The Episcopal Succession in Killaloe (1326-1525)

By W. H. Grattan Flood, Mus.D., K.S.G.

[From The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 5th Series, Vol. II, No. 547, 1913]

Much obscurity attaches to the episcopal succession in the diocese of Killaloe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Even Frost, in his admirable History and Topography of the County of Clare (1893) has not been able to supply the lacunae, or to compose the divergent notices of the prelates who are recorded as occupying the see of Killaloe during that period. Hence no apology is needed for the present paper, and it is to be hoped that the apparent inconsistencies in the line of succession of Bishops from 1326 to 1500 will be explained clearly from a careful examination of facts. My material is mainly based on documents in the Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, nine volumes of which are now published in the Rolls Series; and the summarised entries will, doubtless, prove of some little use to the future historian of the ancient see of St. Flannan.

In May, 1326, Pope John XXII, having annulled the election by the Chapter of Killaloe of David MacBrien (one of the MacBriens of Ara), Canon of Emly, as Bishop, provided him, after formal resignation, to the said see of Killaloe. He was appointed on a Papal Commission in 1830, and died on December 12, 1342, as we learn from an entry in the Annals of Nenagh.

Bishop MacBrien was succeeded by Thomas O'Hogan, Canon of Killaloe, whose obit occurred on October 80, 1355. The rule of Bishop O'Hogan was tolerably peaceful, and his remains were interred in the Franciscan Friary, Nenagh, on November 4 following.

As happened in the case of Bishop MacBrien, the election by the Chapter of Thomas O'Cormacan, Archdeacon of Killaloe, was declared invalid, having been reserved to the Holy See, but the Pope appointed him by provision on June 6, 1355. After a rule of twenty-two years he died in 1387, and was buried in his cathedral church.

Matthew Magrath, Dean of Killaloe, was provided to the vacant see by Pope Nicholas IV in 1389, and received restitution of temporalities on September 1, 1391. His death occurred during the winter of 1398-9. Frost, relying on Ware, states that Bishop Magrath ruled from 1389 to 1401, and that he was buried in the church of the Dominicans, but this is an error, because it is quite clear, from the Calendar of Papal Registers, that Donal Magrath was Bishop-elect of Killaloe in May, 1399. No doubt the error of stating that Bishop Magrath 'sat in this see in 1400, but Sir James Ware knows not how long after,' is due to the fact that there was another prelate of the same surname whose existence was unknown to Ware, but which is revealed in several Papal documents.

Donal Magrath, Abbot of St. Peter's, Clare, for some unaccountable reason, was still Bishop-elect in January, 1400, but on the 6th of the Ides of February Pope Boniface IX granted him a faculty to be consecrated by any Bishop of his choice in communion with the Holy See. In the following April, Thady Magrath was provided by the same Pope as Abbot of St. Peter's, Clare, in succession to Bishop Donal. It would appear that Donal was finally consecrated in the early summer of the year 1401, and he ruled until the year 1429, during a very troubled period. Papal mandates to execute various commissions were addressed to him by Pope Innocent VII in 1405, and by Pope Gregory XII in 1407.

In 1409, through English intrigue, the see of Killaloe was stated by English proctors at Rome to be vacant; and, accordingly, Pope Alexander V provided Robert Mulfield, O.Cist. (an English monk, of Meaux Abbey, in Yorkshire), as Bishop, on September 9, 1409. Bishop Mulneld was duly consecrated, and came over to Killaloe in 1410, notwithstanding that Bishop Magrath was still alive and held the temporalities.

From a petition presented to Pope Martin V, in 1416, Bishop Mulfield complains bitterly that he had been validly appointed to the see of Killaloe, and that he even learned the Irish language in order to qualify himself to minister duly to the needs of an Irish diocese, yet that certain proctors had exhibited an instrument in the Roman Court in which he is represented as anxious to resign the see owing to bodily infirmity. The Bishop of Lichfield thereupon wrote to the Pope, stating that Bishop Robert was 'sound of mind and body,' and that though he was canonical Bishop of Killaloe, yet he could no longer exercise jurisdiction there. From the Bishop of Lichfield's letter we gather that Bishop Mulfield was, in 1417, assistant-bishop in England, or, as it stated in the Papal Calendar, 'vicar in pontificals in the city and diocese of Lichfield.'

Pope Martin V, on learning of the impasse in Killaloe, decided to solve the difficulty by translating Eugenius O'Phelan, Bishop of Kilmacduagh, to the see, deeming that an Irish Bishop would be more acceptable, but still ignoring the claims of Bishop Donal Magrath, who was supported both by the clergy and laity of Killaloe, and also by the English government in Ireland. This was in 1418; and in August, 1419, Nicholas O'Doyle was postulated as Bishop of Kilmacduagh, the previous appointment of Dermot O'Donaghue being cancelled.

It would seem that Bishop O'Phelan could not succeed any better than Bishop Mulfield, and his appointment, or rather translation, was annulled by the Pope in 1420. Pope Martin V, then, at the same time, confirmed Bishop Mulfield as Ordinary of Killaloe, but all to no purpose, as far as temporalities were concerned, and, accordingly, after further litigation, in October, 1423, the Holy Father granted him an Indult, 'as he is unable to enjoy the fruits of his said church of Killaloe, because a certain adversary [Bishop Magrath] is in possession,' conferring on him at the same time `a benefice with or without cure, secular or regular, and to exchange it as often as he pleases, and not to be bound to reside in it.' Bishop Mulfield had been for some years a non-resident, and accordingly we are not surprised to learn from the Calendar of Patent Rolls that, on July 4, 1424, Bishop Mulfield was ratified by King Henry V as rector of Blimenhull in the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry.

This arrangement did not set at rest the difficulties in Killaloe, and so the Pope thought it well to confirm the translation of Eugenius O'Phelan from Kilmacduagh to Killaloe in September, 1429. Bishop O'Phelan resigned any claims on the see of Killaloe in November, 1429, and died six months later. Just before his resignation Thady Magrath was provided to the see, and his nomination was backed up by Thady O'Brien, Prince of Thomond, but new difficulties arose, and Pope Martin V refused to ratify the provision. Further complications ensued on the death of this venerable Pontiff on February 20, 1431. However, it would appear that Pope Martin V, on December 9, 1429, had provided James O'Lonergan, Canon of Killaloe, as Bishop. This provision of O'Lonergan was confirmed by Pope Eugenius IV in October, 1432, the see being described as ' vacant by the death of Eugenius of happy memory.'

The Magrath family were evidently very powerful in the first half of the fifteenth century, and hence Thady Magrath, regarding himself as having been canonically elected and duly consecrated, took over the spiritualities of the see of Killaloe. He was then Abbot of SS. Peter and Paul at Clare Abbey, near Ennis, and having sent his proctors to the English Court had the temporalities of the see restored by King Henry VI on September 1, 1431.

Frost thus writes: 'Iriel O'Lonergan is said to have succeeded Thady, and Ware finds no further account of James O'Connellan was Bishop of Killaloe in 1441, and this was all Ware could find relating to him.' As we have seen, these two statements are not correct. 'Iriel O'Lonergan' and `James O'Connellan' are, in reality, one individual, namely, James O'Lonergan, who had himself consecrated Bishop of Killaloe in 1430. From the Papal Registers we gather that after much litigation O'Lonergan, who is described in 1431 as 'Bishop in the Universal Church,' was provided to the see of Annaghdown, and the Pope (Eugenius IV) confirmed the appointment of Bishop Thady Magrath in 1432.

Bishop Magrath ruled Killaloe from 1430 until his death in 1443, and did much for the interests of religion. His successor was Donal O'Brien, of the princely house of Thomond, who was provided by Pope Eugenius IV on July 26, 1443, and dispensed by reason of being only twenty-eight years of age. The see is stated to be vacant by the death of Thady.

Bishop O'Brien's rule is altogether passed over by Ware, but the Papal Registers fill up the blank from 1432 to 1456. Unfortunately it was a period of internecine war in the diocese of Killaloe, and the quarrels of the O'Briens led to bloodshed.

Turlogh O'Brien, who had succeeded Donal O'Brien as Bishop of Killaloe, was drawn into the unhappy family disputes of the Clare septs - disputes which had come to a climax after the deposition of Mahon O'Brien as Prince of Thomond. Prince Turlogh O'Brien died in 1459, and in the same year Cumara MacNamara was slain. It is sad to read, under date of 1460, that Bishop O'Brien was killed by Brian an Chobhlaigh, 'of the fleet,' son of Donagh O'Brien.

Ware simply gives a certain 'Teige ' as the successor of Bishop Turlogh O'Brien in 1460. However, Frost supplies the information that Thady Magrath, Bishop of Killaloe, in the second year of his consecration, renewed and exemplified the foundation charter of the Abbey of Kilmoney, or de Forgio (Clare Abbey), within his own diocese. This confirmation is dated from Clare Abbey, on July 18, 1461, the day of his death, according to Frost, quoting from King's Collections.

Another confusion in the episcopal succession seems to have arisen in 1462, and Ware gives John Magrath, Maurice O'Canasa, and Dermot Magrath as successive Bishops. This account is at variance with the Papal Registers, from which it seems tolerably certain that in 1464 Matthew MacNamara was Bishop. In 1466 Tadhg a Chomhaid (Coad on the lake of Inchiquin), Prince of Thomond, died, and was succeeded by his brother, Conor na Srona.

Mahon O'Griopha, Bishop of Killaloe, died in 1482, and was buried in the Abbey of Inisgad (Canon Island) at the mouth of the Fergus.1

Torlogh O'Brien was appointed Bishop in 1482, and ruled during the long period of forty-three years. In 1496 Conor na Srona, Prince of Thomond, died, whose daughter Finola, the wife of Hugh O'Donnell, was the foundress of the Franciscan Friary of Donegal. The sceptre then passed to Turlogh O'Brien, who died in 1499. Bishop O'Brien had joined in several of the internecine wars of his relatives, but he enjoyed considerable popularity, both among clergy and laity. On November 15, 1523, we read in Brady's Episcopal Succession in Ireland that Bishop O'Brien presented a gift of one hundred florins to the Pope. His death took place in 1525, and he had as successor Richard O'Hogan, O.F.M. (1525-1589), who was translated to Clonmacnoise in 1539, but retained the administration of Killaloe.



1 Four Masters.