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An Alternative Establishment: The Evolution of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy, 16001649
Many factors distinguished Irish from British Catholicism in the course of the seventeenth
century. Most importantly, Ireland was unique within the archipelago in the fact that
Catholicism was the religion of the great majority of the island’s inhabitants. Anti-Catholic
legislation was significantly weaker in Ireland than in Britain: prior to the Interregnum, the
statutory basis for the repression of Catholicism remained the original Elizabethan legislation,
which unlike in England, had not been updated in the course of the last Tudor monarch’s
reign. Not only were the penalties for religious dissidence significantly less in Ireland but
they were also difficult to administer: enforcement of lay uniformity, for instance, through
the Commission for Ecclesiastical Causes was largely ineffective because of the refusal of
local juries to co-operate. 1 It is true that in Ireland Acts of State depending on the
prerogatory powers of the crown were used to a greater extent than in England to overcome
the effective abandonment of parliament as an instrument of executive government between
1585 and 1634 (with the brief exception of 1613)2 and offered real potential for the effective
harassment of wealthy recusants, but the sheer number of Irish catholics and the fear of
provoking rebellion rendered the Privy Council in England wary about any consistent attempt
to use such devices to compensate for the weakness of the statutory legislation. 3 One result
of this situation, until relatively recently largely over-looked, was the attractiveness which
Ireland acquired for English and, to a lesser extent, Scottish recusants who immigrated in
surprising numbers and who ultimately aligned in their political orientation with their Old
English and Gaelic co-religionists.4
The sheer size of the Catholic population also created both opportunities and
administrative difficulties for the church of Rome in Ireland and in the course of the
seventeenth century the island acquired a catholic organizational apparatus which rendered it
unique, not merely within the archipelago, but in the entire area defined in Rome as in
partibus infidelium, that is those areas of the world not within the jurisdiction of a catholic
state. In Jacobean and Caroline Ireland a shadow church in waiting was created, which for a
brief period during the 1640s effectively replaced the state church in much of the island. It is
the purpose of this chapter to trace the evolution and chief characteristics of this alternative
ecclesiastical establishment, concentrating in particular on what emerged as the hierarchical
apex of catholic clerical organization, the episcopate.
As in the rest of the archipelago, the Reformation created major problems of
administrative continuity for the church of Rome in Ireland. This became particularly urgent
towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign as religious divisions deepened and it was no longer
Aidan Clarke, ‘Varieties of Uniformity: The First Century of the Church of Ireland’ in Sheils and Wood,
Studies in Church History 25, 105-22, there, 112- 114.
W.N. Osborough, Studies in Irish Legal History (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), 83-6.
John McCavitt, Sir Arthur Chichester Lord Deputy of Ireland 1605-16 (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies,
1998), 111-28.
David Edwards, ‘A Haven of Popery: English Catholic Migration to Ireland in the Age of the Plantations’ in
The Origins of Sectarianism in Early Modern Ireland, ed. Alan Ford and John McCafferty (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005), 95-126.
possible for bishops to secure recognition from both the pope and the crown. In Ireland,
however, the geographical limitations of the state’s authority both postponed the extension of
a Protestant hierarchy throughout the island and the complete demise of an episcopate
appointed from Rome.
Prior to the completion of the Tudor conquest in 1603, it was essentially impracticable
for the state church to make episcopal appointments to the north-western sees of Ireland since
these were effectively within the territory of largely autonomous Gaelic lordships. 5
Conversely, Rome continued to appoint bishops to these dioceses. In the latter part of the
sixteenth century, these men formed a crucial part of the group of Irish clerics who strove to
interpret the struggle in late Elizabethan Ireland in religious terms and who lobbied
continental catholic powers to provide assistance to the Ulster confederates in their struggle
against their engulfment in the Tudor state. They also provided a certain continuity of
episcopal tradition and Roman-orientated organization. In 1587 a group of Ulster prelates
met at Clogher in order to promulgate the decrees of Trent.6 Six years later, no fewer than six
Ulster bishops were able to congregate at Enniskillen, the primate, Edmund Magauran of
Armagh, Redmond O’Gallagher of Derry, Connor O’Devaney of Down and Connor, Patrick
MacCaughwell of Dromore, Niall O’Boyle of Raphoe, and Richard Brady of Kilmore, 7
Not all these northern bishops were necessarily mint examples of a tridentine
template. There were consistent levels of complaint about Niall O’Boyle, for instance, who
was apparently open to accusations of concubinage, 8 which culminated in harsh criticism of
his behavior by the dean, the vicar general and fourteen other senior clergy of the diocese at
the turn of the century.9 Other prelates enjoyed a better reputation. In 1591 Cardinal Allen
communicated special faculties to three bishops, Redmond O’Gallagher of Derry, Conor
O’Devaney of Down and Connor and Richard Brady of Kilmore, on the basis of their “piety,
doctrine and zeal for the house of God.”10 All three evidently played a significant role in late
Elizabethan Ulster. O’Gallagher functioned as a papal legate and acted as vice-primate in the
absence of an archbishop of Armagh and a study of his diocese suggests that under his
leadership the traditional erenagh system continued to function smoothly in terms of
upkeeping churches, providing recruits to the clergy and in the provision of a certain basic
education.11 By the mid-1590s he was being credited as one of the arch-movers in the
rebellion of Hugh O’Neill, the earl of Tyrone. Richard Brady had served as Franciscan
provincial of Ireland and was renowned for his simple lifestyle.12 In 1600, unlike other
Alan Ford, The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590-1641 (snd edition, Dublin: Four Courts Press), 127.
P. F. Moran (ed.), The Analecta of David Rothe, Bishop of Ossory (Dublin: M.H. Gill and Son, 1884), C.
Brian Mac Cuarta,Catholic Revival in the North of Ireland, 1603-41 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), 21.
Ibid., 21-2.
John Hagan (ed.), “Some Papers Relating to the Nine Years War”, Archivium Hibernicum 1 (1914), 274-320,
there, 294-5.
Quoted in Rothe, Analecta, c.
Henry A. Jeffries, The Irish Church and the Tudor Reformations (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2010), 251.
bishops, he escaped any personal criticism in a long memorial penned about the Irish church
for consideration by a future Irish nuncio.13 He suffered imprisonment on three occasions.
Brady’s fellow Franciscan, O’Devany, who was consecrated as bishop in 1583, was a
somewhat more problematic exemplar of episcopal standards. There were some suspicious
circumstances about his release from captivity in Dublin castle in 1590. Adam Loftus, the
archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor later claimed that O’Devany took the oath of
Supremacy in order to put an end to his imprisonment.14 O’Devany’s subsequent behavior
casts doubt on this accusation but, nonetheless, the same memorial of 1600, which exempted
O’Gallagher and Brady from criticism, suggested that O’Devany too needed reformation. He
was also referred to rather disparagingly as a very simple individual. 15 Yet if O’Devany
lacked the educational attainments of the bishops who were elevated to the Irish hierarchy
after 1618, this was not an obstacle to his wielding considerable charismatic power during his
life and, even more importantly, through his death. In the long term, this very “simple” man
may have been one of the most influential of Irish bishops. In this regard, it is of interest to
note that at the turn of the sixteenth century the bishop of Cork and Cloyne, Dermot Creagh,
emphasized the importance of religious constancy and integrity of life rather than intellectual
attainment as the chief desiderata in new episcopal appointments to the Irish church.16 Given
the rudimentary evangelical outreach of the state church at this point in time, such an
emphasis was arguably logical. The chief challenge of Protestantism in Ireland was not
doctrinal but rather lay in the threat that religious dissidence would be punished by the state.
If O’Devany did succumb to state pressure in 1590 this left no mark on his subsequent
behavior. In 1599, the earl of Essex recorded him as a highly active and popular opponent
who sequestered churches and consecrated priests and who, because he came from Rome,
enjoyed more renown “than if an angel had come from Heaven.”17 O’Devany was arrested
again in 1606 and brought to Sir John Davies’s camp but, prior to the flight of the earls in
1607, the influence of Cormac MacBaron, Hugh O’Neill’s brother, evidently protected him.
He was taken into custody once more in 1611 and was executed publicly together with the
priest, Patrick O’Loughran, the following year. His execution conformed to Lord Deputy
Chichester’s known hostility to the catholic clergy and probably formed part of a programme
of government intimidation in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections of 1613 but it backfired spectacularly. Large crowds assembled to witness both O’Devany’s jouney to the
scaffold and the actual execution, during which he demonstrated a steadfast demeanour.
Following his death, a riot occurred as the crowd sought relics from his clothing and his
body, including his head, which thirty years later was to be proudly exhibited to Dionysio
Massari the papal nuncio’s auditor, on the occasion of a journey into Ulster. The bishop
subsequently entered into popular consciousness both in Gaelic and Old English Ireland as a
martyr. The vice-primate and future bishop of Ossory, David Rothe, also contributed to his
martyr status with the inclusion of a long section on the executed bishop in his Analecta.
Hagan, “Papers Relating to the Nine Years War,” 303-12.
Rothe, Analecta, xcviii.
Hagan, “Papers Relating to the Nine Years War,” 309, 301-2.
Ibid., 287-8.
Quoted in Jeffries, Tudor Reformations, 251.
Interestingly Rothe’s text foregrounded O’Devany’s episcopal status, by recording his arrest
while conferring the sacrament of confirmation.18
The relatively high level of catholic episcopal presence in the largely autonomous
Gaelic north towards the end of the sixteenth century was not matched elsewhere in the
island. On 1 April 1600 Dermot Creagh, the bishop of Cork and Cloyne wrote a letter to the
Pope pleading for more episcopal appointments. He complained that he had been the lone
functioning bishop in the entire metropolitan province of Cashel for twenty years.19 At this
point there were no resident catholic bishops in the provinces of Dublin or Tuam either. The
vast majority of sees were vacant and those that were not, such as Killaloe, Clonfert, Leighlin
and Ossory, were divided among non-resident, often non-Irish, incumbents.20 Creagh was at
this point advanced in years having been a key actor in Munster since his arrival back in the
province in 1581. He had evidently played a notable role in cultivating attachment to
Catholicism across the province of Munster, having been given the authority to operate in all
of its dioceses except Killaloe.21 With the outbreak of the Nine Years War, he co-operated in
particular with the Jesuit, James Archer, to foment support for O’Neill and his confederates in
the south. Creating outright rebellion against the monarch was more difficult outside Ulster.22
On the other hand, the supply of returning continentally-educated clergy was evidently higher
in the south than in Ulster. The bishop of Ross in the state church, William Lyon, for
instance, complained bitterly of the effect of the seminary priests, not merely in eroding the
loyalty of the laity but in persuading clerics from the established church to forsake the
benefices to become “massing priests.”23
The new century resulted in a sharp decline in the resident Irish episcopate even while
the supply of seminary-trained priests from the continent continued to expand. This was
particularly obvious in Ulster. The militant archbishop of Armagh, Edmund Magauran had
suffered a violent death in 159324 and was not replaced by a resident prelate while the bishop
of Derry, Redmond O’Gallagher was killed in 1601. Niall O’Boyle of Raphoe, Connor
O’Devaney of Down and Connor and Richard Brady of Kilmore remained as bishops in
Ireland after the completion of the Tudor conquest but Brady who was old and infirm was
probably not active within his diocese. By 1612, when O’Devaney was executed, all were
dead and their sees were vacant. 25 At this point the Irish hierarchy consisted of four
Rothe, Analecta, 290.
Hagan, “Papers Relating to the Nine Years War,” 287-8
Ibid., 303-12.
Jeffries, Tudor Reformations, 260.
Although recent research has indicated the degree to which Catholic disaffection rotted
away at support for the state, not only in Munster but also in the Pale ibid., 259-75, Fionnán Tuite
Hiram Morgan, Tyrone’s Rebellion: The Outbreak of the Nine Years War in Tudor Ireland (Dublin: Gill &
Macmillan, 1993), 145.
Dominc Conway, ‘The Anglican World: problems of coexistence during the pontificates of Urban VIII and
Innocent X (1623-1655)’ in .J. Metzler (ed.), Congregationis de Propaganda Fide Memoria Rerum 1622-1700
2 Vols. (Rome, 1972), 1 pt. 2, pp. 149-72, there p. 151-2.
archbishops and one bishop, of whom only David Kearney, the archbishop of Cashel, was
actually resident in the island.26
Yet rather than signaling the abandonment of the dioscesan organization of Irish
Catholicism, the state’s victory in the Nine Years War and the subsequent withering away of
the pre-conquest residential episcopate actually heralded the reinvigoration of the Irish
hierarchy. Probably influenced by Hugh O’Neill the Spanish ambassador to the papacy, the
Marqués de Aytona, in 1608 held at least two conferences with Paul V on the subject of the
Irish episcopate. The following year, Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, a determined partisan of
O’Neill, was appointed to the archdiocese of Tuam, which had been vacant since 1595. 27 In
the same year, once again with the support of Hugh O’Neill, Eoghan Mac Mathghamhna
(Eugene Matthews) was appointed as bishop of Clogher. He was translated to Dublin
following Matteo d’Ovideo’s resignation of the archiepiscopal see in 1611, as Rome
demonstrated its determination to continue to keep an incumbent in at least the four
metropolitan positions in Ireland, although it was recognized that not all the archbishops
could hope to reside in their dioceses or even in the island. This was particularly the case with
Ó Maolchonaire whose association with the exiles of the flight of the earls meant that any
attempt to return to his diocese would be hazardous in the extreme. Instead for the rest of his
episcopate Ó Maolchonaire was to depend on a series of resident vicars-general such as
Valentine Brown and Francis Kirwan to exert authority on his behalf.28 In 1613, it was
recorded that the other absentee archbishops of Dublin and Armagh, domiciled in Louvain
and Rome respectively, had also appointed vicars-general for their sees.29
Other modes of organization were also put in place. Already in Elizabeth’s reign, in
line with traditional practice when conflict with civil authority rendered the appointment of a
bishop impossible, Rome had begun to experiment with the appointment of Vicars Apostolic
to historic Irish sees. In addition to such appointments from Rome, in certain other sees,
vicars-general, appointed either by diocesan chapters or by the archbishops or by the viceprimate, David Rothe, discharged the ordinary authority. By the 1620s a network of these
figures, who were not episcopally consecrated but who exercised authority and were resident
within traditional diocesan borders had been established all over the island.30 The further
elaboration of this network, however, was forestalled by the recreation of an actual resident
A key figure in this regard was Peter Lombard, the absentee primate and archbishop
of Armagh. Lombard was a native of Waterford and arguably the outstanding Irish catholic
intellectual of his era. Having enrolled as a student in Louvain in 1572, he went on to enjoy a
distinguished academic career in the university. He owed his original elevation to the see of
Alison Forrestal, Catholic Synods in Ireland, 1600-1690 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998), 15.
Benjamin Hazard, Faith and Patronage: The Political Career of Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire c. 1560-1629
(Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2009), 58.
, Ibid., 135.
John Hagan, “Miscellanea Vaticano-Hibernica, 1580-1631”, Archivium Hibernicum, 3 (1914), 227-365, there,
Patrick Corish, The Catholic Community in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Dublin: Helicon Press,
1981), 19
Armagh to the influence of Hugh O’Neill, the earl of Tyrone, and the central figure of the
great rebellion of the 1590s. In 1598 Lombard travelled to Rome as commissary of his
university, in a bid to protect its interests from local episcopal pressure and the increasing
threat of Jesuit educational competition. He accepted appointment as O’Neill’s agent in
Rome and lobbied strenuously on behalf of the Ulster confederates, seeking an
excommunication of catholics who opposed the rebellion as well as an indulgence for the
supporters of the earl. The collapse of the rebellion and the accession of King James VI and I,
however, resulted in a reorientation of Lombard’s priorities. Initially, in common with many
other Irish Catholics, he evidently nourished hopes that the child of a Catholic martyr mother
would adopt a significantly more relaxed approach to his Catholic subjects. Lombard made
strenuous efforts to prepare the intellectual ground, if not for a rapprochement between king
and papacy, at least towards a certain modus covivendi. Lombard’s profile in Rome was
boosted by his membership of the pope’s household and the important position which he
filled as president of the private sessions of the Congregation de Auxiliis, which attempted to
resolve the grace controversy between supporters of Molina and Baius, and as theological
consultor to the Holy Office. Although he welcomed O’Neill to Rome in 1608 following the
Flight of the Earls, Lombard came to believe that allowing his former patron continued
influence over Irish ecclesiastical appointments would be to the long term detriment of the
catholic church in the island. 31
Following O’ Devaney’s death he prepared a memorial to Pope Paul V in which he
argued the case for the appointment of new bishops to Irish sees. After a long historical
disquisition, he pointed out that Ireland had never previously been as destitute of bishops as
was now the case. Only the archbishop of Cashel was resident in Ireland, where he had been
no more vulnerable than other Catholic religious, up until 1610 when he took a trip to Rome
which had aroused the suspicions of the authorities, who now looked on him since his return
with less complaisance. The archbishop regretted the recent appointment to the Irish
hierarchy of both Ó Maolchonaire and Mac Mathgamha which he blamed for both the
extension of plantation in the north to the earl of Tyrone’s own estates and the decision to
move to the capture, trial and execution of O’Devany.32 For Lombard, the way forward in
Ireland had been demonstrated by the experiences of his vice-primate, David Rothe.
Lombard claimed that it was his worries that dissensions among the Irish clergy
would begin to follow the pattern of England which had motivated him to have Rothe return
to Ireland, with the title of apostolic protonotary to bolster his authority. The archbishop’s
reference to England was hardly casual for he would have been aware that it would sharpen
attention for his arguments: throughout the first half of the seventeenth century Rome showed
a consistent interest in the idea that the resources of Ireland might be used to bolster the
position of Catholicism in England. Lombard himself noted that Clement VIII had been
attracted to the possibility of appointing more Irish bishops on the grounds that this would
prove useful for England as well as Ireland. In addition, the clerical leadership of the Irish
church, like their Roman superiors, were constantly fearful that the troubles which had
Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, “Peter Lombard”
Hagan, “Miscellanea Vaticano-Hibernica”, 296-8
engulfed English catholicism might also burst into flames across the Irish Sea and this was an
important motivation in seeking to create a functioning and authoritative hierarchy. Lombard
reported that Rothe was able to function without molestation in Ireland because the viceroy,
Sir Arthur Chichester, considered that he was unlikely to disturb the public peace. If the
government could be secure that catholic ecclesiastics sent to Ireland would concentrate
merely on their religious functions, Lombard believed that it would be possible to move to
appoint more Irish bishops. Given the experience of the archbishop of Cashel, he argued for
the consecration of two bishops on the continent who would then proceed to Ireland and
consecrate others without arousing governmental suspicions concerning visits abroad. In
contrast to a figure such as Ó Maolchonaire, it was vital that the putative bishops be men
above suspicion on the grounds of political attachment, and it must be clear that O’Neill had
no hand in their appointment.33
The appointment of Lombard’s deputy, David Rothe, to the see of Ossory in 1618 was
the first concrete step towards the realization of Lombard’s ideal. Rothe was already a
veteran of church reorganization, both as vicar apostolic of Ossory and more generally since
1609 as Lombard’s vice-primate within the metropolitan province of Armagh. While
personally active in Ossory, the vice-primate lacked the kinship networks and probably the
linguistic abilities which would have allowed him to function successfully in the north. A key
element of his reorganizational strategy in the province of Armagh therefore, as Brian Mac
Cuarta has recently demonstrated, was to privilege native-born, continentally-educated clergy
as leaders in ecclesiastical reorganization, in particular Patrick Duffy, who became vicargeneral of Clogher, Patrick Hanratty, the vicar-general of Down and Connor ,and Patrick
Matthews who served as vicar-general of Derry and later vicar-apostolic of Dromore.34 In
1614 he convened a synod of the province in Drogheda to establish the legislative basis of the
programme of reform. In the same year, the returned archbishop of Dublin, in tandem with
the vicars apostolic of Kildare, Robert Lalor, and Leighlin, Luke Archer, together with the
vicar-general of Ferns, James Walsh convened a synod of the province of Dublin.35 The
province of Cashel had already managed to assemble synods in 1606 and 1612 but, in what
was presumably a consciously concerted action between the three metropolitan authorities, it
also was assembled by Archbishop Kearney in 1614. Fifteen further synods, the vast bulk of
them provincial rather than dioscesan, were to follow before the watershed of the 1641
rebellion changed the landscape of catholic Ireland. An intensive study of the surviving
synodal decrees has identified their central objective as an attempt to follow Tridentine
legislation,36 with a strong emphasis on uniformity of belief created by catechesis, and
internal discipline within the clergy. 37
Ibid.; John J. Silke, “Later relations between Primate Peter Lombard and Hugh O’Neill” in Irish Theological
Quarterly 22 (1955), 124-50.
Mac Cuarta, Catholic Revival, 77-8.
Forrestal, Synods in Ireland, 38.
Ibid., 35.
Thomas O’Connor, Irish Jansenists 1600-70: Religion and Politics in Flanders, France, Ireland and Rome
(Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008), 118-9.
Helping to drive this process was the fact that Rothe was merely the first of a new
breed of residential bishop. Between 1618 and 1624, the sees of Limerick, Emly, Meath,
Cork and Cloyne, the archiepiscopal see of Dublin, and the diocese of Ferms were all
provided with bishops who, like Rothe, all took up residence in their dioceses. With the
solitary exception of Maurice O’Hurley in Emly, whose family had a record of loyalty to the
government during the Desmond rebellion and the Nine Years War, they were all of Old
English stock and were appointed to sees in the south and east of the island.38 They thus
largely conformed to Lombard’s ideal of “non-political” bishops and he was probably in
favour of the appointment of each. Significantly, with the exception of Thomas Fleming, the
Franciscan archbishop of Dublin, and the most socially eminent of the group as the son of the
baron of Slane, all were members of the secular clergy. The educational formation of the
group was in the same nexus of continental colleges and recently it has been persuasively
argued that they shared a common theological and pastoral approach as well as an
accommodationist political mentality.39
In 1625, however, a new raft of appointments was made to the Irish hierarchy which
signified a lessening of Lombard’s influence in Rome. Not only were the new appointments
Gaelic Irish and destined for the north and west of the island but they included another
Franciscan. The witnesses consulted by the Datary in the examination of the candidates also
demonstrated strong Franciscan influence. The future archbishop of Armagh, Hugh
MacCaughwell OFM, together with Anthony Hickey OFM, were the only witnesses in
respect of their confrere Boethius MacEgan OFM, who became bishop of Elphin in the
province of Tuam, John O’Cullenan, who was appointed to Raphoe, and Hugh O’Reilly who
acquired the see of Kilmore. Both Hickey and MacCaughwell were consulted with regard to
Edmund Dungan’s promotion to Down and Connor as well, although in this case, the
testimony of yet another Franciscan, Edmund MacCaughwell OFM, was also offered.40
A variety of factors were evidently at work lessening Lombard’s influence. The
complexity of the various negotiations for a Catholic bride for the Prince of Wales threw the
affairs of Irish and British catholics into sharp relief and encouraged a wider canvas of
opinion concerning the Irish church. Perhaps most pertinently, the foundation of the
Congregatio de Propaganda Fide laid renewed emphasis on the importance of mission
within catholic Europe. Both Gregory XV, the founder of the congregation and Urban VIII,
who had been one of its cardinal-members prior to his elevation to the throne of St Peter,
were strong supporters of the new body. From its inception, Propaganda trawled for
information concerning the wide areas entrusted to it and the best mechanism of advancing
the cause of Catholicism there. The most influential member of the congregation was
probably the secretary, Francesco Ingoli, who, despite his personal humility, acted as the
Donal Cregan, ‘The Social and Cultural Background of a Counter-Reformation Episcopate, 1618-60’ in
Studies in Irish history presented to R. Dudley Edwards, eds. Art Cosgrove and Donal MacCartney (Dublin,
1979), 85-117
O’ Connor, Irish Jansenists, 113.
Cathaldus Giblin, “The ‘Processus Datariae’ and the appointment of Irish bishops in the seventeenth century”
in Franciscan Fathers (eds), Father Luke Wadding Commemorative Volume (Dublin: Clonmore and Reynolds:
1957), 508-616, there 533-8.
spider at the heart of a vast web of contacts throughout the area classified as in partibus
infedelibus and as the fulcrum of communications between Rome and the mission territories.
Ingoli and the cardinals at Propaganda from an early date placed emphasis on the importance
of the episcopal role. In Hungary, for instance, since the Turkish conquest of much of the
medieval kingdom, many of the titular bishops had little or no contact with their sees but
merely enjoyed the title and rights and dignities which pertained to it. In 1623, however,
orders were sent to the nuncio in Vienna to pressurize Hungarian bishops to take up residence
in their sees under Turkish control.41 The heightened emphasis on residence and pastoral
impact in the wake of the establishment of Propaganda was not particularly favourable to
Peter Lombard. The archbishop of Armagh had previously mooted his own return to Ireland
but not to his own see, where he could not have hoped to operate effectively, but to the south
of the island where he could be maintained by kin and friends, without having to confront his
pastoral inadequacies in the Ulster dialect of the Irish language. Lombard’s personal
deficiencies pointed up the fact that if Rome wished to provide bishops in predominantly
Gaelic areas then the template would have to differ from that which the archbishop of
Armagh had favoured since 1618.
Further episcopal provisions continued to be made. All four archiepiscopal sees
became vacant during the 1620s, including the primatial see of Armagh after Lombard’s
death in 1625 and all were filled with new incumbents who, in contrast with the majority of
their metropolitan predecessors, all took up residence. By 1630 when it as becoming apparent
that Ireland was probably over-stocked with bishops, there was a core of fifteen resident
prelates, distributed throughout all four provinces and spanning both the Gaelic Irish and Old
English ethnic divide. While the majority of the bishops were of the secular clergy, the
hierarchy contained a substantial regular minority. I have argued elsewhere that the inclusion
of so many different interests within the new hierarchy was an important factor in the
legitimization of episcopal authority within the movement of ecclesiastical renewal.42
The challenges which this newly remodeled episcopate faced were manifold. By
contemporary European standards the bishops were miserably poor, and struggled to maintain
the dignity of their office, a fact about which they complained bitterly. While nothing
approaching the persecution which was to occur during the Cromwellian period took place,
bishops certainly faced considerable hostility from the state, which in practice drew a
distinction between the activities of ordinary priests and a prelate wielding a jurisdiction
derived from Rome, which was seen as mounting a particularly unacceptable challenge to
state authority. As a result bishops found that recalcitrant lower clergy were not afraid to
denounce them to the state courts for the crime of exercising a papal jurisdiction.
Imprisonment, flight from their dioceses and a scaling back of Episcopal activity all resulted
from this particular node of conflict.43
István György Tóth, Litterae Missionariorum de Hungaria et Transilvania (1572-1717), I,
(Bibliotheca Academiae Hungariae- Roma: Budapest and Rome, 2002), 39-46.
Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformationin Ireland: The Mission of Rinuccini, 1645-49 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2002), 57-68.
Ibid., 39-56.
The same tensions which existed in England and Scotland between secular and
regular clergy also complicated affairs in Ireland. The bishops, particularly the group of
Leinster and Munster prelates appointed during the years when Lombard was the dominant
advisor on Irish affairs, resented what they saw as the regular clergy’s unwillingness to
submit to ordinary authority.44 The competition between both branches of the clergy was
greatly accentuated because, unlike mainstream catholic countries, the catholic parish clergy
in Ireland were as dependent on voluntary charity as the mendicant orders, since the illegal
shadow church could possess no corporate property nor maintain any official benefices.
Not surprisingly, therefore, both the bishops and the regular clergy in Ireland followed
the battles between the bishop of Chalcedon, Richard Smith, and the religious orders in
England with very keen interest and to a certain extent the conflicts in both islands became
mapped into each other. Linkages in this respect were accentuated by the fact that the most
bitter opponent of regular pride and privilege in Ireland was an English secular priest, Paul
Harris. But the outcome of the struggle was very different in Ireland. Whereas the papal brief
Brittania proved devastating for Smith in England, there was no similar undermining of
episcopal power in the western island.45
One reason for this was that the lines of conflict were never so clearly drawn in
Ireland, not least because of the number of regular bishops. As early as 1613, for instance, Ó
Maolchonaire, the Franciscan archbishop of Tuam, had attempted to regulate the conduct of
his own order’s friars in Ireland. Significantly, Paul Harris’s chief opponent in his war against
the regular clergy in Dublin was actually the ordinary jurisdiction in the archdiocese, the
Franciscan archbishop, Thomas Fleming. As the conflict became amplified this point was
seized upon by the regular clergy, who were happy to point out that it was their secular
opponents whose actions demonstrated the greatest contempt for Episcopal authority. Unlike
in England also, there was a critical mass of Irish bishops, many of whom were prepared to
cooperate with each other. Moreover, the bishops’ long term residence in their own sees
meant that each was fighting on a relatively small field and against opposition which was
generally localized rather than national.46 It was this traditional structure of the Irish
hierarchy, for instance, which David Rothe, the doyen of the group, emphasized in a letter to
the unfortunate bishop of Chalcedon:
In this kingdom is found a somewhat different state of the hierarchy from that which
is seen in other kingdoms and dominions, such as England, Holland and other countries under
Protestant rulers. The bishops who labour earnestly for us, although titulars and established in
the peaceful possession of their sees, yet they hold their titles and designations and the
fullness of their right and jurisdiction from the ancient territories and over their own flocks,
uninterruptedly and with the form of words by which anciently and in peace the same was
wont to be provided from them in the Roman curia.47
The ad limina report in 1637 of another Franciscan bishop, Boethius MacEGan.
O’Connor, Irish Jansenists, 129-48 provides a recent and comprehensive examination of these tensions.
Ibid., 162.
Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformation, 53-5.
Quoted in O’Connor, Irish Jansenists, 120.
provides a particular window into the manner in which Irish bishops operated during the
1630s, even in areas with a substantial protestant population and with a declining catholic
secular elite. The tone of the bishop’s report was certainly fearful for the future. The
plantation schemes for Connacht which were launched during Wentworth’s governorship
were seen to offer a deadly threat and there was fear also of the heightened coercive
apparatus of the established church. But the actual details of MacEgan’s activity
demonstrated a surprising vibrancy within the shadow church over which he presided. Since
his appointment the number of priests in the diocese had swelled from 13 to 42, a remarkable
expansion in 12 years. On his arrival there had been no regular clergy in Elphin but now both
Dominican and Franciscan friars had been successfully re-established, although they had no
secure permanent convents. The bishop reported that he was enforcing the provincial synodal
decrees which had been recently passed. He admitted that fear of the protestants meant that
he himself did not dare convene the priests of the diocese in a synod but instead, in what he
described as an almost synodal fashion, he assembled the priests of each the diocese’s seven
deaneries every year. He reported weekly catechetical activity in each parish, even if this was
conducted in secret wooded places rather than in a parish church. Although the bishop lacked
a permanent residence, he was able to maintain himself in the diocese, constantly moving
from place to place and supported by the alms of the catholic population. He claimed to have
confirmed thousands of people during his twelve year ministry and to have ordained over two
hundred priests.48
Such experiences of fear and poverty, combined with genuine pastoral experience,
helped to shape the attitudes which the Irish bishops were to display in the period after the
1641 rebellion, when the political landscape of Ireland was transformed and the shadow
catholic hierarchy suddenly found itself recognized as the ecclesiastical establishment in
much of the island. The clerical position among the confederates has been the subject of
significant recent research.49 My objective here, therefore, is merely to emphasise the
importance of the corporate role of the clergy during this decade after 1641. One of the
defining features of Ireland during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms was the manner in which
a specifically clerical agenda gradually emerged as a dominant feature of politics. In sharp
contrast with, for instance, the 1620s and the negotiations of the graces, issues far beyond the
simple toleration of catholic practice and the status of catholics as subjects became the
subject of debate and conflict. This could have hardly have occurred without the
developments of the previous forty years and in particular the hierarchical organization which
Irish Catholicism had acquired.
Within a year of the original rising, a de facto Catholic state, the Confederate
Catholic Association, emerged in much of the island. The catholic clergy provided much of
the impetus, the organizational spine and the moral legitimacy of this nascent polity, with the
bishops providing a clearly defined leadership. The use of synods in 1642, first in the
metropolitan province of Armagh and then a national assembly in Kilkenny, to enunciate the
clerical position naturally privileged episcopal dominance. This was symbolized in the
hierarchical signing of the decrees: first archbishops, then bishops, then all other diocesan
ordinaries affixed their names before eminent members of the regular clergy followed suit.50
Archive of Propaganda Fide, Rome, Scritture Originali Riferite nelle Congregationi Generali, f. 351r-352v.
See Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformation, esp. 68-81, 123-267; idem., “Lost in Rinuccini’s shadow: the Irish
Clergy 1645-9” in Micheál Ó Siochrú (ed.), Kingdoms in Crisis: Ireland in the 1640s (Dublin: Four Courts
Press, 2001), 176-191; idem., ‘Rebels and confederates: The stance of the clergy in the 1640s’ in
John Young (ed.), Celtic dimensions of the British civil wars (Edinburgh: John Donald,
1997), O’Connor, Irish Jansenists, 239-305.
Stanislaus Kavanagh (ed.), Commentarius Rinuccinianus, de sedis apostolicae legatione ad
foederatos Hiberniae catholicos per annos 1645-49 (6 vols, Dublin, 1932-49), I, 319, 326
The emerging political structures also strengthened the position of the bishops. Bishops, but
not mitred abbots, sat of right in the quasi-parliamentary but unicameral General Assembly of
the confederates, and some of their number subsequently occupied seats on the Supreme
Council, to which the Assembly’s authority was delegated in the interim between its
convocations. The decision to rule against incorporating a lobby of regular clergy into the
most important institution of the associations was hardly surprising. Many of the confederate
laity had legitimate fears that attempts would be made by the religious orders to regain
property lost in the dissolution of the monasteries. Accordingly, the Association was quick to
decree that Catholics who held former ecclesiastical property and rights to tithes prior to the
rebellion would retain possession until the matter was decided in a future Irish parliament.51
In sharp contrast, however, the secular clergy were gifted the holdings of the established
church in areas under confederate control in a seductively simple declaration that the
“possession of Protestant Archbishops, Bishops, Deans, dignitaries, and Parsons” would be
transferred to the “Catholick Archbishops, Bishops, Deans, dignitaries, pastors.”52 Although
two-thirds of these clerical revenues were then sequestered to underpin the confederate war
effort, this was a far more generous provision than even the compromise which was
eventually offered to the regular orders in 1643, which offered the return of buildings but
only one tenth of the lands and tithes which had previously been attached to these holdings.53
Consequently, the dioscesan ordinaries as leaders of the secular clergy were established as
vital and propertied stakeholders within the association, which was to have vast political
ramifications. At its most simple, the insistence of the Irish Episcopal leadership that their
rights to jurisdiction and the clergy’s rights to property be safe-guarded in any peacesettlement rendered any negotiated settlement of the struggle in Ireland extraordinarily
difficult, despite the clear perception by both Royalists and Confederates that the English
parliament represented the greatest danger which they confronted.
Papal recognition of the confederates also highlighted the importance of the bishops.
PierFrancesco Scarampi, the first Italian papal envoy to the association, clearly recognized
the leadership role of the hierarchy. In pleading with convocation for an open declaration of
their intent to observe the decrees of Trent in 1643, he expressed his confidence that this
would secure the tacit or express consent of the entire secular clergy.54 In 1645, he prefaced a
letter to the bishops indicating his opposition to the Glamorgan peace, with humble
comments concerning their own superior qualities. In the event, it was to be the bishops who
ultimately decided to accept the peace, against the wishes of the papal representative, voting
seven to six in favour of the peace.55
The arrival of a papal nuncio in 1645, GianBattista Rinuccini, undoubtedly altered the
dynamics of leadership within the Irish clergy. Rinuccini was a significantly more assertive
character than Scarampi and used the respect which accrued to his office, as well as his
control of papal subsidies, to dominate and unify the clergy’s voice between 1645 and 1648.
Elsewhere, I have investigated in detail the manner in which he exerted his authority in
Ibid., 349.
John T. Gilbert (ed.), The history of the Irish confederation and war in Ireland, 1641-1643
(1646-1649): containing a narrative of affairs of Ireland …with correspondence and
documents of the confederation … with contemporary personal statements, memoirs, etc. (7
vols, Dublin, 1882-91), ii, 82.
Comment. Rinucc. I, 404-5
Comment. Rinucc., I, 432-3
Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, “Lost in Rinuccini’s shadow: the Irish Clergy 1645-9” in Micheál Ó Siochrú (ed.),
Kingdoms in Crisis: Ireland in the 1640s (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001), 176-191.
Ireland.56 Yet much of the nuncio’s power and influence still depended on the support of the
Irish hierarchy and Rinuccini himself looked to the Irish bishops to marshal support for his
positions. In 1645, for instance, he applied himself to reverse the earlier clerical endorsement
of the Glamorgan peace by securing an instrument signed by eight members of the Irish
hierarchy, which effectively rejected its conditions. This pattern continued for the rest of the
nunciature. In the great crisis of first Ormond peace in 1646, it was the association of twelve
or more bishops with the nuncio in a national synod which added such weight to the clerical
condemnations.57 In June 1647, indeed, a gathering of several bishops refused the nuncio’s
advice to reject a further truce with Ormond, but instead remanded the matter to the Supreme
Council’s decision. Rinuccini therefore reluctantly acceded to their decision. This was a
foreshadowing of the ruptures within the clergy which were to accompany the rejection by
the nuncio of the Inchiquin truce in the following year. Of central importance in Rinuccini’s
failure to maintain a united clerical front in 1648, and consequently the failure to oppose the
confederate government effectively, was the manner in which the hierarchy split over his
decision to first oppose and then excommunicate the proponents of the truce. In many ways
what resulted might be described as a clash of papal and episcopal influence in Old English
Ireland. Certainly the Irish regular clergy did not remain as passive bystanders and the Jesuits
and Franciscans in particular emerged to play a key role in whipping up both opposition and
support for the nuncio. The nuncio was later particularly bitter concerning the role of the Irish
Jesuits in the months after the debacle, but, although the Society of Jesus were clearly
important players in undermining Rinuccini’s position, it is pertinent to note that the Jesuit
policy was apparently to follow the authority of individual Irish bishops in their dioceses.
Had Rinuccini been able to hold the hierarchy to his line, then it seems unlikely that clerical
rebellion would have troubled him to any great degree. With the nuncio’s departure the native
hierarchy once again re-emerged as the key actors in attempting to restore clerical unity and
enunciate a unified position, both at the peace talks over the second Ormond peace and again
during the campaign of resistance to the Cromwellian conquest.
It was thus during the 1640s that the full implications of the catholic church’s
“alternative establishment” became apparent but the moulding of that formidable clerical
lobby was the result of a much longer process reaching back to the beginning of the century.
In political terms, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the clerical role during the
Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland. The backing and moral authority of a unified clergy were
central factors in allowing the confederate catholic association to emerge from the chaos of
the original rebellion. But the salience of the clergy, and the demands which they made,
above all for the right to jurisdiction and the churches and church livings which they had
acquired, had catastrophic implications on the relationship between Irish catholics and the
civil power. It seems probable for instance that without the leadership of the Irish hierarchy,
both as members of the Confederate Supreme Council and General Assembly and even more
importantly within convocation, that the marquis of Ormond would have been able to finalise
and make stick a peace settlement with the confederate Catholics of Ireland considerably
earlier in the decade than 1649. Indeed, without official clerical input such a settlement might
possibly have been reached in the early summer of 1645 if the Marquis of Clanricard’s
Ibid.; Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformation, 232-52.
Comment. Rinucc., ii, 341
reading of the political temperature in Kilkenny was accurate.58 While Rinuccini’s arrival in
1645 certainly added a layer of papal inflexibility to the already protracted negotiations, it
seems clear that he would have had far less power to influence matters in Ireland without the
support of the Irish episcopate.
In political terms, the implications for both Britain and Ireland of the failure of
negotiations between the royalist and confederate parties were clearly immense. Had Ireland
become a royalist stronghold in 1645 rather than 1649 then the whole narrative of the civil
wars could conceivably have altered. Without pursuing this counter-factual, it can be noted
also that Ormond’s dealings with the confederates during the 1640s and 1650s left a
permanent mark on his attitude towards Catholics and their potential and actual place within
the Stuart monarchy. During the 1640s, Ormond evidently became personally convinced that
Catholics were capable of sincere loyalty to the person of their monarch and that their
demands for the right of private worship, including the ministration of their priests, were not
unreasonable. These convictions persisted upon his return to Ireland in the Restoration. As he
noted to Arlington in 1664 it was clear that Catholics ‘must have Romanish clergy whilst
they are Papists’. On the other hand Ormond harbored intense suspicion and distaste for what
he saw as the papal interference of the 1640 and thus was determined that any catholic clergy
must have ‘given some engagement of their loyalty’. 59 It was this conviction which lay
behind his attempts to browbeat Irish catholic clergy into signing the Remonstrance of the
1660s. But as his ultimate failure was to demonstrate, this was impossible to achieve on
mutually acceptable terms.60 Ormond’s last period of dominance in Ireland ultimately
concluded with the growing realisation that the alternative establishment which the Catholic
church represented could neither be accommodated within the framework of the Stuart
monarchy nor entirely excised.
Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, ‘Conflicting Loyalties, Conflicted Rebels: Political and Religious Allegiance among
the Confederate Catholics of Ireland’, The English Historical Review, CXIX, no. 483 (Sept. 2004), 851-73
Ormond to Arlington, 2 Feb. 1664, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Carte Ms. 143 ff. 258-9.
O’Connor, Irish Jansenists, 331-50.