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

The Diocesan Economy of Killaloe


Many of the churches of Tradraighe have ancient origins. It has been convincingly argued elsewhere that parish formation occurred only after the mid thirteenth century.[2] The original parish churches of Kilconry (c.500s), Clonloghan (c.900s), Tomfinlough (c.500s)[3] and Kilnasoolagh[4] were of pre-tenth century origin and appear on the Killaloe diocesan taxation list of 1303/6.[5] The churches at Tomfinlough (an early monastic site) and Kilfinaghta were restored during the Norman period while the churches of Kilmurry-na-gall and Bunratty were constructed by the Normans.[6] The Irish church underwent much restructuring in the twelfth century, and in Clare an increase in church construction can be dated from the late twelfth century.[7] Churches located close to the Norman colony at Bunratty such as Clonloghan and Drumline must have featured as one of the ‘ten adjacent chapels’ recorded in the Inquisition Post Mortem of Thomas de Clare in c.1287 as connected to the Norman manor at Bunratty.[8]

If we take the region of Tradraighe as a case study of life in a fifteenth century Gaelic lordship, much can be gleaned from the Papal Registers. By studying the diocesan economy of Killaloe we can narrow down the specifics of how ecclesiastical institutions and local parish churches functioned and, in turn, their link to the clan system. The ‘deanery’ of Tradraighe [9] comprised land set aside for exclusive church use, such as the glebe lands of various church vicarages in Tradraighe as well as termon lands. [10] Glebe lands were set aside for clerics to draw an income from to support their household and were attached to the parish church. Termon lands, on the other hand, were more extensive and controlled by head tenants such as the hereditary ‘coarb’ and ‘erenagh’ [11] who paid a chief rent to the Bishop of Killaloe and were required to provide the bishop’s retinue with ‘noxials’ and entertainment at specific times of year.[12] The termon lands were a major source of revenue for the See of Killaloe and it was from these that bishops drew their income as these lands, referred to in the Papal Registers as ‘in ecclesiastical fee’, belonged to the cathedral chapter and were not under lay patronage.

In Killaloe diocese up to thirty monastic termon lands existed prior to the reformation which were controlled by local coarb and erenagh families.[13] Only in a few instances have the names of the original coarb families come down to us. Diocesan parishes of Killaloe that are recorded as having monastic termons attached include: Tuamgraney (coarbs: Uí Gráda); Iniscealtra (coarbs: Maol Ompile, Uí hÓgain and Uí h-Urthuile); Tulla (coarbs: Uí Cellaig); Killaloe (coarbs Uí h-Éindi or Uí Cormacáin); Kiltenanlea (coarbs unknown); Kildysert (coarbs unknown); Kilnaboy (coarbs: Uí Cuinn); Dysert O’Dea (coarbs: Uí Deagaid); Rathblathmaic (coarbs: Uí Ciaróg); Dromcliffe (coarbs: Uí Maoir); Doora (coarbs unknown); Tomfinlough (coarbs unknown); Kilconry (coarbs unknown); Kyle (coarbs: Uí Duigin); Roscrea (coarbs: Uí Cuanáin); Youghalarra (coarbs: Uí hÓgain); Ardcroney (coarbs: Uí Forrgo whose chief family was Uí hÓgain); Lorrha (coarbs: Augustinan canons of Lorrha); Terryglass (coarbs unknown); Birr (coarbs unknown); Corbally, Roscrea (coarbs: Céli Dé of Monaincha, later the Augustinian canons); Lockeen (coarbs unknown); Kilruane (coarbs unknown); Kilcumin Éli (coarbs unknown); Kilcoleman (coarbs unknown); Kilkeary (coarbs unknown); Toomeveara (coarbs unknown); Disert Thene (coarbs uknown); Latteragh (coarbs unknown).[14]

From records written by offices acting for the English crown in the seventeenth century, we get a sense of the organisation of the Irish church at that later date, but which would have had resonance in the fifteenth century. According to a treatise ascribed to Sir John Oliver St. John, Lord Deputy of Ireland, but which probably drew from information by George Montgomery, the first Protestant Bishop of Derry, Raphoe and Clogher (1605-1610):

‘Every parishe for the most part, hathe a parson, a vicar and an Heranaght [ie erenagh]. The churche lands are possessed by the Herenaghes and thir septs according to the manner of Irishe tanurie…It is affirmed that the Herenaghes are in accompt [ie regarded] as Clergiemen, and do for the most part of them speake Lattin, and they say ancientlye they used to have primam tonsuraam, yet neverthelesse they affirme that they allwayes used to marry’ [original spelling]. [15]

In Gaelic regions the situation arose where parish churches were divided between a sinecure parson or rector who was in charge of the parish, and a vicar charged with priestly duties (ie. ‘cure of souls’). This situation existed in Gaelic areas as a compromise[16] as the patronage of rectories was generally in the hands of powerful Gaelic magnates who either built or endowed the rectory and maintained the upkeep of the rector and possessed the advowson. The arrangements for vicarages, however, were vested in the diocesan bishop – that is, the bishop collated a vicar and held the advowson under his ordinary authority. The coexistence of the rector and vicar had implications for the collection and division of tithes, and rectories referred to as ‘in lay fee’ and ‘in rural fee’ were usually under the lay patronage of ruling Gaelic families. The Papal Registers are animated with examples of rectors and vicars drawing income from tithes levied in their parishes. Added to this complexity was the existence of erenagh clans who functioned as chief tenants on episcopal land and whose office was transmitted hereditarily.

As mentioned, some parishes in Killaloe have their roots in the ancient monastic termon lands. In these cases the coarb (or erenagh) drew the entire parochial tithe, and made provision for the ‘cure of souls’ (eg. pastoral duties) through a vicar; his primary obligation was to pay a fixed sum to the bishop which financed the function of the cathedral chapter which, as a corporate body, was staffed by high-status ecclesiasts at the diocesan cathedral. The income from the termon lands was a substantial part of the episcopal income which, taken together with the income from the bishop’s visitation dues from religious houses and ‘noxials’ owed by erenagh clans, amounted to a substantial income. These various episcopal incomes made for a complex diocesan economy with its patchwork of benefices that supported parish and scholar-clerics, as well as financed the functions of the cathedral chapter at Killaloe. [17]

The role of the coarb and erenagh changed over the course of the middle ages and, in accordance with the arrangement made at Connacht in 1210, church lands were vested in the bishops and hence the coarb and erenagh became tenants to the bishop and farmed the termon lands.[18] The coarb families thereby lost some of their spiritual status as direct descendents of monastic founders, while the less prestigious ‘erenagh’ families became detached from monastic establishments that they had controlled but continued as quasi-ecclesiasts in minor orders, with many parishes drawing clergy from their ranks in the Gaelic regions of Ireland. [19]

Tradraighe consisted of the two rural rectories of Quin (‘Okassyn’ or Uí Caisín) and Bunratty (‘Tradry’ or Tradraighe) [20] These rectories had historical ties to the thirteenth century Norman colony and the patronage of the de Clare lords of Thomond. [21] The rural rectories covered a much larger area than parish vicarages and, in this case, comprised eight parishes. [22] Within their territory were located termon lands whose revenue was the possession of the cathedral at Killaloe.

The Papal Registers record two types of rectories. That is, those described as ‘in lay fee’ such as Quin and Bunratty which drew tithes from secular lands [23] and which the Uí Bhriain kings possessed the advowson. [24] The second type were rectories described as ‘in ecclesiastical fee’ and attached to the termon lands. In understanding the confusing arrangements that prevailed in Killaloe where a vicar and rector co-existed, it is useful to recall that prior to the fifteenth century it was decided that the priestly duties of a parish cleric - the ‘cure of souls’ - could not be adequately performed by a single vicar. [25]

This meant that most parish churches were occupied by two incumbents - the vicar who at least nominally had the task of ‘cure of souls’, and the rector who was in charge of the parish or a religious house. In both cases, the tithe income was divided between the vicar and rector, with the rector receiving the greater share.[26] The situation is further complicated with the increased use of granting rectories as benefices[27] to support nonresident clerics who were engaged as officials at the diocesan see or as scholars, while maintaining a ‘working cleric’ or vicar in the parish to perform the actual duties of the cure. [28]

In summary, parishes provided two income streams for the church; one was the vicarial share of the tithe that went to support the vicar and his priestly activities, and the other was the rectorial share of the tithe that financed the rector and was raised from the secular lands.[29] Cathedral chapters received the tithes of the termon lands occupied by hereditary erenagh families. The cathedral chapter at Killaloe included a dean, an archdeacon, a chancellor, a treasurer and a precentor all of whom relied on ‘prebends’ or tithe income set aside to support them. These prebends were sometimes created out of rectories and collated to an individual cleric and consisted of several benefices, but in these circumstances they were temporary and not part of the permanent economy of termon lands and rectorial tithes. [30] Rectories attached to the termon lands were distinct from those ‘in lay fee’ and ‘in rural fee’ [31] as they were not under lay patronage and instead were called ‘in ecclesiastical fee’ and were for the purpose of supporting the chapter at Killaloe. Such rectories sometimes provided a small income that supported a ‘prebend’ - the post of a canon in a cathedral chapter - as clerics who held an official post at the diocesan headquarters were not expected to support themselves but could draw revenue from ‘prebends’. [32]

The chapter at Killaloe was supported by a portion of the rectorial tithes. The chapter was also supported by the awarding of prebends from ecclesiastical lands such as Clonloghan, which was described as ‘the perpetual benefice without cure called the rectory in ecclesiastical fee’. [33] Clonloghan, for example, comprised of both a rectory and vicarage, highlighting the dual existence of a rector and a vicar which was commonplace in Gaelic dioceses in the latter middle ages. [34]

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