SEE OF OSSORY

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The SEE of OSSORY, which, like that of Meath, takes its name from a district, was originally established at Saiger, now Seir-Kieran, in the territory of Ely O'Carrol, about the year 402, by St. Kieran, after his return from Rome, where he had remained 20 years in the study of the Christian faith, and had been consecrated a bishop.He was accompanied on his return by five other bishops, who also founded sees in other parts of Ireland, and after presiding over this see for many years is supposed to have died in Cornwall, as stated by the English martyrologists. Of his successors, who were called Episcopi Saigerenses, but very imperfect accounts are preserved. Carthag, his disciple and immediate successor, died about the year 540, from which period till the removal of the see from Saiger to Aghavoe, about the year 1052, there appears to have been, with some few intervals, a regular succession of prelates.

The monastery of Aghavoe was founded by St. Canice, of which he was the first abbot, and in which he died about the year 600; and after the removal of the see from Saiger, there is little mention of the bishops of Aghavoe, in whose succession there is a chasm of 73 years till the time of Donald O'Fogarty, who was consecrated in 1152, and assisted at the synod of Kells held under Cardinal Paparo, as vicar-general and bishop of Ossory. Felix O'Dullany, who succeeded him in 1178, removed the see from Aghavoe to the city of Kilkenny, as a place of greater security, where he laid the foundation of the cathedral church of St. Canice, which was continued at a great expense by Hugh Mapelton, and completed by Geoffrey St. Leger, about the year 1270. Bishop St. Leger gave to the vicars choral his manse and lodgings, formerly the episcopal palace, previously to the erection of the palaces of Aghor and Dorogh; and William Fitz-John, who succeeded in 1302, appropriated the church of Claragh to the abbey of St. John the Evangelist, with a reservation of 20s. to the vicars choral of St. Canice.

Richard Ledred, who was consecrated in 1318, beautified the cathedral and rebuilt and glazed all the windows, of which the great cast window contained some exquisite specimens of scripture history in stained glass, for which Rinuncini, the pope's nuncio, in 1645, offered £700; he also built the episcopal palace, near the cathedral. Bishop Hacket, who succeeded in 1460, built the arch of the tower of the cathedral of hewn stone, and appropriated the parish church of Ballybur to the vicars choral; and Oliver Cantwell, who succeeded in 1488, repaired the episcopal palaces, rebuilt the bridge of Kilkenny (which had been destroyed by a flood), and gave the church of St. Mael to the vicars choral of St. Canice. Milo Baron, who was consecrated in 1527, repaired the episcopal palace and gave a silver staff to the cathedral; and Nicholas Walsh, his successor, was the first who introduced types of the Irish character, in which he had prayer-books and a catechism printed in the Irish language.

Jonas Wheeler, consecrated in 1613, recovered the lands of Tasscoffin, Grangecoolpobble, Freinston, and Sheskin Wood, which Bishop Thonory had alienated, and obtained a grant of the manor of Breghmoe, in King's county, which was confirmed to the see in 1619 by James I. Griffith Williams, who succeeded to the prelacy in 1641, laid out £1400 in repairing the cathedral, and £300 in beautifying the chancel; and gave to the see many of his lands in Caernarvonshire and other parts of Wales. Bishop Parry, in 1672, enriched the see by the recovery of alienated lands; and Thomas Otway, who succeeded in 1679, founded the library of the cathedral in the churchyard, and gave all his books for the use of the clergy of the diocese; he also embellished the cathedral and gave to it a service of communion plate weighing 363 ounces.

The see of Ossory continued to be a separate diocese till 1835, when, on the death of the late Dr. Elrington, Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, both those dioceses were, under the provisions of the Church Temporalities' Act of the 3rd and 4th of William IV., annexed to it, and their temporalities vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The diocese, which is one of the five that constitute the ecclesiastical province of Dublin, comprehends the county of the city of Kilkenny, the whole of the barony of Ossory, in Queen's county, the parish of Seir-Kyran, in King's county, and the greater part of the county of Kilkenny. It extends 60 miles in length, and 18 in breadth, and comprises an estimated superficies of 346,000 acres, of which 60,000 are in Queen's county, 4100 in King's county, and 281,000 in the county and county of the city of Kilkenny. The lands belonging to the see comprise 21,730 statute acres of profitable land; and the gross annual revenue, on an average of three years ending Dec. 31st, 1831, was returned at £3859. The chapter, consists of a dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, archdeacon, and the seven prebendaries of Blackrath, Aghoure, Mayne, Killamery, Tasscoffin, Kilmanagh, and Cloneamery. The vicars choral, three in number, are a corporate body, endowed with various lands and tithes in the city and county of Kilkenny; the former comprising nearly 269 acres, and, together with the tithes, producing a rental of £200. 1. 10. The economy fund amounts to £444. 1. 1 ¾., arising from houses and premises in the city, and from tithes in the county. The consistorial court consists of a vicar-general, surrogate, three proctors and two registrars, who are keepers of the records of the see, which are all modern documents, the earliest being wills dated 1634.

The total number of parishes in the diocese is 146, comprised in 62 benefices, of which 27 are unions of two or more parishes, and 35 single parishes; of these 11 are in the gift of the crown, 16 in lay and corporation patronage, 5 in joint or alternate presentation, and the remainder in the patronage of the bishop and incumbents. The total number of churches is 52, and there are also six other places where divine service is performed; and the number of glebe-houses is 36. The cathedral church, dedicated to St. Canice, and situated on a gentle eminence at the western extremity of the city, is a spacious and venerable cruciform structure, in the early English style of architecture, with a low massy central tower supported on clustered columns of black marble, and lofty pointed arches, affording entrances from the nave into the choir and transepts. The exterior walls, with the exception only of the gables, are embattled, and at the west end the pinnacles form two small spires. The whole length of the building is 226 feet, and the breadth along the transepts 123 feet. The interior is lofty and of chaste and elegant design; the nave is separated from the aisles by an elegant range of five clustered columns of black marble on each side, with lofty and gracefully moulded arches, and lighted by a large west window of elegant design, and a range of five clerestory windows; the aisles are lighted by four windows on each side; the choir, of similar character, has a beautifully groined ceiling, embellished with delicate tracery and numerous modillions, and a central group of cherubs, festoons, and foliage of exquisite richness. At the end of the south transept, on the eastern side, is the consistory court, built by Bishop Pococke, and to the north of it is the chapter-house. On the eastern side of the north transept is a door leading through a dark passage into the chapel of St. Mary, where the, parochial vicar of St. Canice formerly officiated; and adjacent to it, on the same side, is the present parish church, containing the tomb of Bishop Gafney, who died in 1576.

In various parts of the cathedral are several ancient monuments, of which the most remarkable is that of Bishop David, near the consistorial court, now much defaced; eight of the bishops of Ossory and several of the noble proprietors of the castle are interred here; and in the transept is a stone seat, called the Chair of St. Kieran. Within a short distance from the south transept are the remains of an ancient round tower, 108 feet high and 47 feet in circumference at the base, and crowned at its summit with a low battlement. The cemetery is finely planted, and is approached from the town by a flight of marble steps. Near the east end of the cathedral is the episcopal palace, a commodious and handsome residence; and on the south-eastern side is the deanery, a good building. At the north-western end of the churchyard is the diocesan library, founded in 1692 by Bishop Otway, who left £5 per annum to the librarian, and £5 for coal; it was enlarged in 1756, by Bishop Maurice, who increased the stipend of the librarian by an annuity of £20, and contributed largely to the collection, which now contains 3000 volumes.

In the R. C. divisions, this diocese, as originally constituted, is a separate bishoprick, being one of the three suffragan to the archiepiscopal see of Dublin: it comprises 32 parochial benefices or unions, containing 94 chapels served by 88 clergymen, of whom 32, including the bishop, are parish priests, and 56 coadjutors or curates. The parochial benefices of the bishop are the unions of St. Mary and St. John, Kilkenny, in the former of which is the R. C. cathedral and the bishop's residence. The diocese is divided into three districts, called the northern division, or Conference of Ballyragget; the middle division, or Conference of Kilkenny; and the southern division, or Conference of Ballyhale, where chapters of the clergy are held.

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