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

Bunratty and Clonloghan


In 1443 a Mac an Oirchinnigh cleric held the lucrative vicarage of Bunratty. Many references in the Papal Registers are of the rectory of ‘Tradray’ under the ‘patronage of laymen’ [93] Bunratty was a principal parish benefice in Tradraighe and its position was boosted by its status of being ‘united’ with the rectory of ‘Ogashin’ which comprised the rectory of Quin. [94] A mandate of 1443 assigned ‘Matthew Machynerhynyd’ (Mathghamhain Mac an Oirchinnigh) the ‘perpetual vicarage of Bunrachtyd’ (sic Bunratty). The mandate also stipulated the removal of the incumbent priest named ‘John Macgillamurhyd’. [95] The ‘Macgillamurhyd’ sept (Mac Giolla Mhuire), [96] while not of local Dalcassian origin, held several appointments as parish clerics at Bunratty and Clonloghan during the fifteenth century; the name seems to have died out and does not appear in the seventeenth century records. [97]

According to the 1443 mandate, John Macgillamurhyd had set himself up in the vicarage for over three years, and was the receiver of the vicarial tithes. John Macgillamurhyd’s breach of canonical law and his alleged usurpation of the vacant vicarage in about the year 1440 had caused his undoing. What is less certain is whether the sept of Macgillamurhyd held Bunratty because they had special privilege to do so. Members of the Mac Giolla Mhuire can be found as incumbents at Clonloghan. The fact that the mandate stated that Matthew Machynerhynyd ‘fears to meet [John Macgillamurhyd] in the city or diocese of Killaloe’ highlights that possession of the vicarage was contested and hostile. [98]

The surname ‘Macgillamurhyd’ crops up in another mandate relating to another Mac an Oirchinnigh, this time at Clonloghan. The mandate dated 17 November 1464 records the removal of Thady Maccaucrhynne (Tadhg Mac an Oirchinnigh):

[17 November 1464] ‘To Denis Odeach, canon of Killaloe. Mandate, as below. The pope has been informed by Laurence Macconmara, clerk, of the diocese of Killaloe, that Thady Maccaucrhynne, perpetual vicar of the parish church of the place of Clonlochan [sic Clonloghan] in the said diocese, has dilapidated and alienated the moveable goods of the said vicarage, has kept in his own house a concubine, by whom he has had offspring, and has committed perjury, to the shame of the priestly dignity, about which things he is defamed in those parts. The pope therefore hereby orders the above canon, if Laurence, who alleges that he is by both parents of a race of dukes, will accuse Thady before the said canon, to summon Thady and others concerned, and if he find the foregoing to be true, to deprive and remove Thady, and in that event to collate and assign the said vicarage, value not exceeding 4 marks sterling, to Laurence; whether it be then void by such deprivation and removal; or be still void by the death of Cornelius Mickellamure, or in any other way.’ [99]

This mandate sheds light on the lineage-based society that prevailed during the highpoint of the Gaelic revival in the fifteenth century. The mandate shows a cleric of the overlord clan, the Mac Conmara, claiming the important benefice of Clonloghan on the basis of the common abuse of keeping a ‘concubine’. While it is impossible to be certain, it is probable that Laurence Mac Conmara was taking advantage of the common breach of canon law on the rule of celibacy (a rule routinely ignored by Gaelic clergy up to the seventeenth century[100]) to gain possession of the lucrative benefice of Clonloghan and its extensive ecclesiastical lands. Again, we do not have any record of the outcome of this dispute, but it is likely that Laurence Mac Conmara financed the suit at the Roman Curia, indicating that he was of high status (he was of noble parentage) and possibly instigated the suit as a means to gain the vicarage.

The Mac Conmara were popular clerics at Clonloghan due to their frequent control over the Clonloghan benefice called ‘in ecclesiastical fee’ (termon lands) which was generally awarded to high status non-resident clerics at Killaloe. The Mac Conmara provided at least six clerics to Clonloghan throughout the fifteenth century, compared to three clerics of the aforementioned family of Macgillamurhyd (Mac Giolla Mhuire) who were based nearby at Bunratty, and two clerics of the Mac an Oirchinnigh sept in 1464 and 1483. The wealth of Clonloghan and its attached termon lands were worth fighting over as a mandate in 1497 tells of a dispute between Rory Macconmara, canon and treasurer of the church of Killaloe, and locally based Mac Conmara kinsmen. [101] Clonloghan was not entirely monopolised by the powerful Mac Conmara; local septs such as the ‘Maccaucrhynne’, (Mac an Oirchinnigh) ‘Mickellamure’ (Mac Giolla Mhuire) and ‘Yheny’ (Ó hÉanna) also managed to have had a toe-hold there.

From these mandates we understand that ecclesiastical discipline was lacking from the parishes of east Clare. We can also infer that clerics from the vassal-septs were not immune from opportunistic allegations by clerics from powerful clans who coveted local benefices. The Papal Registers, however, often show only part of the story. While our understanding of the motivation, extent of clerical misconduct and outcomes of the allegations are not complete, the general picture is that churches were ruled by the strong hand of the vassal-septs and clerical appointments were a precarious affair often open to opportunistic layman rather than devoted clerics.

In 1483 ‘Laurence Macnoyerhyne’ (Lorcán Mac an Oirchinnigh), a cleric of the noble birth by ‘both parents’ was assigned the vicarage of Clonloghan. [102] His appointment must have been uncontroversial and his tenure uneventful as we do not hear of him again. Parish mandates allow us to assess the growth in the rectorial and vicarial tithes. The value of the assessed tithe at Kilnasoolagh, for example, ranged from 5 marks levied in 1422 to 8 marks in 1483. The value of the tithe peaked at 40 marks in 1466 when Kilnasoolagh was united to the rectory of Bunratty and Treasureship of Killaloe. The variance in the levied tithe was due to the tithe being assessed on yearly produce from the freeholders of the parish which fluctuated over time and possibly depended on the size of the benefice initially granted to the cleric. The gradual rise in the value of tithes points to growth in the agricultural economy and higher economic rents; a century-long rise suggests a rise in prices and income in the medieval Gaelic economy.

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Adjacent Parishes: Quin and Kilfintanan