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The Tuath

In the distant past the term tuath signified a clan or tribal family. In later times it came to mean a unit of territory namely the ancestral or patrimonial lands of a tribe or tribal grouping. The tuath could be described as the smallest unit of land over which a local taoiseach or clan chief exercised control. In terms of size its closest parallel is the parish, and in fact a remarkable coincidence will sometimes be seen in the boundaries of these two divisions. This is not surprising when one considers that the medieval Church in Ireland was essentially dynastic in character, its clergy provided mainly by the local ruling families. If only for practical reasons, therefore, it made good sense to base the church economy on the existing family divisions.

The geographical and cultural affinity between tuath and parish is further emphasised by entries in the papal registers, which frequently refer to the parishes by their old tribal designations. For instance, the parish of Kilnamona invariably appears in the Calendar of Papal Letters as the 'rectory [parish] of Cineal Baoith'. In the same way the parish of Killinaboy occurs as the 'rectory of Clandyfernan' [recte Clan Ifernáin], the ancient tuath of the O'Quins. The adjoining parish of Kilkeddy is mentioned with the alias of 'the rural lands of Offlancaid' [recte Uí Fhlannchadha]. Most interesting of all perhaps is Killilagh (Doolin) parish - the 'rectory of Glae' in papal documents. To this day Killilagh is commonly referred to by the older residents of north Clare as the parish of Tooglae (Tuath Glae).

Sometimes, however, the tuath was divided into two parishes. Tuath Uí Chormaic in ecclesiastical terms became the 'rectory of Ogormack', the name commonly applied to the parishes of Drumcliffe and Kilmaley. In the same way the 'united churches of Ombracken' (Uí Bracáin) was the designation given by the Curia to the united parishes of Kilmurry and Kilfarboy. And this list is not exhaustive.

The similarities between the ecclesiastical and civil divisions become, if anything, even more obvious when we compare the rural deaneries with old Triocha Céts. In the case of Killaloe diocese the deaneries are first mentioned in 1615 in the so-called Loyal Answers of the Protestant bishop, John Rider. It cannot escape notice that four out of the five deaneries in the Co. Clare portion of the diocese - 'O Mulled', 'Ogassin', 'Thradry' and 'Corcavaskin' - bear the self-same name as the ancient lordships. The final one - Drumcliffe - seems distinctly out of place in the list, but only until it is realised that its boundaries are coextensive with the united tribal lands of Uí Fearmaic and Uí Chormaic. From all this it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the deaneries were commonly based on the ancient Triocha Céts.

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