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Genealogy of the O’Cormacain Family of Thomond by John P. McCormack

O'Cormacain clergy in the Medieval Diocese of Killaloe

Excerpts from "A history of the Diocese of Killaloe" by Gwynn & Gleeson, 1962.

Bishop Isaac (Iosóg) Ua Cormacain (1253-67)

Henry III issued his letters patent granting licence to elect on November 22, 1252. The date is worth noting, as it is the first occasion on which the king's licence was sought and obtained prior to an election in the diocese. The election took place most probably in February or March 1253, and the chapter postulated their dean, Isaac Ua Cormacain. Nothing is known of the new bishop's antecedents beyond the fact that he was dean of Killaloe at the time of his election. His name is spelt as Iosog in the old list of diocesan bishops. It seems probabe that he was a native of Killaloe or the neighbourhood, for the name is found in this district in later times. As recently as the nineteenth century priests with the surname MacCormack were buried in the little graveyard of Templekelly near Ballina, just across the Shannon from the town of Killaloe.

Henry III gave his assent to the election on April 5, 1253. The bishop elect then made his way to Assisi where Innocent IV was in residence. It is plain that, for some reason not known to us today, Bishop Isaac had good cause to doubt the validity of the chapter's act: hence the long journey to Assisi, which he must have made in April or May of that year. The Pope caused the circumstances of the election to be examined, and then annulled it for reasons which are not specified in the bull which he issued on June 23, 1253. In this bull, having first declared the chapter's election to be null and void, the Pope then proceeds to provide the dean to the vacant see so as to avoid the grave injuries that might accrue to the diocese from a prolonged vacancy. Innocent IV caused the bishop elect to be consecrated at the papal court by the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, and sent concurrent letters with his bull to the chapter of Killaloe. He wrote also to Henry III, commending the new bishop to the king and asking him as a sign of his goodwill and favour to make sure that restitution of temporalities should be granted easily and as soon as possible. In this letter the Pope, though he words his letter cautiously, makes it plain that the royal claim to these temporalities in time of vacancy was known to the Holy See, but not fully accepted.

Bishop Isaac probably remained at Assisi for two or three months after his consecration. We know that the Pope entrusted him with two important commissions in August of that year. On August 17, 1253, Innocent IV commissioned the bishops of Killaloe, Limerick and Emly to inquire into the circumstances of the election lately made at Ardfert, by which a Dominican friar named Cristin had been chosen as bishop of Ardfert. The metropolitan see of Cashel was vacant at this time, since the Dominican Archbishop David had died suddenly on March 2; and these three bishops were thus ordered by the Pope to act in place of the metropolitan. At about the same time Bishop Isaac received another commission from Innocent IV, this time together with the archdeacon of Waterford and the minister provincial of the Friars Minor in Ireland. There had been serious trouble in the diocese of Meath, where a disputed election had taken place in 1252-53; and the Pope ordered his three commissioners to hold an inquiry into the facts of the dispute. Soon after he had received these two papal commissions, Bishop Isaac left Assisi for France, where he found Henry III (who had left England in August) at Benauges near Bordeaux. On October 1 the king issued his letters patent to the knights, free and other tenants of the see of Killaloe, informing them that he had given his assent to the election of Isaac, and that the new bishop had done fealty in person. Once again these are formal official acts of which we have no previous record in the history of the diocese.

Innocent IV, who died on December 7, 1254, was called upon to settle a dispute between the chapter of Cashel and the suffragan bishops of the province in the last year of his pontificate. David MacCarwell (Mac Cerbaill) was dean of Cashel when Archbishop David Mac Cellaig died in 1253. The chapter of Cashel met to elect a new archbishop, and chose their dean as Archbishop David's successor. But the dean was suspect to the English officials in Ireland as being bound by ties of kinship and friendship with the king's enemies; and the suffragan bishops of the province raised another objection to the chapter's action in holding this election. According to the custom of the province, so the suffragan bishops claimed, the election of an archbishop was theirs by right, and did not belong to the chapter. An appeal against the election of Dean David was thus made to the Pope by two several parties. Innocent IV was not afraid to risk the king's displeasure, and was moreover informed that the chapter's right of election had been confirmed by Honorius III in 1224. On August 17, 1254, Innocent IV, who had appointed judges to inquire into the facts, issued a bull in which he confirmed the election of Dean David as archbishop of Cashel, thereby also confirming the chapter's right of election. The new archbishop lost little time in asserting his authority as against the suffragan bishops of the province. He held a provincial council at Limerick in the autumn of 1255, soon after his consecration at Cashel, at which Bishop Isaac was present with all the other bishops of the province. At this council the suffragan bishops made a formal agreement with their new metropolitan, in which they bound themselves to act jointly with the archbishop when there was question of public excommunication or interdict; and the archbishop on his side bound himself to pay a sum of money to the suffragan bishops, should he fail to observe his part of this agreement.

Alexander IV had succeeded Innocent IV as Pope in December 1254. He granted faculties to Bishop Isaac on February 16, 1256, which seems from the wording of the bishop's title to have been granted, but not formally issued or registered, by Innocent IV when Isaac was in Assisi as bishop elect --- that is to say before June 1253. Isaac, either as bishop elect in 1253 or as bishop in 1255-56, had sought special faculties to deal with the problem of those clerks and laymen in his diocese who had incurred censures by laying violent hands on religious persons and secular clerks. Those of the offenders who were clerks had in many cases continued to perform their ecclesiastical functions in spite of the censures which they had incurred; and the bishop was anxious to spare them the costs of a long journey to Rome. Alexander IV, who may perhaps have been doing no more than ratify a faculty already granted by his predecessor, declared himself to be wholly confident of the bishop's discretion, and gave him the faculties which he sought for the absolution of all those who had fallen under these censures and had continued in good faith to perform their ecclesiastical functions. Those who had knowingly failed to observe the terms of the censure incurred were to be suspended by the bishop for two years; and all were to contribute a sum of money, equal to what would have been the cost of a journey to Rome, towards the subsidy which the Pope was then trying to raise for the cause of the Holy Land. No further details are given, and we are left to conjecture who the offenders may have been and what may have been the occasion of their violent action.

One or two other records may be cited here. On May 25, 1254, shortly before his consecration, the bishop of Killaloe was named by Innocent IV, together with the bishops of Limerick and Kilfenora, as conservators of an indult by which Archbishop Florence of Tuam was protected from any summons, either by papal or legatine letters, from more than one day's journey from his diocese. On January 4, 1256, Alexander IV granted a licence to Bishop Isaac by which he was empowered to receive the resignation of a vicar of the diocese named Peter, who had held simultaneously the two vicarages of Kilnasoolagh and Bunratty; the bishop was ordered to enjoin a penance on the vicar, and then dispense him for the future and confer the two same vicarages on him anew. Sir James Ware cites Dugdale's "History of St. Paul's Cathedral, London", for the statement that Isaac, bishop of Killaloe, granted an indulgence of eight days to all those who would contribute to the building of the cathedral. It is dated at London on October 8, 1255, and thus belongs to the third year of his pontificate. (the present archivist of St. Paul's Cathedral has very kindly supplied the information given in the text. The deed is now classed as A.42/35.) The grant of an indulgence is not merely for those who contribute to the building of the cathedral, but also for those who visit the tomb of Roger, a former bishop of London. This is Roger Niger, who was bishop of London from 1229 to 1241, and who died with a reputation for sanctity. We do not know why Bishop Isaac was in London at this time.

Bishop Isaac resigned his episcopal office in 1267, and entered the abbey of Holy Cross as a Cistercian monk. How long he lived after his resignation is not known.

Tomás Ua Cormacain I (1317-22)

We have seen that Bishop David MacMahon died on 9 February 1317. Within the same year Tomas Ua Cormacain, archdeacon of Killaloe, was duly elected by the chapter; and his election was probably confirmed by the archbishop of Cashel, the Norman William FitzJohn who had been translated from Ossory to Cashel by John XXII on 26 March 1317. There is no record of any papal intervention in this election, but we know the date on which the temporalities of the see were restored to the new bishop from an entry on the Irish pipe roll for the twelfth year of Edward II. On this roll the escheator makes a return that "he answers nothing for the rents and issues of the temporalities of the bishopric (of Killaloe), taken into the king's hands on the death of David the late bishop from 14 May a.r. x (1317) to 2 July of the same year, because Thomas bishop elect of Killaloe had seisin and delivery before any term of rent, by writ delivered into the exchequer on 2 July a.r.x". In a previous entry the escheator had stated that the bishop's manor of Newcastle had been in the king's hands as from the death of the late bishop on Wednesday after the Purification B.V.M. a.r. x (9 February 1317). There was thus an interval of three months (9 February to 14 May) during which the temporalities of the diocese, apart from the bishop's manor near Dublin, were not yet taken into the king's hands; and the new bishop elect secured seisin and delivery of all these temporalities by a writ which was delivered into the exchequer on 2 July, before the escheator was due to make any return about them.

The reason for this delay is apparent from a statement made by the escheator in his return concerning the manor of Newcastle. (Newcastle was a manor estate of appx. 85 acres in "Lyons", the present day Clondalkin, near Dublin.) Having accounted for a rent of £3.10.10 1/4d. from this manor, he appended a memorandum as follows: "that he answers nothing concerning the other lands of the said bishop as well in Thothmon (Thomond) as elsewhere, because the said lands were destroyed and burnt by the Scotch and Irish enemies of the king and other malefactors, so that neither the escheator nor the sub-escheator could receive any profit there during that time." It is plain that the Bruce invasion and other disturbances of that year had prevented the king's officials from having access to the bishop's lands in Thomond and in other parts of the diocese. But the escheator is careful to mention a rent of 15s. which was due from the bishop's manor at Ardcroney since the year 1200; and there is also a note that Thomas de Cantwell owes £2 of rent at "Dromyn Wyr" (Dromineer, Co. Tipperary), for 3 carucates of land. The fact that the bishop's manor of Newcastle Lyons was in the king's hands from February to July of this year is probably the reason why an entry occurs on the Irish patent roll of 11 Edward II (1317), which puzzled Cotton when he was compiling his FASTI of the diocese of Killaloe. This entry records the exchange which was made by Bishop Matthew of Killaloe in 1280, with the consent of his dean, whose name is given as Luke, and his archdeacon, whose name is given as Matthew, and the rest of his chapter concerning the exchange of the bishop's manor at Roscrea for three carucates of land in Newcastle. Presumably there had been some doubt as to the ownership of these three carucates at Newcastle, and this entry was made on the patent roll to establish the bishop's right to this land, which had been taken into the kings's hands on Bishop David's death in February 1317.

On the Irish justiciary roll of 27 Edward I there is an entry which records that "Master Thomas O Cormocain" was one of those who pledged themselves for payment of a fine that had been incurred by Bishop David in connection with his election in 1299. On the Irish pipe roll of 11 Edward II (1317) there is a further entry that "Richard le Poer sheriff accounts for the issues of various lands taken into the king's hands at the suit of David, bishop of Killaloe, and the prior of the Hospital of St. John without the Newgate, Dublin, until it should be known whether there had been collusion." Nothing further is known of this suit, which must have been begun in the time of Bishop David, and which probably concerned some land in the neighbourhood of the bishop's manor at Newcastle, which was also claimed by the prior and community of st. John's Hospital as against the bishop's claim.

Bishop Thomas, though of Irish birth and race, was plainly on terms of friendship with the king's officials in Dublin. His family was an old ecclesiastical family, holding lands in the neighbourhood of the city of Killaloe, and we shall see that this same family gave the diocese another bishop in the next generation. The rule of Bishop Thomas lasted for no more then five years, and we have no papal records concerning his administration of the diocese. On 28 March 1317 Pope John XXII, who was still in the first year of his pontificate, granted the English king Edward II an ecclesiastical subsidy which was being levied for the crusade in the Holy Land; and Bishop Thomas was one of the prelates to whom the papal mandate was addressed informing them of this grant and urging payment of the subsidy. What moneys were collected for this purpose in the diocese of Killaloe, we do not know.

According to Sir James Ware, and his date has been commonly accepted ever since, Bishop Thomas Ua Cormacain died in July 1321, having reigned for four years. But it seems very much more probable that the bishop died in July 1322. The escheator's account for the temporalities of the see after the bishop's death gives the day on which the temporalities were taken into the king's hands as "the vigil of St. Peter AD VINCULA a.r. xv." In chancery records the regnal year of Edward II began on 8 July, but the exchequer year always began at Michaelmas; and this escheator's account is an exchequer record. The date thus given must be 31 July 1322, not 1321; and there is nothing in the known facts concerning the vacancy and succession of Bishop Benedict Ua Cosgraig to make this date improbable. Bishop Thomas thus ruled the diocese for five years. According to Ware he was buried in his cathedral at Killaloe, as was but right for a man of his family.

Tomás Ua Cormacain II (1355-82)

The chapter of Killaloe met soon after the death of Bishop Thomas Ua hOgain (O'Hogan), most probably at Killaloe and before the end of the year 1354. From a statement made by Innocent VI in the bull by which he provided Tomas Ua Cormacain to the vacant see on 26 May 1355, we know that the chapter were agreed in the election of Thomas who was then their archdeacon (concorditer elegerunt). But papal policy had begun to centralise all episcopal appointments by the simple process of reserving future elections to the Holy See. On this occasion, so we learn from the papal bull, the chapter were ignorant of the fact that the Pope had recently reserved any future election in the diocese to himself. They acted accordingly in good faith when they chose their archdeacon as bishop elect. Archdeacon Thomas, we learn from the same bull, was the son of a deacon and an unmarried woman; but he had received a dispensation SUPER..DEFECTU..NATALIUM, and had moreover been dispensed so that he might be promoted to all orders and might hold two benefices simultaneously, with or without cure of souls, even if one of them should be a dignity in a cathedral church with cure of souls. In the light of these dispensations, which were only too common at this time, the chapter chose the archdeacon as their new bishop; but there was evidently some doubt as to the new bishop's legal position, and he thereupon decided to make the journey to the papal court at Avignon in person. Here he learned for the first time of the papal reservation concerning the election, which was thus null and void in canon law. The case was submitted to Pope Innocent VI, who caused all the relevant facts to be examined, and then decided to spare the diocese any loss that might arise from a prolonged vacancy by providing Archdeacon Thomas to the see of Killaloe.

Nothing is said in this bull of provision about the consecration of the new bishop; but we know from the Pope's mandate of 29 June 1355 that he had meanwhile caused Bishop Thomas to be consecrated at Avignon by the Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina. During the vacancy the temporalities of the see had been taken into the king's hands. Two entries on the patent roll of 29 Edward III show us that the king made use of his right in time of vacancy by appointing an archdeacon in the place of the former archdeacon, now bishop elect. On 30 May 1355, when official news of the Pope's final decision cannot yet have reached England, the king granted the archdeaconry of Killaloe to an English clerk, Edmund de Brayghenok, the Archdeaconry being in the king's gift by reason of the vacancy at Killaloe. For some reason now unknown, this grant was not effective. On 12 July the king made a very different appointment, granting the archdeaconry to Nicholas Ua Grada (O'Grady); and on the same day he issued a mandate accordingly to the guardian of the spirituality of the bishopric. Bishop Thomas can hardly have reached England at this time, since he is not named in the mandate. A month later (12 August 1355) the king issued his mandate to the justiciar of Ireland (Maurice FitzThomas, earl of Desmond), bidding him cause the temporalities of the diocese to be restored to Thomas, late archdeacon of that church, whom the Pope has appointed to that bishopric. He adds that he (the king) has taken fealty of the bishop after he had publicly and expressly renounced all words in the papal bull which are prejudicial to the king and his crown. We have already met this formal renunciation in the circumstances which attended the restitution of temporalities to Bishop David of Emly in 1326.

Before he left Avignon Bishop Thomas was granted a plenary indulgence IN ARTICULO MORTIS, and obtained a similar grant for two of his diocesan subjects: Mor, daughter of "Murkertygh called Ybrien" (Murtough O'Brien), and Richard son of Geoffrey de Burgo (Burke). The new bishop was probably also responsible for a similar indult granted on the same day to his neighbour, the bishop of Kilfenora. These indults were all granted on 10 July 1355; and on the same day the new bishop of Killaloe was given licence to examine and nominate two clerks of his diocese as notaries.

Tomas Ua Cormacain was almost certainly a member of the family which had already given two bishops to the diocese of Killaloe; Bishop Isaac (1253-67), and Bishop Thomas I (1317-22). His name first appears in the papal records on 30 September 1343, when "Master Thomas Ocormakan," who is described as skilled in the law, and may be presumed to have obtained his degree as DOCTOR..UTRIUSQUE..IURIS, received an extension of a previous dispensation by which he was permitted, though the son of a deacon, to hold two benefices simultaneously. It should be noted that Master Nicholas Ua Grada, also of the diocese of Killaloe and also described as skilled in the law, received a similar dispensation on the same day, he being the son of a sub-deacon. Of Master Nicholas it is said in the indult that this grant has been made "in consideration of his progress and diligence at the university of Oxford". It is probable that the two men had studied law together in Oxford for some years before 1343. In 1346 the same two men appear again as petitioners to the Holy See. Their petitions are now presented by Thomas MacCarwell (Makearwill), archdeacon of Cashel, who was to become archbishop of Tuam in 1349 and archbishop of Cashel in 1364. The archdeacon had been chosen as their archbishop by the chapter of Cashel in 1346, but had found that the Pope (Clement VI) had already provided Ralph Ua Cellaig to that see. He now prays the Pope on behalf of both Nicholas Ua Grada and Thomas Ua Cormacain, both of whom he describes as "his ancient servants" and both of whom have already been dispensed to hold two benefices, that they may now be permitted to hold whatever benefices may in future be canonically offered to them. Both petitions were granted by Clement VI on 11 Septemer 1346. On the same day the archdeacon, who had petitioned for himself that he might have a faculty to grant dispensations to twelve persons of illegitimate birth, that they may be ordained and hold each a benefice, was granted this faculty for six persons, four being sons of unmarried persons and two sons of a priest, deacon or sub-deacon. On 30 September 1343 Archbishop Sean Ua Grada (who died in July 1345) had been granted a similar dispensation for twelve Irishman of illegitimate birth, it being stated in his petition that thre is in Ireland a great lack of priests.

These petitions, all of which are earlier than the first outbreak of the Black Death in Ireland, throw light on the conditions that prevailed in this country at that time. They also suggest that there was a strong bond of union between such old Irish coarb families at the O'Gradys, the O'Cormacans and the MacCarwells. (NOTE: The word "coarb" is often used instead of "erenagh", although the two were slightly different) Sean Ua Grada, who was archbishop of Cashel from 1332 to 1345, is not to be confused with his namesake Sean Ua Grada, who became archbishop of Tuam in 1364, having been previously archdeacon of Cashel, and who died in 1371. Both men were almost certainly members of the ancient coarb family of Tuamgraney, just as the Ua Cormacain family were coarbs of Killaloe.

(NOTE: This is the only author I have read who makes this suggestion. All the others claim the O'Cormacains were erenaghs of Moynoe, not Killaloe. You pays your money, and you takes your choice!)

On 16 July 1356 Bishop Thomas was present with Archbishop Ralph at Cashel when James, earl of Ormond, made an agreement with Richard son of Edmund de Burgo concerning military retinue and maintenance. On 9 March 1364 he was present at Clonmel as a witness to a grant by which William, son and heir of Robert Hacket, gave the rectory of the church in Borrisnafearney (Burgagenefarne) to the abbot and community of Holy Cross. In March 1366 Bishop Thomas of Killaloe was one of the eight bishops who joined in fulminating sentence of excommunication against all who should contravene the famous statutes of the Kilkenny parliament, which sought to protect the English way of life among the king's subjects in Ireland. On 13 November 1374 Bishop Thomas was present as a witness, and permitted Arnold son of John le Poer to affix the bishop's seal, for want of his own seal, to a quitclaim by which Arnold released his rights in two manors to the earl of Ormond.

There is some doubt as to the date of the death of Bishop Thomas Ua Cormacain. Ware gives the date as 1387, but the Four Masters record his death under the year 1382; and it is probable that Ware was misled in his calculations by the fact of a vacancy which was prolonged for several years.

With the death of Bishop Tomas Ua Cormacain in 1382, if we accept the date given for his death by the Four Masters, we have now come to the period of Church History which is commonly known as the Great Schism of the West.

1455. David Ua Cormacain:

"Another petition of this kind gives us a glimpse of the situation in the whole area of East Clare now included in the parishes of Feakle, Killuran and O'Gonnelloe. Thady son of Donatus Mac Conmara, who is described as a simple clerk, had obtained a rectory called "Oconnylyd Ardacha and Leylynnyd", which included the parish churches of "Fyecayl Kylluarayn and Oconnylyd" which were wont to be governed by one rector. "Ardacha" seems to be the modern Faha, and "Leylynnyd" may perhaps be Killana (? Cill Leanb). In 1455 a complaint was made to the Pope that Thady held these benefices without being ordained to the priesthood, contrary to the lateran statutes, and had held them for more than a year. Nicholas V ordered that Thady be summoned and removed from the benefices, which were then assigned to David Ua Cormacain, who had lodged the complaint. David was himself the son of a priest and an unmarried woman, both being of noble birth; and he had lately been received as a canon of Killaloe and Limerick, by virtue of papal letters. David had stated in his petition that "for fear of Thady he cannot safely meet him in the city and diocese of Killaloe"; a form of words, which is often repeated in petitions of this kind, and which may often have covered an unwillingness to meet a rival face to face."

In 1428 Christinus O'Cormacain, a tonsured clerk, was provided with the vicarage of Dunkerrin.

"In 1404 the warden of Thom obtained by papal provision the parish of Templedowney itself ("the parish church of St. Dubinus, Thom" in the text). This was by way of COMMENDAM, the warden being then John O'Meara; the vacancy is said to have arisen through the failure of Henry O'Cormacain, the previous rector, to have himself ordained priest in due time; one John "Hachyr" is said to be in illegal possession. It was then worth eight marks annually, and the priory ten marks. It is added that these last "are, on account of the wars and pestilences which have affected these parts, too slender for the warden's support". In the previous year the warden (O'Meara) had, on the same representations, obtained also the rectory of Latteragh, reciting another lapsed provision owing to the death of Thomas O'Cormacain."

Deans of Killaloe

Before 1253: Isaac Ua Cormacain. Elected bishop April 1253.

23 October 1428: Sean Ua Cormacain. Provided by Pope Martin V.

24 January 1461: Tomas Ua Cormacain. Provided by Pope Pius II.

7 August 1478: David Ua Cormacain. Provided by Pope Sixtus IV.

"It will be noted that the dean of the diocese was frequently elected as bishop by the chapter in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Papal provisions to the deanery begin in the fifteenth century. The two families of Ua Cormacain (Killaloe) and Ua h-Ogain (Ardcroney) contested possession of the deanery in the fifteenth century."

Archdeacons of Killaloe

Before 1317: Tomas Ua Cormacain. Elected bishop 1317.

Before 1355: Tomas Ua Cormacain. Elected bishop 1355.

Precentors of Killaloe

27 September 1428: Enri Ua Cormacain. Provided by Pope Martin V.

Bishop Isaac O'Cormacain's Indulgence

(Note: The indulgence was written in medieval Latin shorthand. Translation follows.)
"To all the Christian faithful who will see or hear through these holy letters, Isaac, by the grace of God Bishop of Killaloe (sends) eternal salvation in the Lord. Those who trust in all things in the mercy of the Lord and of the glorious Virgin Mary, His mother, and in the mercies of the souls of the Saints, will gain a proper indulgence from us, and these include our diocesans ... who having confessed, shall visit the tomb of our father Roger of happy memory, who was once Bishop of London and who now rests in the Church of St. Paul. If they make this visit in a devout way for prayerful purposes or shall send charitable help for the building of the said church from the wealth given to them by God or assemble on the feast of the dedication of the same church at the same place for the purposes of devotion or prayer (they shall obtain) a merciful pardon of eight days from the penance imposed upon them.
Given at London ...
in the year of our Lord 1255.
Isaac (Isaacus)

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