later known as the Muintir Murchada) conquered the area.  Fursey’s house followed the Rule to which he had become accustomed, that of St. Brendan, and before long Brendan’s Rule had supplanted that of Ciaran at Annaghdown Abbey.

Though their patron was St. Finbarr of Cork since he was one of their own, the churches of Clan Fearghaill followed the Rule of St. Patrick, founder of the Abbey of Roscam.

The most important house among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha was the Abbey of Portnacarron founded by St. Cuimin on the western shore of Loch Orbsen, but they also had the Abbey of Ballynspiddal founded by St. Enda, the Abbey of Cloghmore founded by St. Colmcille, and the Abbey of St. Mocan at Barraderry, the last three all on the northern shores of Loch Lurgan (Galway Bay), as well as the Abbey of Maumeen (and possibly of St. Kelly) on Gorumna Island and St. Brecan’s Monastery on Rosmuch Peninsula at the head of Kilkieran Bay.

The Ui Fiachrach Aidne centered their spiritual life on the Abbey of Kilmacduagh and fell under the Rule of St. Colman Mac Duagh, its founder. 

The southern territory of the Ui Fiachrach Aidne that fell to the Eoghanachta in the mid-8th century (the later Co. Clare) was dominated by three tribes, with two more that were important.

Among the mainland Corco Mruad (see below), the chief religious center was the Abbey of Kilnefora founded by St. Fachnan, but the the Abbey of Glencolumbkille under the Rule of St. Colmcille was also important.

For the Corco Baiscin to the south, the most important institution was the Abbey of Inish Caithagh, or Scattery Island, founded by St. Senan.

To the east of these, among the Deisi Tuaisceart who later became the Dal gCais, the Abbey of Killaloe founded by St. Cronan was dominant, but the Abbey of Inishcealtra founded by St. Caiman was also influential.

In between the Desi Tuaisceart and the other two groups, the Abbey of Dysert founded by St. Tola was the center of the spiritual life of the Cenel Fearmaic and the Abbey of Drumcliff founded by St. Colmcille that of the Ui Cormaic.

The Corco Mruad Arann, later under the Eoghanachta Ninussa, hosted more abbeys and monasteries than any other tribe, thirteen on Inishmore alone at the height of the Golden Age, of which three were very important. 

First and foremost was the Abbey of Killeany and its college, founded by St. Enda at the eastern end of Inishmore.  Second was the Abbey of Eoghanacht founded by St. Enda’s contemporary St. Brecan on the western end of the island.  Both of those were established near the end of the 5th century.  The third was the Abbey of Mainistir established by St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise on the middle part of the island in the early 6th century. 

The Abbey of Inishmaan was founded by St. Fechin in the 7th century, and the Abbey of Inisheer by St. Cavan in the 6th century.

Inevitably, some of the abbeys gained importance and prestige to the point of overshadowing or even totally eclipsing others in their neighborhood.  Often, the abbey’s importance had little to do with the importance of the tribe among whom it stood.

The Abbey of Balla among the Partraige Ceara, for instance, rose to become the most important among all the Ui Fiachrach Muiadhe. 

The Abbey of Achonry among the Luigne became the most important among the Ui Amhlaigh as well as the Luigne and Galenga.

The Abbey of Ardagh founded among the Conmaicne Magh Rein rose to dominance among the Ui Briuin Breifne.

The Abbey of Cong grew to dominate all the churches of the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad and the Conmaicne Mara as well as those between among the Partraige Locha and the Partraige an-t Sliebh, a fair swath of Connacht.  For a time, Cong sat at the top of Connacht’s ecclesiastical pyramid, in large part because the high kings of Connacht made their seat there, until Aodh O’Connor relocated to Tuam in 1049.

That relocation was, in fact, the main reason that the Abbey of Tuam founded by St. Jarlath among the Conmaicne Dunmore became the most important in the kingdom of Connacht, ultimately ascending to the status of primal see.

Internationally, the most famous house in Connacht was the Abbey at Mayo-na-Saxon, which gave its name to a village, a townland, a parish, and a county.  Established by St. Colman, formerly of Lindisfarne, for his Saxon followers in 668, it had grown enough in two years to become independent of its mother house on the island of Inishbofin.  Eventually, the mother house became dependent on its daughter, which long before the reforms of the 12th century had risen to be one of the most respected houses in the Isles.

Muintir Colmcille in Ireland

Now let’s take a look at one of those monastic federations mentioned earlier.

By far, the largest and most widespread of these was that founded by St. Colmcille of Iona and his disciples and their successors.   As such, it provides the best example of the interlocking nature of these ecclesiastical “families”.  This family centered around the Abbey of Iona, founded in 563 on an island in the Sea of the Hebrides off the coast of Airthair (eastern) Dal Riata.

Until the relics of the revered Colmcille were divided and removed from his chief abbey on the island of Iona off the coast of the eastern Dal Riata, sometimes called Earr a’ Gaidheal, in 878, Iona held the unquestioned precedence of not only the Columban houses but of all abbeys, churches, and other institutions connected with the Irish church, including those in what is now Scotland.  The see of Armagh and its abbey were hardly even a blip on the radar screen, except locally.  Such was also the case with Armagh’s later rivals at the abbey of Emly and see of Cashel in Munster.

Colmcille’s first house, after he finished his training, was at Derry among the Cenel Connaill of the northern Ui Neill in roughly what is now Co. Donegal in the province of Ulster.  He founded the abbey at Derry in 545 CE, the same year Ciaran founded Clonmacnoise as the cap of a long life of teaching, only to die the next year.  The likelihood that Colmcille and Ciaran were students together as portayed in the legend of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland is not very great.

Other houses Colmcille founded among his immediate cousins were at Raphoe, Clonegagh, Clonleigh, Clonmany, Desertegny, Fahan, Gartan, Glencolmcille, Templedouglas, Kilbarron, Tory Island, and Kilmacrennan.

Among his more distant cousins of Cenel nEoghan, Colmcille founded houses at Ballymagrorty, Ballynascreen, Bovevagh, Desertoghill, Errigal, Drumragh, and Termonmaguirk.

Near the capital of the Ulaidh at Emain Macha, Colmcille founded the house of Regles Colmcille, in the same vicinity as the mother house of the Muintir Padraig at Ard Macha (Armagh).  Later, beginning in the 7th century, Armagh lay in the territory of the Airghialla.

A little further south in the province of Meath, Colmcille founded the houses of Mornington, Kells, and Skreen in the region of Brega, and the house of Durrow in Tethba.

In the province of Leinster, Colmcille founded the houses of Donaghmore, Moone, Lambay Island, Inistioge, Kilcolm, Killermoge, Lynally, Swords, Moore, and Clonmore,

In Connacht, Colmcille established more houses and churches than in any other province in Ireland, including Ulster.

Among the Ui Amhlaigh, the leading sept in North Connacht, he established the abbey of Drumcliffe.  Among the Ui Fiachrach Muiaidhe to their east, he established Drumcolm, while among the Cenel Feidhlimidh to their west he established an abbey on the island of Inishkea.

South of the Cenel Feidhlimich in the territory of the Ui Mhaille, Colmcille established the abbey of Oughaval.

In the northeast of Connacht, Colmcille established the abbey of Cloone among the Ui Briuin Beifne.  Among their cousins to the Muintir Maoilmhordha, in the territory that several centuries later became East Breifne, he established the abbey of Drumlane.  For their subjects the Muintir Annaly, a tribe of the Conmaicne Magh Rein, he founded the abbey of the island of Inchmore on Loch Gawna.

On Inishmaine Island in Loch Measg, in the territory of the Partraige Locha and bordering that of the Partraige an-t Sliebh, Colmcille founded an abbey that spawned at least three churches on other islands in the loch and more on its shores.

In Teora Connacht, the central district politically of Connacht province, Colmcille founded an abbey on Inishmacnerin Island in Loch Key for the Sil Murray.  Among the Ui Briuin Magh Ai, he established the abbey of Assylyn.

Just south of these, in the territory of the Conmaicne Dunmore, he established the abbey called Glencolmcille not far from that of St. Jarlath at Tuam.

In the 6th century, the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair ruled the eastern shores of Loch Orbsen (Loch Corrib) and in its hinterland, Magh Seola, that gave its name to its later conquerors, the Ui Briuin Seola, who later became the Muintir Murchada.  Among this tribe Colmcille founded the abbey of Kilcoona, placing over it his disciple St. Cuana.

Among the Meadhraighe at the head of Loch Lurgan (Galway Bay), Colmcille established the abbey of Kilcolgan.

West of Loch Corrib and on the northern shore of Loch Lurgan, Colmcille established the abbey of Cloghmore among the Delbhna Tir Da Locha, cousins of the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair on the east side of the loch.  It lay a few miles west of the abbey founded by St. Enda of Aran in Ballynspiddal at the site of the later town of Spiddal.

Except for the foundations in the southern part of the territory of Ui Fiachrach Aidne that later became part of the kingdom of the Eoghachta in the 8th century, Muintir Colmcille does not seem to have had any houses in Munster.  Here, Colmcille founded the abbey of Drumcliff among the Ui Cormaic and another named Glencolmcille among the Corco Mruad.

The Muintir Colmcille added a new member in Connacht in the second half of the next century, when St. Colman, former abbot of Lindisfarne and former bishop of Northumbria, established the abbey of the island of Inishbofin in 667 at the northwest corner of the territory ruled by the Conmaicne Mara.

Due to conflict over daily living habits among his Irish and Saxons exiled from Lindisfarne after the Synod of Whitby, Colman decided to set up another abbey for his Saxon followers some distance away.  He therefore founded an abbey at Magh Eo among the Ciarraighe Uachtair that soon became the central institution for all the Ciarraighe.  The abbey was universally known as Mayo-na-Saxon because all its monks were from England until the 12th century.

Battle of Cooldrevny (Cul Dreimhne), 561

All accounts agree that the Battle of Cul Dreimhne in 561 was the event that led to Colmcille’s self-exile to the land of the Picts, but they do not agree on the cause. 

The battle was fought between the southern Ui Neill under Diarmait mac Cerbhaill of Clann Cholmain, high king of Ireland, king of Meath, and king of Uisneach, and the northern Ui Neill under Domhnall Ilchealgach of Cenel nEoghan, king of Aileach. 

Diarmait mac Cerbhaill, Ireland’s last pagan high king, was the last to be inaugurated at a full Royal Feast in which he married the land.  Marrying the land involved ritually mating a horse then slaying it and taking a bath in its blood.  Colmcille’s Christian cousins in Aileach and Tirconnell, meanwhile, continued the practice for centuries, until it was outlawed after the English conquest in the 12th century.

The more hagiographic sources tell the story that Colmcille secretly copied a Psalter belonging to fellow Clonard alumnus Finnian of Moville, which led to the battle.  Afterwards, a council judged Colmcille in the wrong, according to the legend, in spite of the fact that fellow classmate St. Brendan of Birr had spoken in his favor.  Due to the censure, Colmcille chose self-exile.

The truth has more to do with dynastic rivalry and violation of the laws of hospitality.

Cunan, son of Aed mac Echach of the Ui Briuin, king of Connachta, accidentally killed the son of Diarmait’s steward during a hurley match (nearly as dangerous as Cherokee stickball) at a feast at Tara.  Realizing his peril, Cunan sought refuge at the nearby abbey of Kells, whose abbot was Colmcille.  Diarmait’s warriors dragged Cunan outside the abbey and killed him.  Colmcille sought redress from his cousins, thus leading to the battle at which the slaughter was reportedly enormous.  The northern Ui Neill of Aileach were victorious.

Ironically, Colmcille’s cousins had earlier invited him to become their candidate for the high kingship when it came open, but he declined because he didn’t want to give up his work with the church.  Had he accepted, it would have been he who was high king rather than Diarmait.

Muintir Colmcille in Scotland and Northumbria

Colmcille’s self-imposed exile led to the founding of the house that was to become the leading house in the Isles and one of the most prominent in all Christendom, the Abbey of Iona, which became the local “Rome” for Ireland, Fortriu and its dependencies, Northumbria, Strathclyde, North and South Wales, Cornwall, Devon, etc.  If the occupants of any see of Insular Christianity could be deemed worthy of the designation “Patriarch”, it would be the “Coarb of St. Colmcille in Ireland and Scotland”.

In the east of the Irish Sea, Colmcille founded an abbey on Loch Colmcille on the island of Skye, which lay in the territory of Pictish kingdom called Fortriu.  Fortriu had become the dominant of the two major Pictish realms, the other, Alba, being pressed hard by the Angles to the south in pagan Northumbria.

Some of the major foundations of the Muintir Colmcille in the territories of Fortriu were Dunkeld in province of Atholl; Scone in the district of Gowrie; Deer in the province of Buchan; Kilrymont (later St. Andrews), Inchcolm, and Aberdour in the province of Fife; and Deerness and Birsay in the Orkney Islands.

In 634, Oswald, king of Northumbria, appealed to Fergno Britt mac Failbi, abbot of Iona where he had been educated, for missionaries to convert his pagan subjects.  Later that year, St. Aidan established an abbey and the seat of his bishopric on the island of Medcaut, later called Lindisfarne, near the kingdom’s capital at Bamburgh.  The abbey and its daughter churches remained part of the Muintir Colmcille until the Synod of Whitby in 664.

All these abbeys and other monastic houses and their daughter churches followed the lead of the Coarb of St. Colmcille in Ireland and Scotland until the changes of the 12th century.

In Scotland, the Fine Erluma of St. Colmcille, or Kindred of St. Columba, became Kings of Scots with the accession of Duncan I, whose father Crinan was Abbot of Dunkeld, Mormaer (Earl) of Atholl, Abthane of Dull, Kirkmichael, and Madderty, and Seneschal of the Isles as well as head of the Kindred of St. Columba in Scotland.  The succession was interrupted by the reigns of Macbeth and his step-son Lulach of the Cenel Loairn, descendants of the Eoghanachta Magh Geirginn and of Oengus I mac Fergus, who was the actual first king of the united north in the 8th century, more than a hundred years before Kenneth mac Ailpin. 

After the death of Lulach, Malcolm III mac Duncan ascended to the throne, and his son Aethelred became Abbot of Dunkeld, as well as Abthane of Dull, Kirkmichael, and Madderty after his brother Edgar’s ascension to the throne of Scone.  Aethelred married the daughter of Lulach, and became Mormaer of Moray, where he altered his name to Aodh and became progenitor of one of two families that interconnected and were the banes of the existence of the eastern branch until the 13th century.

Part 7: Later milestones related to the early Irish church

Many of these actually took place during the century-and-a-half long conversion of Iar Connacht.  While they may have affected the region’s periphery, they were not intrinsic to events within.  However, they did help create the world in which those things which created the church in Iar Connacht flourished.

The mission of St. Columban (Columbanus) to Gaul in 590 heralded the beginning of a new era both for the Irish and the Continent, that of the White Martyrs, missionaries who left Ireland usually never to return.  At the various abbeys he and his followers founded in Gaul, Germany, and Italy, life followed the Insular model, including the celebration of Easter, which was synchronized with the calculations of its date in the East.  So, besides beginning the revival of the moribund church on the Continent, Columban and his monks made Rome aware of the differences between the two varieties of Christianity.

The arrival of St. Augustine at Canterbury in 597 in the southern kingdom of Kent began the introduction of Continental doctrine and practice in the Isles, though for more than half a century his influence remained confined to the south of England.  Augustine’s mission came about in large part as a result of Columban’s mission to the Continent.

At the Synod of Magh Lene in 630, the southern kingdoms of Munster and Leinster adopted most of the practices later mandated by the Synod of Whitby in 664.

In 635, one of the monks of Iona, St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, was sent by the 4th abbot, Fergno Britt mac Failbi, to the kingdom of the Angles south of Alba, the Pictish kingdom dependent on Fortriu.  He was sent at the request of Oswald, their king, who had been educated at Iona.  Once there, Aidan founded the abbey of Lindisfarne, serving as both abbot and bishop to become the Apostle of Northumbria.

Northumbria was recently united by the merger of the kingdoms of Bernicia, the larger of the two, and Deira, the smaller one in the south.  The recently conquered kingdom of Mercia, while retaining its identity, fell under the rule of Northumbria and therefore Lindisfarne.

The Battle of Magh Rath (Moira) in 637 is often portrayed as the final battle of Christianity over paganism in Ireland.  In truth it was a struggle for control of the north of Ireland, and all forces of both sides were Christian.

At Magh Rath, the forces of the high king, Domnall mac Aedo of Cenel Connaill of the northern Ui Neill, and his allies the Sil nAedo Slaine defeated those of Domnall Brecc of the Dal Riata and Congal Caech of the Ulaidh and the Dal nAraidi, supported by Oswald of Northumbria. 

On the same day, Domnall’s fleet defeated those of Dal Riata and Cenel nEoghan at the Battle of Kintyre.  The outcome of these two battles was domination of the north by the Ui Neill for the next thousand years along with their subjugation of western Dal Riata, while eastern Dal Riata became a client of Northumbria, then of Fortriu.

In the Synod of Whitby in 664, the kingdom of Northumbria decided in favor of several Roman practices over those of Iona, whence its bishop and abbot of its chief monastery at Lindisfarne, Colman, had come.  Though often portrayed as the final defeat of Celtic practice, its decisions were ratified in a piecemeal faction by different polities from the date of the synod to the tenth century. 

Three of the biggest issues decided in favor of Rome were the method of calculating the date of Easter, worshipping on Sunday instead of on the actual Sabbath, and the Roman tonsure for monks rather than the Irish version.  The method of penitentials, however, was decided in favor of the Irish practice, though it was now to be between a priest was to be the confessor rather than one’s anamchara, or “soul friend”.

The Synod of Whitby did not decide matters for all the Isles but only for those Christians in the jurisdiction of Northumbria and its client realms such as Mercia.  However, most of the other churches followed suit within a century.  Colman and nearly all the Irish monks of Lindisfarne, along with the Saxons who wished to continue to practice their religion as they had always done, departed Northumbria for the abbey of Iona.

In the mid-660’s, the Yellow Plague, known in Ireland as the Plague of Connaill, the high king at the time, devastated not only the Irish church but all of Ireland, as well as the various Pictish, Irish, Brythonic, and Germanic kingdoms of Britain.  Among its most prominent victims was St. Fechin of Fore (or of Cong).

After spending three years back in Iona, Colman, formerly abbot and bishop of Lindisfarne, migrated to the far west reaches of Ireland, establishing an abbey off the shore of Connacht on the island of Inishbofin in 667.  The monks who followed him were mostly from Lindisfarne, both Irish and Saxon. 

After less than a year, friction between the Irish and Saxons grew to the point where Colman felt compelled to found the  separate house of Mayo-na-Saxon (Maigh Eo, “plain of the yew trees”) some distance away for the Saxons.  It became an independent abbey in 670 under St. Gerald, and soon eclipsed its mother house, which later became dependent on it.  The abbey, which remained almost exclusively for Saxons until the 12th century, gave its name to the later diocese, deanery, and county.  The abbey and the see were referred to as “Mayo-na-Saxon” or “Mayo-of-the-Saxons” well into the 16th century.

In 697, Adomnan, abbot of Iona and coarb of St. Colmcille in Ireland and Scotland, presided over the Council of Birr at which the leading clerics of Ulster, Meath, and Connacht ratified the decisions at Whitby, though Iona itself did not do so until 717.  Here they also formulated the Law of Innocents (aka the Law of Adomnan), which forbade the killing of noncombatant women and children, prohibited the compulsory conscription of women and clerics, and set forth harsh penalties for wartime rape.

The Britons of Somerset and eastern Devon, politically under the kingdom of Wessex, ratified the Synod of Whitby in 705. 

The Pictish kingdom of Fortriu and its eastern client Alba followed suit in 710, leading to the expulsion from those kingdoms in 717 of the monks of Iona, who still resisted conformity despite Adomnan’s presiding over the Council of Birr at which Ireland's three northern provinces had accepted the decisions of Whitby.  Later that year, the abbey finally gave in, and the Columbans returned to the Picts. 

Strathclyde in the southwest of modern Scotland followed suit in 721, North Wales dominated by Gwynedd in 768, and South Wales under the influence of Dyfed in 777.

In 793,  Vikings destroyed the center at Lindisfarne, looting its treasure and killing its monks as well as burning its buildings, beginning the Viking Age in the Isles as well as in Europe.  Two years later, they attacked Ireland.

The raid on Rathlin Island off the coast of Antrim in which the invaders burned a church and killed several monks in 795 heralded the beginning of the Viking Age in Ireland, which brought about the rapid end of Ireland’s Golden Age.  The monastery on Inishmurray and Colman’s abbey on Inishbofin were raided the same year by the same Norse. 

The church of the kingdom of Cornwall, the last remaining holdout, finally ratified the decisions of Whitby when its bishop, Kentec, accepted the authority of Canterbury in 870.

In 878, according to all the contemporary annals, the abbot of Iona, Feradach mac Comaic, divided the relics of St. Colmcille between the abbey of Kells in Meath, which had been revived around 814, and the recently founded abbey of Dunkeld in Atholl.  Although the coarb remained head of the Muintir Colmcille, the primacy of the national churches of Ireland and Scotland was divided.  The “Coarb of St. Colmcille in Ireland and Scotland” lost his unchallenged precedence within the Irish church. 

In Scotland, the primacy of the Columban houses, and of the kingdom, remained at Dunkeld, but in Ireland fluctuated back and forth between Raphoe and Iona, then between Derry and Kells, depending on where the coarb at the time stayed.  By this time, though, Armagh, taking advantage of the Columban monks’ turn of affairs, had begun to advance its claims to power.

Part 8: The Irish church at midstream

A politically turbulent century

The eighth century was a time of turbulence and tribulation on the political surface of Ireland beneath which the Church provided a bedrock foundation.

Many of the former ruling tribes of several regions were displaced or eclipsed by newcomers, as was the case with the Ui Briuin Breifne over the Conmaicne Magh Rein, though the Muintir Annalaigh (Annaly) of the latter managed to maintain their independence.  The Fir Ceara of the Ui Fiachrach Muaidhe conquered the Partraige Ceara and reduced them to the territory then known as Odhbha and later as Ballyovey and now Partry.

The conquerors often adopted as their own the leading monastic houses of the conquered, as was the case with those two groups.  The Fir Ceara of the Ui Fiachrach Muaidhe adopted those of the Partraige Ceara whom they squeezed into Odhbha.  The Ui Briuin Breifne adopted those of the Conmaicne Magh Rein.

At the top of the kingship pyramid in Connacht, the Ui Briuin Ai completely shut out the Ui Fiachrach Aidne from the high kingship at Cruachan by the fourth quarter of the 8th century.

In Iar Connacht itself, a branch of Connacht’s ruling tribe that became known as Ui Briuin Seola conquered the Conmaicne Dunmore, the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad, and finally the Delbhna Cuile Fabhair in Maigh Seola.  Until this last conquest, the tribe was simply referred to as the southern Ui Briuin.  Fursey, whom its lead dynasty took as their patron, may have been the patron saint of the conquered Delbhna Cuile Fabhair, or maybe not.

Much further to the south, the Ui Fiachrach Aidne lost their southern territories to the Eoghanachta of Munster, the area that is now Co. Clare.  Their troubles with their southern neighbors are one reason they lost so much ground in the north to the Ui Briuin.

West of Loch Orbsen, the Delbhna Tir Da Locha and the Conmaicne Mara remained independent and in control of their lands, as did the Ui Mhaille who were occasionally mentioned as being in Iar Connacht.

Irish church beginning in the 8th century

By the mid-8th century, concerns of the various ecclesiastical houses, especially the largest ones, became more temporal and less spiritual, as we have seen.  St. Brendan’s Abbey of Clonfert was a major player in those troubles, but it was on the outside of Iar Connacht.  Abbeys grew rich and abbots politically powerful. 

In some cases, abbots became more of a temporal nature, though when an abbey existed nearby the hereditary abbot still ruled the house, and even when not very few abbots and bishops of the Irish church could be called secular.

A similar trend took place in the Frankish Empire from the 8th thru the 11th centuries, though there the lay abbots as they were called were appointed rather than hereditary.  The big difference between the two is that lay abbots in France, still called Gaul for centuries, were actually laymen while those in the Isles were practicing clerics.

Royal abbots

The secularization of the offices of abbot and bishop took their most extreme form in the kingdom of Munster, which took on a uniquely Irish form of caesaropapism.  The kings at Cashel had declared they were going to make their realm the “most Christian” in Ireland, and put their actions where their mouth was.  Numerous kings of Munster were clerics, some even prelates, bishops and abbots.

As early as the 6th century, Fergus Scandal mac Crimthainn, king of Munster 575-582, was also abbot of Emly, the primal house in the kingdom.

Fedelmid mad Crimthann, king of Munster 820-847, was also a Culdee priest upon his accession and was later, within his reign, abbot of Clonfert and abbot of Terryglass.

His successor, Olchobar mac Cináeda, king of Munster 847-851, was also abbot of Emly.

Two kings later, Cenn Faelad gua Mugthigirn, king of Munster 859-872, was another royal abbot of Emly.  His son, Eoghan, though not king, served as abbot of Emly 887-890.

Cormac mac Cuileannain, king of Munster 902-908, was also bishop of Cashel.

In the eleventh century when the O’Briens were kings of all Munster, Muiredach mac Carthaig, king of the Eoganacht Chaisil 1052-1096, was also abbot of Emly.

Ecclesiastical warfare

Larger and more influential houses began to not only dominate but to take over smaller houses, houses belonging to less powerful “families”, and independent houses and churches.  The takeovers were not always voluntary or without bloodshed either.

Although the region experienced some of the type of consolidation that was almost predatory elsewhere in Ireland, in Iar Connacht it was largely voluntary.  Nearly all the churches of the Conmaicne Mara and their cousins the Conmaicne Cuile Tolad went willingly under the aegis of Fechin’s Abbey of Cong, for example.  There is also no evidence that the transfer of Annaghdown Abbey from the rule of Clonmacnoise to the rule of Clonfert, probably after the Ui Briuin Seola firmly secured its place in the region, found any more resistance than passive acquiescence.

Though often credited with much of the destruction that sent the Irish church into disarray, the Vikings were responsible for only a third of the attacks on the wealthy monasteries and churches of the early Viking Age in Ireland.  The great majority were carried out by the Irish themselves, sometimes against the institutions of rival tribal kingdoms in conjunction with local kings, but more often directly against rivals for ecclesiastical power.  For example, between the 8th and 12th centuries, the abbey of Clonmacnoise was attacked seven times by Vikings but twenty-seven times by the Irish themselves.

The following are but a very few of the more notable conflicts among abbeys, church imitating state, sometimes with the state along for the fun.

The abbey of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise attacked the abbey of St. Brendan of Birr in 760.

In 764, the same abbey attacked the abbey of St. Colmcille of Iona at Durrow. 

The abbey of St. Brendan of Clonfert attacked the abbey of St. Finbarr at Cork in 807, the same year the Vikings destroyed St. Patrick’s abbey at Roscam. 

The abbey of St. Brigit at Kildare raided the abbey of St. Maelruin at Tallaght in 824. 

On the heels of a Viking attack on the abbey of Clonmacnoise in 934, warriors from Munster plundered it again. 

The Conmaicne Mara attacked the Corco Mruad Arann in 1016 at Mainistir Chiarain on Inishmore Island.

In 1050, the abbey of Clonmacnoise was plundered three times within three months, all three times by Irishmen.

The Irish even worked with the Vikings.  In 951 and 953, warriors from Munster plundered the abbey of Clonmacnoise and brought Vikings with them to join in.

The attacks were not always limited to one major institution against another major institution; from the 8th century, bigger houses often assumed control of smaller local houses by force or threat of force.  These fratricidal conflicts apparently ceased around the end of the 9th century as there are no more notices of them in the annals after that time.

Among the worst offenders was the Culdee king of Munster, Fedelmid mad Crimthann, who not only seized the abbacy of Clonfert as well as the abbacy of Terryglass but also plundered the abbeys of Clonmacnoise, Kildare, Durrow, Fore, and Gallen.


Another trend disturbing to many Irish that also began in the 8th century was the practice of prelates, generally abbots, double-dipping, accepting or assuming abbacies at other houses, sometimes a far distance away.  In the case of bishoprics, this was not usually a problem unless the see happened to be at a different from the one at which the incumbent was abbot.

Sometimes the additional positions were acquired by martial conquest.  What happened most often in any was that the wealthiest or most influential house received the most of the abbots’ attention while the other house(s) were neglected, and their daughter churches along with it.  The following list of a few of the most prominent examples should illustrate the problem.

Do Dimmoc, abbot of Clonard 745-748, was also abbot of Kildare.

Gormgal mac Dindataig, abbot of Armagh 795-806, was also abbot of Clones.

As mentioned above, Fedelmid mad Crimthann was not only the Culdee king of Munster 820-847, but also abbot of Clonfert and abbot of Terryglass.

Suibne mac Forandain, abbot of Armagh 827-830, was also abbot of Devenish.

Eoghan Mainistrech, abbot of Clonard 830-834, was also abbot of Armagh.

Cellach mac Ailello, abbot of Kildare 852-965, was also abbot of Iona from 854.

Mael Brigte mac Tornain, abbot of Armagh 883-927, was also abbot of Iona from 891.

Mael Petair ua Cuain, abbot of Clonfert 888-895, was also abbot of Terryglass.

Colman mac Ailella, abbot of Clonard 921-926, was also abbot of Clonmacnoise.

Celechair mac Robartaig, abbot of Clonard 944-954, was also abbot of Clonmacnoise.

Dub da Leithe II mac Cellaig, abbot of Armagh 965-998, was also abbot of Iona from 989.  He was the first abbot from Clann Sinaig, which monopolized the abbacy of Armagh through 1139.

Marcan mac Cenneitig, brother of High King Brian Borumha and abbot of Emly 989-995, was also abbot of Inishcealtra, abbot of Killaloe, and abbot of Terryglass.

Flaithbertach mac Domnaill, abbot of Clonard 1011-1014, was also abbot of Clonmacnoise

Mael Muire ua hUchtain was abbot of Kells as well as abbot of Raphoe 1025-1040, but at least both houses were in the Columban family.

Coscrach mac Aingeda. abbot of Clonfert 1036-1040, was also abbot of Killaloe.

Murchad mac Flainn Ua Mael Sechlainn, abbot of Clonard 1055-176, was also abbot of Kells from 1057.

Tigernach ua Braein, abbot of Clonmacnoise 1079-1088, was also abbot of Roscommon.

Gilla Crist Ua hEchain, abbot of Clonard 1117-1136, was also abbot of Molville and/or Clooncraff.

Mael Morda Ua Clothna, abbot of Emly 1122-1164, was also abbot of Baltinglass.


Toward the end of the 8th century, as abbeys grew fat with wealth and often drunk with power, the Culdee (from Celi De, “servants of God”) reform movement began at Tallaght under St. Maelruain over what its adherents saw as the growing decadence and temporalization of the Church growing out of some of the trends just cited.  The Culdees adhered to more rigid discipline and a strict rule, and were especially devoted to caring for the poor and the sick.  Usually their chapters were attached to cathedrals or collegiate churches where they lived as anchorites, at least in the movement’s early years.  They dwelled in small individual beehive cells attached to the outside of the church walls.

By the mid-9th century, there were at least nine Culdee chapters in Ireland, at Armagh, Tallaght, Clonmacnoise, Clones, Devenish, Sligo, Clondalken, Monahincha, and Scattery Island.  The movement was stronger in Scotland, which hosted at least thirteen Culdee chapters, including at Iona by the 12th century, attached to the then Benedictine abbey there.

In time, each of these houses (which were independent of each other) gained lay associates who abided by certain of the house’s rules  in much the same way as the later tertiary orders on the Continent.  By the beginning of the 12th century, most of the Culdee houses had either become canons regular or else as secularized and corrupted as the earlier monastic establishments they sought to reform, the house at Iona being one of two notable exceptions.

The notable exception was at Armagh, where the Culdee chapter became part of the cathedral chapter, a chapter within a chapter.  This group of Culdees lasted the longest of all, until 1541 when the cathedral chapter itself was dissolved.

The thrice-mentioned Fedelmid mac Crimthann, king of Munster, is one of the more notable examples of a devotee claiming to adhere to the Culdee ideals who seems to have made little attempt to actually follow through on living up to them.  One of the obstacles to the Culdees’ attempts at reformation of the Irish church was likely the turbulence that accompanied the onset of the Viking Age.

The Viking Age in Iar Connacht

While the Vikings are often blamed for many of the features of the disarray into which the Irish church had fallen, as we have seen, many of their troubles were caused by the Irish themselves and many of the changes already in progress. 

Despite some of the hysterics of the Church annals of the time, in all of Ireland’s Viking Age (795-980), there were only 43 recorded total raids by Vikings, a number dwarfed by what the Irish did to themselves.  In the first thirty-five years of the Viking Age, 26 monasteries were attacked by Vikings while 87 were attacked by the Irish.

The earliest part of the age was dominated by the Norse, the later years by the Danes.

Only a few of these raids were against the lands of Iar Connacht, though others came close.  The following entries have been extracted from various annals and paraphrased.

795 – After burning the monastery on Rathlin Island off the coast of the Ulaidh, the Vikings raided the abbey of Inishmurray off the coast of the Ui Fiachrach Muaidhe.  Then they rounded the northwest coast and headed south to raid the St. Colman’s abbey on Inishbofin.

807 – After burning the abbey on Inishmurray, the Vikings headed south once again and destroyed St. Patrick’s abbey Roscam.  When returning north, they attempted to plunder Tir Umhall but were slaughtered.

808 – The Vikings got their revenge against the Fir Umhall, slaughtering them in return.

812 – Another raid on Tir Umhall resulted in another slaughter of Vikings by the Fir Umhall, but when they later raided the Conmaicne Mara, the Vikings inflicted a slaughter of their own.

813 – The Vikings raided and slaughtered the people of Fir Umhall once more.

836 – The Vikings devastated all the lands of Connacht.  Presumably this included the territory of Iar Connacht, though it may have been restricted to the core area of the province.

838 – The Vikings won a battle against the Connaughtmen.  The forces of Connacht probably included warriors and sailors from  Iar Connacht.

846 – The Vikings won a battle against the Connaughtmen.  Ditto.

923 – The Conmaicne Mara got their revenge against the Vikings, killing their leader, Tomrar, son of Tomralt, in the process.

927 – The Vikings of Limerick invaded Loch Orbsen, and plundered the islands of the lake before settling down to stay.  Of all the incursions during the Viking Age, this was the most serious for Iar Connacht.

928 – The “Connaughtmen” slaughtered the Vikings who had taken up residence on Loch Orbsen, driving them off.  The Irish forces undoubtedly included warriors from nearly every one of the peoples in the vicinity.

929 – A Viking fleet from Limerick again raided Loch Orbsen, but this time its participants apparently had the good sense to raid and run.

1081 – The Danes destroyed the monasteries and churches on Inishmore, but this falls outside the time of the Viking Wars, which even at the greatest extent are counted as ending with the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.  It was even nine years after the Anglo-Norman invasion.  Everything in current use was soon rebuilt.

Despite the fact that its small size and remoteness from outside support might lead one to think Inishmore and the other Aran Islands frequent targets, the fact is that the same characteristics must have left them ignored because there is no mention in the annals of any attack, other than the one in 1018.  Besides not only are the islands somewhat barren, the monasteries and college on Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer stayed true to their mission and never engaged in the wealth ingathering so many other monasteries fell prey to.

The most lasting effect of the Viking Age in Ireland were the settlements at Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, and Limerick.  The former Norse and Danes, and later those from the Isle of Mann, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, and the Faroes, settled down and became Gaelicized as many of their distant cousins the Cambro- and Anglo-Normans did later.

The main legacy of the Viking Age in Iar Connacht, besides abandonment of the island churches on Loch Orbsen, was the Clan Fearghaill in what became the parish of Oranmore, or at least what became its ruling sept.  Their chiefs, the O’Hallorans, became the most significant retainers of the kings of Iar Connacht, the O’Flahertys of Muintir Murchada.

Part 9: The coming of dioceses

Largely due to the disarray into which the Irish church had fallen due to the Viking Wars, along with its own internal problems, and partially due to the influence of Norman England next-door, the leaders of the church on the island began a series of synods aimed at organizing the church on Continental lines.  This was more possible than had previously been the case since towns had grown up around the abbeys and other monastic institutions across the land. 

The Danish bishops in Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford were unaffected because they were under the Archbishop of Canterbury.

By the way, one of the peculiarities of the Irish church from a Continental point-of-view was that in their synods, abbots, bishops, monks, nuns, and laity all met as one, not in separate bodies as was the case on the Continent.

Synod of Fiadh-mic-Oenghusa

In 1111, Murdach O’Brien, high king of Ireland and king of Munster, held the Synod of Fiadh-mic-Oenghusa.  It passed a number of decisions which are not recorded but are known to have been aimed at the reduction of the number of sees and the organization of regular territorial dioceses.  Later in the year, the Synod of Usnagh, either agreed to at Fiach-mic-Oenghusa or else held in protest against it, divided Meath between the bishops of Meath and of Clonmacnoise.

Synod of Rath Breasail

In 1118, the Synod of Rath Breasail divided Ireland into two provinces, one headed by Armagh and the other by Cashel, each with twelve territorial dioceses.  In addition to the two primatial sees, five sees were allotted to Ulster, two sees to Meath, five sees to Connacht, five sees to Leinster, and five sees to Munster.  The synod also mandated that Irish monasteries adopt Continental rules and systems of governance, with many foundations folding.  Those remaining operational became Augustinian Canons and Canonesses Regular for the most part, while some adopted the Rule of St. Benedict.

In truth, seven of the sees authorized by the Synod of Rath Breasail lay within the traditional boundaries of the kingdom of Connacht:  Ardagh, in Ui Briuin Breifne; Clonfert, in Ui Maine; Cong, in Conmaicne Cuile Tolad; Elphin, in Sil Murray; Killala, in Ui Amhlaigh; Killaloe, which included Ui Fiachrach Aidne; and Tuam, in Conmaicne Dunmore.  Being based in Thomond, part of Munster, probably meant Killaloe was one of the sees of that kingdom; Ardagh was probably counted one of the sees in Ulster (along with Raphoe, Ardstraw, Connor, and Clogher; Armagh, as one of the two primal sees, wasn’t counted among the five).

Several tribal sees of lesser prestige found themselves ignored, such as those of the Luigne, the Ui Mhaille, the Delbhna Tir Da Locha, and the Partraige Carra, as well as the two important sees of Roscommon, in the lands of the Ui Briuin Ai (of which the Sil Murray had once been the chief sept) and of Annaghdown, in the lands of the Ui Briuin Seola (or Muintir Murchada).

Synod of Kells

Because of the tentative nature of the organization mandated by Rath Breasail, the Synod of Kells was held in 1152, this time under the presidency of a cardinal sent from Rome.  The current high king, Turlough O’Connor, also king of Connacht, supported the primacy of Armagh over all other sees in Ireland, which it won.  The three Danish sees were integrated with the Irish whole.

At Kells, the island was divided into four provinces: Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, and Munster, with the primatial sees at Armagh, Tuam, Dublin, and Cashel.  Among these four provinces were distributed thirty-six dioceses, including the four primatial sees.  Some of the sees recognized at Rath Breasail disappeared while others which had resisted dissolution made the list. 

One notable disappearance after Kells is that of Meath as both a see and a province, the latter in the political as well as ecclesiastical sense.  The four provinces established at Kells are the same as those of today. 

Another change by the Synod of Kells was that several smaller parishes in a vicinity were combined into one larger parish.  These new parishes are largely represented by the modern civil parishes, the boundaries of which, for the most part, have remained unchanged since that time.  The parish church became a rectory and its smaller, now dependent churches became vicarages, or in some cases curacies.

Tuam had been raised to an archdiocese because it was the capital of Connacht, as well as the seat of the then high king of Ireland.  The recognized sees of the province were Tuam itself, Achonry (Luigne), Clonfert, Roscommon (moved to Elphin in 1156), Killala, Kilmacduagh, and Mayo.  The former diocese of Cong was reduced to becoming the deanery of Shrule in the archdiocese of Tuam.

Synod of Cashel

Though the four new archbishops accepted palls from Rome at Kells, the church itself remained stubbornly independent and, to Continental eyes, disorganized.  Therefore, in 1155, Pope Adrian IV, an Englishman, issued a papal bull authorizing Henry II of England to invade Ireland and enforce conformity.  But Henry showed no interest at the time. 

After Richard de Clare and his Cambro-Norman supporters invaded the island in 1169 to restore Diarmid MacMurrough to the throne of Leinster and set themselves up with wide territories in there, however, Henry took note.  He responded with the infamous invasion of 1172, finally claiming the title “Lord of Ireland”. 

In line with the Papal Bull of 1155, one of his chief actions was to attempt to bring the Irish church in line.  At the Synod of Cashel in 1172, attendees passed a number of regulations to bring Irish practice in line with that of the Church of England and subordinate the Church of Ireland to the former.

From this time, bishops superceded abbots, though the latter remained important, and holders of both offices were no longer hereditary within the derbhfine.  Though certain traditional clerical families always produced bishops and abbots, these were elected or appointed in the Continental manner.  The designation “coarb” now referred not to the abbot of the founding saint’s monastery but to the bishop of the diocese.

By contrast, in Scotland, where the same changes began under Malcolm III and his Saxon wife, St. Margaret, the royal couple patronized Celtic establishments as well as those more orthodox in Continental terms.

Part 10: The medieval church in Iar Connacht

The O’Flahertys’ diocese of Annaghdown was finally recognized, or rather acquiesced to, by 1179, and its local rival for continuing existence, the diocese of Donaghpatrick based out of St. Felart’s abbey, ceased to exist. 

The diocese of Mayo, which included the lands of the Ui Mhaille, the Fir Ceara, and Tir Enda and Tir Nechtan of the Ciarraghe, became a deanery of the archdiocese of Tuam in 1209.

In Ireland, the change did not happen all at once, and “foreign” (nonlocal) sees continued to exercise authority over (and take tithes from) faraway ecclesiastical institutions.  For instance, Armagh maintained control over several Patrician monasteries and churches in the province governed by the see of Tuam, including the Abbey of Kilbannon, which until the O’Connors made Tuam their seat had been the chief abbey of the Conmaicne Dunmore.   Tuam began disputing Armagh control of these churches in 1206, but the situation was not resolved until 1351. 

Those monasteries which remained abandoned their historic Irish rules for those imported from the Continent, chiefly the Rules of St. Augustine but in some places the Rule of St. Benedict.  The only two abbeys which survived the transition in mainland Iar Connacht were the Abbey of Cong and the Abbey of Annaghdown, both converted to houses of the Augustinian Canons Regular.  The Convent of St. Briga was converted to a convent of Arrouaisian Canonesses.  The great College of St. Enda and the other institutions on Inishmore ended.

The Franciscans, Dominicans, Templars, and Hospitallers arrived in the 13th century.  Most local churches were assigned to one of the new orders.

Take as an example, the commandery of the Knights Templar in Ireland, which stood at Castledermot in the later Co. Kildare, near St. Brigit’s abbey.  In Iar Connacht, the churches of Kilmacrigan, Claregalway, Kilcoona, Kileany, Donaghpatrick, and Killower were assigned to it.  The Templars also had a preceptor in Galway Town, and another just outside Iar Connacht in Friarsquarter near the town of Ballinrobe in Conmaicne Cuile Tolad.

Due in equal measure to the political vindictiveness of the O’Connors and the avarice and ambition of the archbishops of Tuam, the diocese of Annaghdown lived a precarious existence, occasionally being erased on paper.  During these periods, the college of Annaghdown Cathedral and the chapter of Annaghdown Abbey stepped into the breach.  This back-and-forth squabbling ended in favor of Tuam in 1485, when Rome finally dissolved the diocese of Annaghdown once and for all.  There were still bishops of Annaghdown well into the 16th century, but these were merely suffragans of the archbishop.

Wardenship of Galway

Galway Town, which had its roots in one of the first three castles built in Ireland in 1124, had remained an Norman English-speaking isolate following English law.  Its twelve oligarchic clans had little or nothing to do with their Gaelic-speaking, Irish law following neighbors, not even the Joyces of Galway with their cousins the Joyces of Joyce Country (the later barony of Ross).  Unfortunately for the town, it belonged to the Burkes of Clanrickard, who had quickly become more Irish than the Irish.

The same year that the diocese of Annaghdown finally dissolved also witnessed the town of Galway finally winning free of all ties to the Burkes and becoming fully independent.  The town’s parish church of St. Nicholas also became a collegiate church under a Warden, who was a layman, and eight Vicars, all of whom were to be elected by the town’s corporation.  This meant that the parish was outside the jurisdiction of any diocese, a situation unique in the history of the Church, East or West.

Shortly thereafter, the town’s College began to acquire the outlying rectories and vicarages of the parishes nearby.  By 1501, the territory controlled by the College included all the parishes of both the former Diocese of Annaghdown and those of the Deanery of Shrule.  The revenues from all the outlying rectories and vicarages went to the College of Galway under the Warden and his Vicars, much like the profits from all Wal-Mart stores go directly to Little Rock.  The people’s spiritual needs were taken care of with poorly-paid curates.

This state of affairs lasted until the death of the last Warden in 1831, when the College was dissolved and its churches rolled into the newly-created Diocese of Galway.

Part 11: Early and medieval churches in Iar Connacht

For ease of identifying location, the list is divided into dioceses of the 12th century, then broken down into parishes by barony.  In each entry for a parish, early abbeys or monasteries come first, followed by early churches, followed by medieval abbeys and churches.  The name of each early abbey or church is followed by the name of its townland.  The medieval institutions are followed by the date they were founded.

(map by Ben McGarr, used by permission)

Keep in mind that the baronies and parishes didn’t exist at the time.  They are only listed here for the sake of convenience.  The two parishes in the barony of Dunkellin represent the lands of the Meadhraighe and the Clan Fearghaill, both subject to their neighbor to the north.  The barony of Clare represents the territory of Muintir Murchada.  The barony of Moycullen covers the lands of Delbhna Tir Da Locha.  The barony of Ballynahinch represents Conmaicne Mara.  The parish of Ross was Partraige an-t Sliebh, the parishes of Cong, Ballinchalla West, and Ballinrobe West Partraige Locha.  The barony of Kilmaine was Conmaicne Cuile Tolad.  The barony of Aran was Corco Mruad Arann. 

The baronies of Busrrishoole and Murrisk were Umhall Iochatar and Umhall Uachtar, together the Fir Ui Mhaille, sometimes mistakenly called the Ui Briuin Umhaille.  Even though these churches and abbeys played no part in my historical account, I am including them here now because geographically they are part of the region.

Diocese of Annaghdown

In the barony of Dunkellin:

Ballynacourty Parish
            Early Monastery, Ballynamanagh East (Columban)
            Cill Colgan (St. Colgan’s Church), Ballynacourty (Columban)
            Cill Caimin (St. Caimin’s Church), Kilcaimin
            Early Church, Creggana More

Oranmore Parish
            Kilpatrick Monastery, Roscam (Patrician)
            Cill Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Oranmore
            Cill Barra (St. Fionnbarra’s Church), Oranmore
            Cill Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Roscam
            Cill In (Little Church), Killeen
            Cill Tullach (Church of the Hill), Killtullagh
            Early Church, Oranbeg

In the barony of Clare:

Claregalway Parish
            Kilmacduagh Monastery, Claregalway
            Cill Mac Duagh (St. Mac Duagh’s Church), Claregalway
            Cill Trog (St. Trog’s Church), Kiltroge
            Abbey of Conventual Franciscan Friars, 1252

Lackagh Parish
            Teampull Colmcille (St. Colmcille’s Church), Lackaghbeg
            Cill Sciach (Church of the Thorns), Rathfee
            Cill Suibhne (St. Suibhne’s Church), Grange
Cummer Parish
            Kilcolman Monastery, Currylaur
            Cill Mhic Reanain (Church of the Sons of Renan), Currylaur
            Cill Cholmain (St. Colman’s Church), Glebe
            Cill Choiribh (St. Corb’s Church), Kilcurrivard
            Early Church, Cloonkeen South

Killower Parish
            Cill Leabhair (Church of the Book), Killower (Patrician)

Belclare Parish
            Cill Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Claretuam
            Cill Taoisc (St. Taoisc’s Church), Carheens
            Cill In (Little Church), Treanbaun
            Cill Michil (St. Michael’s Church), Claretuam, 13th century (on the site of Cill Padraig)
            Franciscan Friary, 1291
            Teampull na am Braher (Church of the Friars), Carrowntemple, 1291

Donaghpatrick Parish
            Donaghpatrick Abbey, Abbeytown (Patrician; St. Felart)
            Early Monastery, Killamanagh
            Domhnach Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Donaghpatrick (aka Domnach Mor Seola)
            Cill Mhulthain (Multhan’s Church), Killwullaun
            Cill Druim (Church of the Hill), Kildrum (aka Cill na Caoilan, St. Coelan’s Church)
            Cill a’ Manach (Church of the Monks), Killamanagh, 13th century
            Priory of Augustinian Canons Premonastrate, 1260 (aka Killamanagh Abbey)
            Priory of Franciscan Friars Tertiary, Beagh Beg, 13th century

Kilkilvery Parish
            Kilkilvery Abbey, Deerpark
            Cill Cilbhire (St. Kilvery’s Church), Deerpark

Killursa Parish
            St. Fursey's Abbey, Ower (St. Fursey)
            Rathmath Abbey, Inchiquin Island, Loch Orbsen (founded by St. Brendan of Clonfert; succeeded by St. Meldan)
            Cill Da Righ (Church of the Two Kings), Ower (aka Cill Fhursa)
            Cill Da Righ (Church of the Two Kings), Crossaun
            Early Church, Carrownacrow
            Cill Cronan (St. Cronan’s Church), Annaghkeen (same as St. Mochua of Balla)
            Ross Errilly Abbey of Franciscan Friars Observatin, Ross, 1351

Cargin Parish
            Rathhindile Church, Cargin
            Cill Muire (St. Mary’s Church), Kilmurry, 17th century

Killeany Parish
            Cill Einne (St. Enda’s Church), Cloghanower
            Early Church, Keekill

Kilcoona Parish
            Kilcoona Abbey, Kilcoona (Columban)
            Cill Cuana (St. Cuana’s Church), Kilcoona (Columban)

Annaghdown Parish
            Annaghdown Abbey, Annaghdown (St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise)
            St. Briga’s Convent, Annaghdown (St. Brendan)
            Early Convent, Garrymore
            St. Cathald’s Abbey, Kilcahill
            Cill Cathail (St. Cathal’s Church), Kilcahill
            Cill Uilliam (St. William’s  Church), Grange
            Cill Ghill (White Church), Kilgill
            Early Church, Cregg
            Annaghdown Cathedral, Annaghdown, 12th century
            Abbey of St. Mary, Augustinian Canons Regular, Annaghdown, c. 1140
            Abbey of St. John the Baptist, Augustinian Canons Premonstrate, Annaghdown, c. 1224
            Convent of Arrouaisian Canonesses, Annaghdown, 13th century

Barony of Galway:

Galway Parish
            Early Church, Castlegar
            Early Chapel, Castlegar
            Cill Seaghan (St. James’ Church), Ballybaanbeg, 13th century

Galway Town
            St. Nicholas’ Church, Galway Town, 13th century
            Preceptory of Knights Templar, 13th century; Knights Hospitaller after 1312
            Priory of St. Mary of the Hill, Augustinian Canons Premonstrate, 1235
            Abbey of Conventual Franciscan Friars, 1296
            Abbey of Carmelite Friary, 1332
            Priory of Dominican Friars, 1488 (founded on St. Mary of the Hill)
            Abbey of Augustinian Hermits, 1508
            House of the Poor Sisters of St. Clare, 1511
            Priory of Dominican Nuns, 1644

Barony of Moycullen:

Rahoon Parish
            Cill Mochuda (St. Mochua’s Church), Barna
            Cill Corcaighe (St. Corkey’s Church), Kilcorkey
            Cill In (Little Church), Killeen
            Early Chapel, Kentfield
            Cill Seaghan (St. James’ Church), Rahoon, 13th century
            Teampull Seaghan (St. James’ Chapel), Newcastle, 14th century

Moycullen Parish
            Ballynspiddal Abbey, Ballynspiddal/Spiddal West (founded by St. Enda)
            Cill Einne (St. Enda’s Church), Moycullen
            Cill Einne (St. Enda’s Church), Ballynspiddal
            Tempull Beg na Naomh (Little Church of the Saint), Clooniff
            Teampull Einne (St. Enda’s Church), Killagoola
            Cill a’ Ghuala (Church on the Shoulder of the Hill), Killagoola
            Cill Caillin (St. Callin’s Church), Dovepark,
            Cill Clogain (Church of the Little Hill), Kilcloggaun
            Cill Cuana (St. Cuana’s Church), Callownamuck
            Early Church, Corcullen
            Early Chapel, Rushveala

Killanin Parish
            Cloghmore Abbey, Cloghmore (Columban)
            St. Anhin’s Convent, Inishmacatreer Island, Loch Orbsen
            Cill Anhin (St. Anhin’s Church), Killanin
            Teampull Colmcille (St. Colmcille’s Church), Banraghbaun South
            Teampull Beg na Naomh (Little Church of the Saint), Killanin (aka Cill Briocan)
            Cill a’ Ruin (Church of the Secret; dedicated to St. Croine), Laghtgannon
            Cill a’ Ghoill Craibhthigh (Church of the Pious Foreigner), Killaguile
            Teampull Briocan (St. Brecan’s Church), Rosscahill East
            Cill Ola (St. Ola’s Church), Killola
            Early Church, Cartron

Kilcummin Parish
            St. Cuimin’s Abbey, Portnacarron
            St. Coelan’s Monastery, Inishgarraunmore Island, Loch Orbsen
            St. Brecan’s Monastery, Killbrickan
            Cill Cuimin (St. Cuimin’s Church), Lemonfield
            Cill a’ Righ (Church of the King), Knockillaree
            Cill Caolain (St. Coelan’s Church), Inishgarraunmore Island, Loch Orbsen
            Cill Flannain (St. Flannan’s Church), Inishlannaun Island, Loch Orbsen
            Cill Chuithbeirt (St. Cuthbert’s Church), Curraghrevagh
            Cill Caillin (St. Callin’s Church), Killcallin
            Teampull Flannain (St. Flannan’s Church), Gortnashingaun
            Early Church, Fough East
            Cill Briocan (St. Brecan’s Church), Killbrickan
            Cill Leabhair (Church of the Book), Turlough (Patrician)
            Cill Eoghain (St. Eoghan’s Church), Turlough

Killinkelly Parish
            St. Mocan’s Abbey, Barraderry
            St. Kelly’s Abbey, Maumeen, Gorumna Island
            Teampull ins’ Mac Adhaimh (Church of the Sons of Adam), Barraderry
            Cill In a’ Cheallaigh (Little Church of St. Kelly), Carraroe South
            Cill Ailithre (Church of the Pilgrim), Trabane, Gorumna Island
            Cill Duiggal (St. Duiggal’s Church), Lettermullen Island

Diocese of Cong/Deanery of Shrule, Archdiocese of Tuam

Barony of Ballynahinch:

Moyrus Parish
            St. Macdara’s Abbey, Macdara’s Island
            St. Ciaran’s Monastery, Kilkieran
            Cill Mac Dara (St. Macdara’s Church), Moyrus
            Cill Mac Duagh (St. Mac Duagh’s Church), Moyrus
            Cill In (Little Church), Killeen Lake
            Cill Caolain (St. Coelan’s Church), Croaghnakeela
            Cill Mac Dara (St. Sinach Mac Dara’s Church), Macdara’s Island
            Teampull Seacht nInghien (Church of the Seven Daughters), Mason Island
            Teampull Seacht nInghien (Church of the Seven Daughters), Mweenish Island
            Cill Ciaran (St. Ciaran’s Church), Kilkieran
            Cill Connaill (St. Connall’s Church), Cashel
            Cill Brionain  (St. Brendan’s Church), Creevecartron, Inishnee Island
            Cill Maitiu (St. Matthew’s Church), Kilcartron, Inishnee Island
            Ballynahinch Abbey of Carmelite Friars, 1356

Balindoon Parish
            St. Flannan of Killaloe’s Abbey, Kill
            Cill Flanain (St. Flannan’s Church), Kill
            Cill a’ Duin (Church of the Fort, aka Doon Church), Bunowenmore
            Teampull Caillin (St. Callin’s Chapel), Chapel Island, Ballinaleama
            Tombeola Dominican Friary, 1427
            Inishlackan Franciscan Friary, 15th century
            St. Flannan’s Chapel, Bunowenmore, 18th century

Omey Parish
            St. Fechin’s Monastery, Goreen, Omey Island
            St. Brendan’s Monastery, Cartoorbeg, Omey Island
            St. Fechin’s Monastery, High Island
            Teampull Ath Dearg (Church of the Red Ford), Barratrough (aka Streamstown)
            Cill Brionan (St. Brendan’s Church), Sturrakeen, Omey Island
            Teampull Fhechin (St. Fechin’s Church), Goreen, Omey Island
            Teampull Ghormgail (St. Gormgal’s Church), High Island
            Early Church, Inishturk
            Teampull Coill (Church of the Woods), Kill, c. 1600

Ballynakill Parish
            Cill Ceannanach (St. Gregory Ceannanach’s Church), Cartron
            Teampull Seacht nInghien (Church of the Seven Daughters), Cashleen (Renvyle)
            Cill Rioch (St. Rioch’s Church), Foher
            Teampull Rioch (St. Rioch’s Church), Crump Island
            Early Church, Pollycappul

Inishbofin Parish
            St. Colman’s Abbey, Knock, Inishbofin Island
            St. Sciathin’s Monastery, Westquarter, Inishbofin Island
            St. Leo’s Monastery, Inishark Island
            Cill Flannain (St. Flannan’s Church), Knock, Inishbofin Island
            Cill Cholmain (St. Colman’s Church), Knock, Inishbofin Island
            Teampull Leo (St. Leo’s Church), Inishark Island

Barony of Ross:

Ross Parish
            St. Brendan’s Abbey, Kilbeg Lower
            Teampull Brionain  (St. Brendan’s Church), Kilbeg Lower
            Early Church, Cloonbur
            Cill Mor (Big Church), Kilmore
            Cill Bride (St. Brigit’s Church), Kilbride
            Cill na Brionain (St. Brennan’s Church), Kilnabrennaun
Cong Parish
            Teampull Padraig  (St. Patrick’s Church), Inchagoill Island, Dooris
            Teampull na Naomh (Church of the Saint), Inchagoill Island, Dooris

Ballinchalla Parish
            Cill Bride (St. Brigit’s Church), Killbride

Ballinrobe Parish
            Teampull O Moghery (O’Mohery’s Church), Churchfield East (dedicated to St. Patrick)

Barony of Carra (Diocese/Deanery of Mayo):

Ballyovey (Partry) Parish:
            Teampull Colmcille, Portroyal
            Teampull Colmcille, Ilauncolmcille Island, Loch Measg
            Cill In (Little Church), Portroyal
            Cill Ciarain (St. Ciaran’s Church), Kilkeerin
            Cill In (Little Church), Carrowkilleen
            Cill Luighna (St. Lughna’s Church), Cornfield
            Cill Tacharain (St. Tacaran’s Church), Kiltaugharaun

Barony of Kilmaine, Co. Mayo:

Ballinrobe Parish
            Cill Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Cornaroya
            Teampull Colmcille (St. Colmcille’s Church), Inishrobe Island
            Cill Mor O’Seghin (Big Church of St. O’Seghin), Killosheheen
            Cill Ciaran (St. Ciaran’s Church), Kilkeeran
            Teampull na Lacka (Church of the Hillside), Cuslough Demense
            Cill Mor (Great Church), Kilmore
            Early Convent, Rocksboro South
            Teampull Ruadhain (Ruadhan’s Church), Carrownalecka  (dedicated to St. Patrick; later rebuilt as Holyrood Church)
            Cill In ‘a Chraobha (Little Church of the Devout), Rathkelly
            Killeenacrava Abbey of Augustinian Canons Regular, 1157
            Preceptory of the Knights Templar, Friarsquarter East, 13th century
            Church of St. John the Baptist, Knights Hospitaller, 14th century
            Abbey of Augustinian Hermits, Friarsquarter West, 1313

Ballinchalla Parish
            St. Cormac’s Abbey, Inishmaine Island (Columban)
            Cill Cormaic (St. Cormac’s Church), Inishmaine Island
            Teampull Colmcille (St. Colmcille’s Church), Ballinchalla
            Cill Leabhair (Church of the Book), Cahernicole West
            Cill Mor (Big Church), Killimor
            Abbey of Augustinian Canons Regular, Inishmaine Island, 12th century

Cong Parish
            St. Fechin’s Abbey, Cong South
            Cill Fechin (St. Fechin’s Church), Cong South
            Cill Fhursa (St. Fursey’s Church), Ballymacgibbon North
            Cill Ard Chroabh na Naomh (Church of the High Branch of Saints), Dowagh East (dedicated to St. Fraochin)
            Cill Cholmain (St. Colman’s Church), Cross (aka Attyrickard Church)
            Cill In Maelruain (Little Church of St. Maelruin), Lecarrowkilleen (aka Neale Church)
            Early Church, Gortacurra
            Early Church, Carheens (Billypark Church)
            Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Augustinian Canons Regular, Cong South, 12th century

Shrule Parish
            St. Colman’s Abbey, Ramolin
            Cloghvanah Abbey, Church Park
            Cill In Cholmain (Little Church of St. Colman), Shrule
            Early Church, Moyne
            Early Church, Kinlough
            Friary of Franciscans Observantin, Moyne, 1360

Moorgagagh Parish
            Moorgagagh Abbey, Kill (Patrician)
            Cill In Brionnan (Little Church of St. Brendan), Moorgagagh

Kilmainebeg Parish
            Cill Ciarain (St. Ciaran’s Church), Kilkeerin (aka Kilmainebeg )
            Cill Mac Duagh (St. Mac Duagh’s Church), Kilmacduagh

Kilmainemore Parish
            Cill Mhean Mor (Big Middle Church), Kilmaine (Patrician)
            Cill In a’ Sciach (Little Church of the Briars), Carrowreagh
            Cill Cuirre (Church of the Round Hill), Kilquire North (Patrician)
            Cill Ernan (St. Ernan’s Church), Killernan
            Abbey of Tertiary Franciscans, Kilmaine
Kilmolara Parish
            Cill Moldara (St. Molara’s Church), Carrownakilly

Kilcommon Parish:
            Cill Chomain (St. Coman’s Church), Kilcommon
            Cill Rois (Church of the Woods), Kilrush
            Cill Glasan (Church of the Stream), Kilglassan
            Cill In Riabhach (Little Grey Church), Killeenrevagh
            Early Church, Creggawatta

Robeen Parish:
            Early Church, Robeen
            Teampull In (Little Church), Bellanaloob
            Benedictine Convent, Annies
            Franciscan Friary, Annies
            Augustinian Friary, Annies

Diocese of Kilnefora

Barony of Aran:

Inisheer Island
            St. Cavan’s Abbey, 6th century
            Cill Coemhain (St. Cavan’s Church; 10th century)
            Teampull Seacht nInghien (Church of the Seven Daughters; their burial place)
            Cill Gradh na Domhain (Church of the Love of God; aka Cill Gobnait,  or Church of St. Gobnait)
            Cill Poil (St. Paul’s Church; on site of Teampull Seacht nInghien)

Inishmaan Island
            St. Fechin’s Abbey
            Teampull Ceannanach (St. Ceannanach’s Church),  Carrowntemple
            Cill Seact Mic Righ (Church of the Seven Sons of the King), Carrownlisheen
            Teampull Caireach Dorchin (Church of St. Caireach), Carrownlisheen
            Cill Muire (St. Mary’s Church), Carrownlisheen, 13th century

Inishmore Island
            St. Enda’s Abbey and College, Killeany
            St. Brecan’s Abbey, Onacht (aka Disert Bhreacain, or Wilderness of St. Brecan)
            St. Ciaran’s Abbey, Oghill
            Cill Einne (St. Enda’s Church), Killeany
            Cill Teglach Einne (Church of St. Enda’s Household), Killeany
            Teampull Mac Longa (St. Mac Longius’ Church), Killeany
            Teampull Bheanain (St. Benan’s Church), Killeany
            Cill Charna (St. Carna’s Church), Killeany
            Teampull Mhic Canonn (St. Mac Canonn’s Church), Killeany
            Cill Ronan (St. Ronan’s Church), Oghill
            Teampull Assurnidhe (St. Soarney’s Church), Oghill
            Cill na Manach (Church of the Monks; dedicated to St. Caradoc Garbh), Oghill
            Teampull Mor Mhic Duagh (Big Church of St. MacDuagh), Kilmurvy
            Teampull Atharla Chiaran (Church of St. Ciaran’s Glen), Kilmurvy
            Cill Muirbhighe (Church of the Sea Plain), Kilmurvy
            Teampull na Naomh (Church of the Saints), aka Teampull Beg Mhic Duagh (Little Church of St. MacDuagh), Kilmurvy
            Teampull Briocain (St. Brecan’s Church), Onacht
            Cill Chomla (St. Comla’s Church), Onacht
            Cill Ciaran (St. Ciaran’s Church), Oghill, 12th century
            Cill Muire (St. Mary’s Church), Killeany, 14th century
            Teampull a’ Phuil (Church of the Hollow), Onaght, 15th century
            Teampull an Cheathruir Aluinn (Church of the Four Beautiful Saints: dedicated to Sts. Fursey, Brendan of Birr, Conall, & Berchann), Oghill, 15th century
            Inishmore Franciscan Friary, Killeany, 1485

Diocese/Deanery of Mayo

Barony of Burrishoole:

Parish of Achill:
            St. Dympna’s Abbey, Carrickkildavnet, Achill Island
            Teampull Cholmain (St. Colman’s Church), Slievemore
            Cill Damhnait (St. Dympna’s Church), Carrickkildavnet

Parish of Burrishoole:
            Cill Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), aka Coolygreen Church, Aghadooey Glebe
            Cill In Birroge (Little Church of St. Birroge), Aghadooey Glebe
            Cill Bride (St. Brigit’s Church), Kilbride
            Teampull Marcain (St. Marcan’s Church), Rosclave
            Dominican Friary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aghadooey Glebe, 15th century

Parish of Kilmeena:
            Cill Miodhna (St. Meena’s Church), Kilmeena
            Early Church, Inishduff Island
            Early Church, Clynish Island

Parish of Kilmaclasser:
            Cill Mhic Laisre (Church of the Sons of Lasre), Rushbrook
            Cill In Cuain (Little Church of St. Cuan), Gortnaclassagh

Parish of Islandeady:
            Cill Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Raheens
            Cill Aidain (St. Aidan’s Church), Raheens
            Cill Aolain (St. Aolains’s Church), Glenisland

Parish of Aghagower:
            Aghagower Abbey, Aghagower
            Domnach Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Aghagower
            Teampull na bhFhiacal (Church of the Teeth), Aghagower

Barony of Murrisk:

Parish of Aghagower:
            Cill In na Cathaoir Phadraig (Little Church of St. Patrick’s Chair), Boheh
            Cill Brionan (St. Brendan’s Church), Lankill
            Cill In Neimhe (St. Neimhe’s Church), Cordarragh South

Parish of Oughaval:
            Oughaval Abbey, Churchfield
            Glaspatrick Monastery, Glaspatrick
            Cill Cluain Padraig (Church of St. Patrick’s Meadow), Churchfield
            Teampull Colmcille (St. Colmcille’s Church), Churchfield
            Cill Glais Phadraig (Church of St. Patrick’s Stream), Glaspatrick
            Cill In (Little Church), Oughty
            Murrisk Abbey of Augustinian Friars, Carrowkeel, 1457

Parish of Kilgeever:
            Cathair na Naomh (City of the Saints) Monastery, Caher Island
            Early Abbey, Kill, Clare Island
            Cill Iomhair (St. Iomhair’s Church), Kilgeever
            Cill Bride (St. Brigit’s Church), Askillaun
            Teampull Colmcille (St. Colmcille’s Church), Inishturk Island
            Teampull Padraig (St. Patrick’s Church), Caher Island
            Cill Bride (St. Brigit’s Church), Capnagower, Clare Island
            Cill a’ Duin (Church of the Fort), Killadoon
            Teampull Duagh Mor (Church of the Great Sand Beach), Tallavbaun
            Abbey of St. Mary the Virgin of Carmelite Friars, Clare Island, 1224
            St. Brigit’s Cistercian Abbey, Clare Island, 1469

Main Sources:

Mervyn Archdall.  Monasticum Hibernicum: A History of the Abbeys, Priories, and Other Religious Houses in Ireland, 1876.

Oliver J. Burke.  The Southern Isles of Aran (County Galway).  1887.

“Civil Parishes of Ireland, maps”.  Irish Times website.

Donnchadh O Corrain.  “Viking Ireland—Afterthoughts”.  Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age, ed. by Howard Clarke et al.  1998.

Donnchadh O Corrain.  “Vikings in Ireland and Scotland in the Ninth Century”.  Peritia, Vol. 12.  1998.

Crichaireacht cinedach nduchasa Muintiri Murchada, a tract listing the territories and chiefs of Muintir Murchada before the expulsion of the O’Flahertys, c. 12th century.  Text in O’Flaherty’s book, A Chronographic Description…

“Crichaireacht cinedach nduchasa Muintiri Murchada”.  Wikipedia.

Hely Dutton.  A Statistical and Agricultural Survey of the County of Galway, 1824.

“Early Christian Sites in Ireland Database”.  www.earlychristianireland.org.

Peter Beresford Ellis.  “Celibacy in the Catholic Church”.  Irish Democrat.  2005.

Thomas W. H. Fitzgerald.  Ireland and Her People: A Library of Irish Biography, 1910.

John T. O’Flaherty.  A Sketch of the History and Antiquities of the Southern Islands of Aran lying off the West Coast of Ireland, 1824.

Roderic O’Flaherty.   A Chorographic Description of West or h-Iar Connaught, 1684.

J. Fahey.  “The Flight of the O’Flahertys, Lords of Moyseola, to Iar Connaught”.  Journal of the Royal Society of the Antiquities of Ireland, 1902.

The Four Masters, The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, compiled 1632-1636.

James Fraser.  Guide Through Ireland, Descriptive of its Scenery, Towns, Seats, Antiquities, Etc., with Various Statistical Tables, also an Outline of its Mineral Structure, and a Brief View of its Botany, 1838

James Hardiman.  “A Chorographical Description of West or H-IAR Connaught Written A. D. 1684, Edited, from a Ms. In the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, with Notes and Illustrations”, Journal of the Irish Archaeological Society, 1848.

James Hardiman.  The History of the Town and the County of the Town of Galway, 1820.

John O’Hart.  Irish Pedigrees, or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, 1892.

John Healy.  Ireland’s Ancient Schools and Scholars, 1893.

John Hogan, “The Early Birth and Pre-Patrician Mission of Saint Ciarin of Saighir, Vindicated”, Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, Vol. 5, No. 37, 1879.  Accessed via jstor.com.

“Ireland’s History in Maps”, website

Patrick W. Joyce.  Irish Local Names Explained, year unknown.

Patrick W. Joyce.  The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, Vols. 1 and 2, 1871.

Lord Killanin.  “Notes on Some of the Antiquities in the Barony of Moycullen, Co. Galway”. Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 1947.  Accessed via jstor.com.

Lord Killanin, “Notes on Some of the Antiquities in the Barony of Ballynahinch, Co. Galway”, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 1953.  Accessed via jstor.com.

Hubert Thomas Knox.  The Early History of the Dioceses of Tuam, Killala, and Achonry.  1904.

Hubert Thomas Knox.  The History of County Mayo to the Close of the Sixteenth Century, 1908.

Samuel Lewis.  A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1849.

John Lanigan.  An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland from the Introduction of Christianity Among the Irish to the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century, 1829.

“List of monastic houses in Ireland”.  Wikipedia.

“List of townlands of County Galway”.  Wikipedia.

E. W. Lynam.  “The O’Flaherty Country”.  Studies, an Irish Quarterly Review, 1914.  Accessed via jstor.com.

Bernadette McCarthy.  “The Aran Islands and North Clare/South Galway”.  Making Christian Landscapes: Settlement, Society, and Regionality in Early Medieval Ireland, pp. 213-226. 2010.

C. McLean.  Dunkeld:  Its Straths and Glens, 1857.

Patrick Moran.  “High Island and the Cult of Saint Feichin in Connemara”, 2012.  Downloaded from academia.edu

Rt. Rev. Patrick Moran.  Irish Saints in Great Britain, 1879.

National Monuments Service, Dept. of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Republic of Ireland.  Archaeological Maps.  First I checked each of the relative townlands or other places, then I studied each townland within each parish.  Accessed via the website of Galway Library.

J.P. Nolan.  “Galway Castles and Owners in 1574”, complied by Lord Deputy Sydney, Journal of the Galway Historical and Archaeological Society, 1901.

Ordnance Survey Maps for the above areas.  Galway Library.  First I checked each of the relative townlands or other places, then I studied each townland within each parish.  Accessed via the Galway Library website.

“Places in the Civil Parish of…Oranmore / Claregalway / Lackagh / Cummer / Killower / Belclare / Donaghpatrick/ Kilkilvery / Killursa / Cargin / Killeany / Kilcoona / Annaghdown / Galway / Rahoon / Moycullen / Killannin / Kilcummin / Killinkelly / Moyrus / Ballindoon / Omey / Ballynakill / Ross / Ballinchalla / Ballinrobe / Cong / Loch Measg”, as well as each of the relevant towns therein.  Placenames of Galway. Galway Library website.

Charles Plumber.  Lives of the Irish Saints, 1922.

John Smith.  The Life of St. Columba, 1798.

Thomas Walsh.   The History of the Irish Hierarchy, with the Monasteries of Each County, Biographical Notices of the Irish Saints, Prelates, and Religious. 1854.

T.J. Westropp.  “The Curches of County Clare, and the Origin of the Ecclesiastical Divisions in That County”.  Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.  1900.

T. J. Westropp.  “History and Archaeology”.  A Biological Survey of Clare Island in the County of Mayo, Ireland, and the Adjoining District.  1911.

William R. Wilde.  Lough Corrib, Its Shores and Islands, with notices of Lough Mask.  1867.

Google Books and archive.org are excellent sources for the out-of-copyright books such as the great majority of those I used as sources.

As much as (often pretentious) academics throw rocks at it, Wikipedia usually has accurate information and is a good place to start.  Nearly everything in this essay has been searched on Wiki.  Everything used from there has been verified from other sources, not due to lack of confidence in the material as much as the fact that any scrap of information from any source should be verified regardless of the source.

I’ve searched hundreds of websites verifying and amplifying information for this.

Iar Connacht in context:

(Note "Iarchonnacht" on the right in the middle.  Please note that at this time the O'Flahertys, here as "Ua Flaithertaig", were NOT rulers of this part of Connacht at the time, and were rather on the other side of the pink to the right representing Loch Orbsen)