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The Charter of Clare Abbey and the Augustinian ‘Province’ in Co. Clare
By Michael Mac Mahon

The Residential Houses; Kilshanny; Augustinian Impropriations; Care of Souls

The Residential Houses
With the exception of Kilshanny the history of the various Augustinian houses need not detain us here, for it has already been extensively treated by Dr. Gleeson in his History of the diocese of Killaloe, and also by Thomas Westropp in two papers published by the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.[21] The source material available to historians is patchy in the extreme, and this is well illustrated in the case of the Augustinian nunnery of Killone where, apart from the names of two of its abbesses, scarcely an iota of its history has survived. Dr. Gleeson has sifted the papal letters for the houses lying within the Co. Clare portion of the Killaloe diocese – Clare Abbey, Canons’ Island, Inchicronan and Killone – and takes their story right up to the Dissolution. Westropp’s earlier accounts of the Augustinian houses in Co.Clare is also most useful, if only for the excellent drawings and ground plans which he provides. His work is somewhat incomplete however as he makes no mention of the Augustinian abbey of Kilshanny. Indeed, it becomes clear from his later reference to that church that he had totally misread its history, believing it to be an affiliate of the Cistercian monastery of Corcomroe.[22] His attempt at Inchicronan, too, must be read with the proviso that it does not always accord with the material presented by the published excerpts from the papal letters which have since become available.

There is no foundation charter available for Kilshanny but its Augustinian credentials are put beyond question by several entries in the papal letters.[23] Indeed it seems of interest to point out that, alone among the parishes of Co. Clare, the feast of St. Augustine (28 August) is faithfully observed in Kilshanny to this day. A date c. 1194 has been mentioned for the foundation although the abbey does not appear in history until 1274 when the abbot, Florence O’Tighearnaigh, was elevated to the bishopric of Kilfenora.[24] Kilshanny was dedicated to Our Lady and St. Augustine, and though located on lands assigned to the canons by the Clare Abbey charter, it remained independent of that house right up to the Dissolution. The picture presented by the papal letters is that of an important monastic institution whose abbots were prominent in the ecclesiastical administration of the county.

The abbey of St Mary and St Augustine at Kilshanny. Photo: S. Schorman
The abbey of St Mary and St Augustine at Kilshanny. Photo: S. Schorman

In the later middle ages, however, the history of Kilshanny, in common with most of the monastic houses in the country, was sometimes clouded by the abuses which seem to have been the inevitable consequence of lay proprietorship. In 1468 the local ruling family – the O’Connors – sought to intrude one of their members into the abbey by alleging that the incumbent, Cormac O’Cahir (although he had held the position for many years and ‘was a good administrator’) had been irregularly installed. The precentor of Kilfenora, who was asked to adjudicate in the affair, was himself attacked by the O’Connors and accused of complicity by forging a papal document. Before the case could be determined however the intruder, Bernard O’Connor, decided to force the issue and

With the support of the lay power went with his accomplices to the said monastery, broke open the doors, and laying hands on the said Cormac, grievously wounded him and slew one of his servants, carried off and wasted the goods which they found in the monastery, and expelled the canons, after which the said abbot and convent, fearing lest worse things should befall them, consented through fear to an agreement by which they pledged for a sum of money portion of the immoveable goods of the monastery to the said Bernard, possession of which he still unlawfully detains.[25]

At the dissolution of the religious houses the abbey and its possessions were granted to Murrough O’ Brien, 1st earl of Thomond, and subsequently became the subject of much infighting between his descendants, the barons of Inchiquin and the O’Briens of Smithstown. Peace seems to have been restored by 1651 when Dermot O’Brien, 5th baron Inchiquin, made a grant to Honora Wingfield (nee O’Brien) of Smithstown of ‘the abbey and cloister of Kilshanny, with the old ruinous walls sometimes called the abbot’s house and the precincts and circuit of the abbey’.[26]

Augustinian Impropriations
As we have already seen, the Clare Abbey charter enables us to draw up an estate map of the Augustinians, even if only in broad outline. No doubt other rectories were assigned to them when their later foundations were established; and in some cases we know in fact that this was the case. The rectory of Kilmihil, for instance, is not explicitly mentioned in the charter (though it may very well be included in ‘the village of mc duane’), yet it paid tithe to Killone Abbey and afterwards to the baron of Inchiquin when he acquired that abbey following the dissolution.[27] With Killone Abbey Inchiquin also received its impropriate rectories viz. Killow (Clareabbey parish), Clondegad, Kilfiddane, and Killofin together with seven and a half quarters in Dromcliffe.[28] As Fr. Gaynor has noted, the source of Inchiquin’s title in Corcabaiscinn is obvious; apart from the pickings which he secured with Killone Abbey, he was never able to lay claim to an acre of land in that territory.[29]

Killofin (Labasheeda) Church. Photo: S. Schorman
Killofin (Labasheeda) Church. Photo: S. Schorman

Even in the extreme western parts of Co. Clare the Augustinians held a portion of the rectorial tithe in the parishes of Kilrush, Killimer, Kilfearagh, Killard, Moyarta and Killballyowen; the remaining portions in these six parishes being impropriate to the Collegiate Church of Iniscathaigh.[30] In fact all the Augustinian impropriations in the deanery of Corcabaiscinn can be more conveniently seen, though from a reversed point of view, in the Loyal Answers concerning the state of Killaloe diocese given by the Protestant bishop, John Rider, to the ecclesiastical commissioners in 1622.[31] The bishop acknowledges that all sixteen rectories in the diocese were impropriate to ‘certain abbies’ [prior to the Dissolution]. He lists them as follows: Clondegad, Kilchreest, Kildysert, Kilfiddane, Killofin, Kilfarboy, Kilmurry-Mc Mahon, Killimer, Kilmihil, Kilmacduane, Kilmurry-Ibrickane, Killard, Kilrush, Kilfearagh, Moyarta and Killballyowen. In 1622 all were in the advowsan of the earl of Thomond with the exception of Clondegad, Kilfiddane and a portion of Kilmihil rectory, which were in the advowson of the baron of Inchiquin. The position described by bishop Rider in Corcabaiscinn, though unusual at first glance, is reducible to one simple fact: with the exception of the impropriations of Iniscathaigh referred to above, the entire rectorial tithe of the deanery was owned by the Augustinian houses of Clare Abbey, Canons’ Island and Killone, and in consequence had fallen into the hands of lay patrons with the possessions of these houses at the Dissolution. Whether by design (as we suggested earlier) or chance, the old diocese of St. Senan had in effect been assigned to the Augustinians, but with some ‘reprisals’ to the saint’s successors on Iniscathaigh.

Old Church at Kilchreest (Ballynacally). Photo: S. Schorman
Old Church at Kilchreest (Ballynacally). Photo: S. Schorman

Care of Souls
To what extent these Augustinian rectories were burdened with cure (i.e. the obligation to provide a pastoral curacy or care of souls) is not easy to be certain, for we have no contemporary parochial records to guide us. It seems reasonable to assume that not all of them were so burdened, since sinecure rectories were commonplace in the medieval Church, especially where they were impropriate to monastic houses. Having regard however to the strong pastoral traditions of the Augustinians, it can be taken for certain that an active pastoral ministry was effected, especially in the parishes contiguous to their monasteries; and in many cases we know in fact that this was the case. In the case of the parishes of Inchicronan, Killow (Clareabbey), Inisdadrum, Kildysert, Kilchreest, Clondegad and Kilmurry-Ibrickane the evidence is again found in bishop Riders Loyal Aswers in 1622. In those seven parishes the bishop found to his annoyance that not only were the rectories ‘impropriat to certain abbies’ but, unusually, the vicarages as well.[32] The inference is only too clear; all had been in the pastoral remit of the Augustinians, and, so, the rectorial and vicarial advowsons had fallen to lay patrons at the dissolution of the abbeys. Bishop Rider’s account, however, does not provide us with anything like the full story since it reflects only the position that existed at the actual date of the dissolution; and it is clear that over the centuries other parishes, too, had passed in and out of the care of the Augustinians as pastoral expediency required. In 1421, for instance, a papal mandate authorised that the parish of Kiltoola (an old parish now subsumed in Inchicronan) be served by a canon of Inchicronan priory; and in 1455 the parish of Kilaspuglonane was assigned to the abbey of Kilshanny.[33] (Indeed, the old church of Toomullin in the neighbouring parish of Killilagh (Doolin) shares so many features with the church at Kilshanny that Killilagh too may have been under the care of the Augustinians). Still in the fifteenth century, there is evidence that the Augustinians at Canons’ Island sometimes performed cure in the parishes of Kilnasoolagh and Kilmaleary on the opposite side of the Fergus.[34] There is a strong tradition in Kilfiddane parish that the church there was built by the Augustinians of Canons’ Island,[35] and a similar tradition at Kilmaley is emphasised by a plaque on the cemetery wall near the old church. At Kildysert the church has a residential tower with several stories attached, and there is a tradition there that it served as a ‘clearing house’ for Augustinian pastoral activities on the mainland.

Kildysert Church and residential Tower. Photo: G.U. Macnamara
Kildysert Church and residential Tower. Photo: G.U. Macnamara

Aside altogether from any pastoral contact, it will be seen that the integration of the rectories in the formal parishes at the institution of the diocesan system allowed the Augustinians to play a role in the economic structure of all the parishes in which they held rights, and thus to have an influence well outside the areas of their pastoral remit. And there is at least oblique evidence that residual traces of Augustinian tradition can still be found in the religious customs observed today in some of their old rectories, and in the ruins of some of our parish churches as well.

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