The Churches of County Clare
By T. J. Westropp, M.A.
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Clare County Library

Origin of the Ecclesiastical Divisions

Divided as Thomond was between three great groups of tribes—whom we may roughly name the Dalcassians, the Corcomodruadh, and the Corcovaskin—it is not wonderful that in early times it was divided into three tribal bishoprics. These, in later days, had their seats at Killaloe, Kilfenora, and Iniscatha, or Scattery; the last had probably been the seat of a bishop from the time of Senan, in the earlier half of the sixth century, and the first was founded by Flannan near the close of the seventh century; the history of Kilfenora is hidden in mist.

The Synod of Rathbreasail, [56] about 1112, made provision for a new arrangement, by which it would appear that it wisely intended to establish one bishopric over all Thomond. It appointed, as bounds to the enlarged see of Killaloe, limits from Slige Dala to Cuchullin’s Leap, at Loop Head, and from Mount Eachtuige to Vide an Riogh (a summit of the Cratloe Hills, at Glennagross, near Limerick, and from thence to Glen Caoin, in Tipperary, which does not concern our present county Clare. The neighbouring sees were thus bounded where they touched the bishopric of Killaloe:—Clonfert by the Shannon, and along Eachtige to Buirenn—Limerick from Tairbert, on the south bank of the Shannon, to Cuinche, in Thomond, to the cross [57] on Mount Uidhe an Riogh, and to the Dubh Abhainn, or Blackwater, a little stream running into the Shannon not above from Limerick.

This amalgamation resulted, in about 1189, in the addition of the Corcovaskins and Ibrikan to Killaloe on the death of Aedh O’Beaghain, the last bishop of Iniscatha; but the Island Cathedral of the lapsed diocese was given most unwisely to Limerick.

This has been contradicted, and a suggestion made that the entries in the “Black Book of Limerick” relating to Iniscatha as in that see, are forgeries. [58] No satisfactory proof of this statement has hitherto been given, while several facts seem to tell in favour of the received history. Two undoubted entries in the Black Book are to this effect:—XXI. Hubert, Bishop of Limerick (1222, 1250), grants the church of St. Mary of Iniskefty [59] ; and, XXII., the Abbot of St. Senan (temp. Wm. de Burgo, Deputy-Governor, c. 1310), [60] holds half Iniscathy, with its appurtenances. This being evidently a document preserved as affecting the interests of the see of Limerick.

Yniskeftin (Yniskettin, Yniskestin), in the Papal taxation of 1302, is given in the deanery of Rathkeale and diocese of Limerick; Iniscatha not appearing among the full and careful list of the parishes of Corcovaskin. The Rev. Mr. Dowd [61] identifies this place as Askeaton; but the latter, in early Irish entries, is Eas Gephtine and Eas Gophtiny, [62] while in any early records known to us from English sources it is usually Asketon, or by error Askelon. Nor is there any evidence of an “abbot and convent” existing at Askeaton in the thirteenth century, while the Abbey of Scattery was old and famous. In 1408, Alanus Linsius, or Lynch, “custodem ecclesiæ collegiatæ de Iniscathy, Limericen: dioc:” is mentioned; [63] this being an independent and apparently indisputable proof.

Finally, an ancient visitation, probably of the time of Bishop O’Dea (1410), copied by the Rev. Jasper White in the later seventeenth century, gives both Iniscatha and “Asketin, Asketton, or Ascetiny,” as in the Deanery of Rathkeale. [64]

The name Inisketty and Iniskefty occurs for Iniscatha in post-Reformation documents, and even such barbarous corruptions as “Inniscartts” and “Cathay” occur.

We may suppose that the independent spirit of the tribes of Corcomroe prevented the fusion of Kilfenora for a long time; but, in the end, “Wisdom was justified of her children,” and the design of the legislators of Rathbreasail was carried out in the later seventeenth century, when the impoverished see of Kilfenora [65] was annexed in turn to one or other of its richer neighbours.

The Isles of Aran were anciently part of the bishopric of the Corcomroes, but were not included as part of it in 1302, and they could not be recovered by Bishop Rider in 1615. It is even possible that Corcomroe was in the bishopric of Aran in the later fifth century, and perhaps the sixth; but, if so, no records remain. The islands lie out of the scope of this Survey.

We must note that, in about 1194, Thomond is defined by Macgrath (c. 1350) [66] as extending “from Cuchullin’s famous Leap to Beal Boruma (the ford near Killaloe), from Birra (Parsonstown) to Knockaney, and from the Eoghanacht of Cashel to the northernmost part of Boirinn of white stones.” This, save for a small portion annexed to the see of Limerick, corresponds to the present sees of Kilfenora and Killaloe.

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