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Clerics and Clansmen: The Vicarages and Rectories of Tradraighe in the Fifteenth Century
By Luke McInerney

Adjacent Parishes: Quin and Kilfintanan


Quin, or ‘Ocassyn’ as it was often scribed, was an important parish benefice normally united with the rectory of Bunratty. Quin was the scene of a struggle for the possession of the rectory by various Mac Conmara clerics in 1424, [103] and of controversy caused by a simoniacal deal between the lay patron, Conchobhar na Srón Ó Bhriain king of Thomond, and a kinsman, ‘Dermot Obryion’ (sic Ó Bhriain). This instance is suggestive of the patron intruding a kinsman into a benefice that was usually the preserve of Mac Conmara clerics and their allied septs of Ó Rodáin, Ó hAllmhuráin and Ó Coirbín. [104]

Quin was sometimes held by hereditary control according to a reference in a 1405 mandate assigning Nicholas Mac Conmara ‘to receive and hold Bonrate [sic. Bunratty] and Cwnky [sic. Quin] together for life, notwithstanding his said illegitimacy and the fact that the said Matthew was his father and was the immediate possessor of Bonrate and Cwnky’. [105] The relative wealth of Quin can be seen through the assessment of the rectory as between 12 and 50 marks during the fifteenth century, the higher figure representing the collating of Quin with the canonry and prebend of Killaloe in 1470- 1471. [106]

The Papal Registers record instances where the sons of clerics directly succeeded their fathers in benefices, sometimes though the aid of papal dispensations or by more covert means such as collusive lawsuits designed to evade canon law proscriptions against hereditary succession. An example of this hereditary succession was the death of Dermot O Longergan, dean of Killaloe, in c.1418 and the succession of son James who obtained the benefice via provision. [107] What was true of clerics at the metropolitan see was even more so at the local parish level where positions such as vicarships and rectorships were often ‘captured’ by local families for generations. While this does not necessarily mean direct father-son inheritance (inheritance operated among a circle of kin reflecting the collective organisation of septs), such cases were not unusual. [108]

Only occasionally did non-Mac Conmara kinsmen hold Quin. In 1407 ‘John oroddayn’ (Ó Rodáin), a member of an allied sept of the Mac Conmara, ‘held the vicarage before it was assigned to Laurence Omyelir.’ [109] The Ó Rodáin were hereditary stewards of the Mac Conmara and Ó Bhriain who had their seat at Cloonmunnia in Kilmurry parish, and Ardmaclancy in Kilfinaghta parish. [110] The Ó Rodáin were mentioned as a ‘steward and marshal’ sept (‘Maoir mintire Rodain agus marasgáil’) in the c.1330 ‘Rental of Lord Mac Conmara’. [111] Clerics from other septs that possessed Quin include ‘John Ohalluran’ (Ó hAllmhuráin) [112] in c.1413, and ‘Rory Ocorbayn’ (Ó Coirbín) [113] who was assigned the vicarage in 1413 but was in the midst of a tussle over its possession. The Papal Registers record that Rory Ocorbayn, who was sub-deacon of the diocese of Killaloe, had difficulty being assigned Quin vicarage because ‘Laurence Omelyer’ and ‘his adherents in many ways hindered Rory from obtaining peaceful possession, whilst Rory, in order to escape vexation, gave certain small presents to Laurence’. [114] This may have been an example of a high-status cleric at Killaloe, in this case Rory, trying to displace a local cleric for control of an important and lucrative benefice.

In 1470 an interesting case arose where ‘Matthew Maccomarra’ was to be deposed from the rectorship of Thomurlog in Quin parish on account of him being ‘present at public battlers in which there was bloodshed and the slaying of many men’. [115] The unusual grounds for dismissal may have been driven by more immediate grievances on the part of Donald Maccrawan who lodged the complaint with the diocesan authorities. The mandate suggests that the position of a local cleric was not immune from danger. The pull of kinship ties probably induced some clerics to take arms against traditional rivals, even perhaps against other clerics - a practice not without precedent in Ireland.

‘Eugenius Macmuertheny’ (Eoghan Mac an Oirchinnigh) is recorded as the cleric assigned the vicarage of Kilfintanan in 1427. [116] This recording is significant as it demonstrates that the Mac an Oirchinnigh were active outside of their traditional ‘triangle’ of Kilnasoolagh, Kilmaleery and Clonloghan. [117] Kilfintanan was a comparatively modest parish with an assessed income of 8 marks. [118] An interesting mandate dated 18 May, 1445 stated that the vicarage of Kilfintanan and Kyllfiele (sic Killeely) which are ‘not more than one Italian mile apart…can be served by one man, and that their fruits etc., have been too much diminished by wars to suffice for the support of separate vicars’. [119] This mandate is illuminating in its reference to the impact of wars in reducing the value of the parish tithe. Another curious reference to Kilfintanan is to ‘Denis Oachaerna’ (Ó Eachthighearna) [120] who in 1400 ‘practice[d] the art of medicine for money, to the opprobrium of his clerical estate’. [121] This must be one of the earliest references to the O’Ahern, aside from the recording of the sept in the Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh for the year 1308. [122]

This concludes the survey of the Papal Registers for Tradraighe and the adjacent parishes of Quin and Kilfintanan. The survey is not exhaustive and only recounts a selection of entries relating to clerical appointments and removals. The survey focused on the Mac an Oirchinnigh and some conclusions can be reached. The Mac an Oirchinnigh were an important vassal-sept and they were successful in possessing, over successive generations, the incumbencies of the vicarages at Kilnasoolagh, Kilmaleery and Clonloghan. A Mac an Oirchinnigh cleric held Kilfintanan vicarage in 1427 but subsequently no other kinsmen are recorded there. A Mac an Oirchinnigh cleric also held Quin in 1411 which is a telling point, not least because Quin was the nerve-centre of the Mac Conmara lordship. The rectories of Drumline, Tymorlogyg and Bunratty were also held by Mac an Oirchinnigh clerics, as was the important vicarage of Bunratty. It is likely that Mac an Oirchinnigh clerics were in minor religious orders, supporting the view that many parish incumbencies in Gaelic Ireland had become dominated by laymen and kinfolk of local septs who exerted control over them and had a sometimes unhealthy interest in parish finances.

Reading between the lines we are able to conclude that as an important vassal-sept of the Mac Conmara Fionn clan of Quin, the Mac an Oirchinnigh were based in the vicinity of Kilnasoolagh from at least c.1400. The fact that clerics of the name stated that they were of ‘noble race’ in order to legitimise the awarding of benefices suggests that the leading lineage of the Mac an Oirchinnigh were regarded as a noble secondorder sept in the clan hierarchy. The Papal Registers, then, are a unique source for the historian and genealogist. While they do need to be read with a critical eye, especially regarding the motivation for allegations of clerical misconduct, they offer a unique window on the role of vassal-septs at the parish level and the workings of ecclesiastical administration in a Gaelic diocese. The history of medieval Clare cannot be properly documented without reference to this great repository of contemporary information.

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Mac an Oirchinnigh clerics recorded as
holding parish benefices in 15th century
Tradraighe and adjacent parishes