DIOCESE OF MEATH

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

MEATH (Diocese of). This diocese was originally formed by the union of several small sees, of which the principal were Clonard, Duleek, Kells, Trim, Ardbraccan, Dunshaughlin, Slane, and Foure, all of which, except Duleek and Kells, were consolidated at the celebrated synod held by Cardinal Paparo in 1152, and the episcopal seat fixed at Clonard. The sees of Duleek and Kells were afterwards annexed; and the united diocese, which took its name from the. ancient province of Meath, was placed under the superintendence of Idunan, who flourished towards the close of the 11th century. The first prelate after the English invasion was Eugene, who was advanced to the see in 1174, and a short time before his death, in 1194, assumed the title of Bishop of Meath, which has ever since been retained. Simon Rochfort, his immediate successor, founded an abbey for Augustinian canons at Newtown, near Trim, to which he removed the episcopal see, where it remained till the reign of Henry VIII.; and Thomas St. Leger, who was consecrated in 1287, extended the possessions and the privileges of the diocese. Alexander de Balscot, who was consecrated in 1386, was appointed Lord High Treasurer of Ireland by Edward III., and filled many important stations under Rich II.; his immediate successor, Edward Dantsey, was made Lord-Deputy to Sir John de Grey, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

John Pain, who was made bishop in 1483, preached the sermon and proclaimed the title of Lambert Simnel, at his coronation in Christ-church, Dublin, for which he received a pardon in 1488; and on the arrival of Sir Richard Edgecombe to settle the country after Simnel's defeat, he attended that officer on his landing at Malahide, and was employed by him to proclaim the king's pardon to all who should return to their allegiance. In the reign of Henry VIII., the episcopal seat was removed to the church of St. Mary's abbey at Ballymore, near Lough Seudy, in the county of Westmeath, but it appears to have remained there for a short period only, and not to have been subsequently established in any particular locality, nor has there been for a long time either dean, chapter, or cathedral church. In 1568, the see of Clonmacnois was annexed to this diocese by act of parliament. In 1621, the celebrated James Ussher was consecrated Bishop of Meath, which dignity he held till 1624, when he was translated to the archbishoprick of Armagh. The bishop of Meath ranks next to the four archbishops; the other bishops, excepting only the bishop of Kildare, take precedence according to the date of their consecration.

The diocese is one of the ten which constitute the ecclesiastical province of Armagh, and comprehends part of the counties of Kildare, Longford, and Cavan, a large portion of King's county, and the greater part of the counties of Meath and Westmeath; extending from the sea to the river Shannon, 80 miles in length and 20 in breadth; comprising an estimated superficies of 663,600 acres, of which 750 are in Kildare, 4300 in Longford, 9400 in Cavan, 102,000 in King's county, 324,400 in Meath, and 222,750 in Westmeath. The lands belonging to the see comprise 29,269 statute acres, of which 20,266 are profitable land; and the gross revenue of the bishop, on an average of three years, ending Dec. 1st, 1831, amounted to £5220. 10. 6. The bishop was anciently elected, and the affairs of the diocese are still transacted, by a synod, consisting of an archdeacon and all the beneficed clergy of the diocese; the common seal is annually deposited in the hands of one of the members by vote of the majority; there is also a dean of Clonmacnois, collated by the bishop.

The consistorial court is held at Navan, and consists of a vicar general, two surrogates, a registrar, deputy-registrar, a proctor of office, and three other proctors; the registrar is keeper of the records, which are preserved in the court-bouse of Navan, and of which the earliest is dated in 1712. The total number of parishes in the diocese is 220, comprised in 105 benefices, of which 47 are unions of two or more parishes, and 58 single parishes; of these, 24 are in the patronage of the Crown, 22 in lay patronage, and the remainder in that of the bishop or incumbents. The total number of churches is 100, and there are six other episcopal places of worship, and 89 glebe-houses. The episcopal palace is near Navan, in the parish of Ardbraccan.

In the R. C. divisions the diocese, with the exception of one parish in that of Kilmore and a few in that of Ardagh, is nearly co-extensive with the Protestant diocese; and is one of the eight bishopricks suffragan to the archiepiscopal see of Armagh. It comprises 64 parochial benefices or unions, and contains 156 chapels, which are served by 124 clergymen, of whom 64 are parish priests, and 60 coadjutors, or curates. The parochial benefices of the bishop are Mullingar and Kells, in the former of which he resides. The cathedral, at Mullingar, is a handsome and spacious edifice, in the later English style, and was consecrated Aug. 15th, 1836, by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Cantwell, assisted by the R. C. Archbishop of Tuam and the dignitaries and clergy of the diocese.

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