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

Kilmaleery and Kilnasoolagh

The earliest recording of the Mac an Oirchinnigh in the Papal Registers dates from 1411 and despite inconsistencies in spelling, cross referencing indicates that ‘Matthew Macmeyrcheyn’ (Mathghamhain Mac an Oirchinn) [55] was first recorded as holding Quin and Bunratty perpetual benefices that were ‘both without cure and called rectories’ in 1411. [56] Matthew was also assigned the perpetual vicarage of Kilmaleery, and references from 1422 indicate that he also held Kilnasoolagh. [57]

The papal mandate connects ‘Matthew Macmeyrcheyn’ to the landholding Mac an Oirchinnigh sept based in and around Kilnasoolagh. The mandate from Rome states that he was of ‘ducal race’ [58] and in his nineteenth year, placing his birth in the year 1392. The mandate is clear in asserting that he was of aristocratic lineage, linking him to the main lineage of the Mac an Oirchinnigh sept. Secondly, his level of education can be inferred from the reference ‘if found fit in Latin’ he was to be assigned the vicarage of Kilmaleery. His youth must have been unusual for a cleric of his status and the mandate makes clear that provision will be granted to him to hold the vicarage of Kilmaleery despite his ‘defect of age’. The fact that he held the perpetual benefices of the rectories without cure of Quin and Bunratty, and was assigned the perpetual vicarage [59] of Kilmaleery in 1411, and at a later date Kilnasoolagh, suggests that he was a successful cleric:

[8 July, 1411] ‘To the dean of Killaloe. Mandate to collate and assign to Matthew Macmeyrcheyn, perpetual beneficiary in the parish church of Cuyngkyg [sic Quin], in the said diocese, of ducal race and in his nineteenth year only, if found fit in Latin, the perpetual vicarage, value not exceeding 3 marks, of Killmaliery [sic Kilmaleery] in the same diocese, void because Thady Macconnyl has held it more than a year without having himself ordained a priest and without dispensation; notwithstanding that he holds his perpetual benefice in the said parish church, and another in that of Bunraythi [sic Bunratty] in the same diocese, both without cure and called rectories, the value of which likewise does not exceed 3 marks. He is hereby dispensed, on account of his said defect of age, to hold the vicarage.’ [60]

It is likely that for Matthew to have held the perpetual benefices of Quin and Bunratty rectories concurrently at the age of nineteen he was a non-resident scholar-cleric. He may, however, have intended to reside at Kilmaleery vicarage - and hence this mandate dispensing him to hold the vicarage on proof of his skill in Latin - as this vicarage was charged with cure; he drew a partial income from the perpetual benefices of the rectories of Quin and Bunratty to support himself, perhaps on account of either study or official work.

Four subsequent mandates were issued relating to Kilnasoolagh during 1422-1427, suggesting that Matthew died sometime before 1422 making him less than thirty at the time of death. [61] These mandates also show that Matthew held the vicarage of Kilnasoolagh, granted to him sometime after the 1411 grant of Kilmaleery. [62] The mandates are useful in understanding the level of ecclesiastical organisation at the time and confirm that the position of vicar at Kilnasoolagh received ‘certain tithes and rents’. [63] Matthew also held the perpetual benefice of Tymorlogyg and the rectory of Drumline to which the former was usually united, and both without cure. [64] The Papal Registers indicates that this collation was made prior to 1422, or so we can infer from a mandate of 1427 that posthumously referred to ‘Matthew Macmuerchyay’. [65] According to a petition from Killaloe to Rome and compiled in Regestum Supplicationum probably in the year 1419:

‘Matthew Mcnemayrkyny clerk of Killaloe, has studied canon law for several years, petitions for perpetual vicarage of parish church of Kyllanasulech, vacant through death of Rory Ylonyragayn, or in some other way, though he already holds the simple rectories of Tymurlogach and Drúlygayll.’ [66]

A second petition in Regestum Supplicationum dated 4 August 1419 re-states the petition of Matthew and outlines his ‘noble’ background:

‘Matthew Mcnemayrkyny, clerk of Killaloe who studied canon law for some years and is of noble lineage, petitions for the perpetual vicarage of the parish church of Kyllana Suleth in that diocese, which is vacant either by the death of Rory Ylornygayn at the Roman curia, or for some other reason, although Matthew already holds the simple rectory of Tynnirlogach and that of Drumlygall in ecclesiastical fee. 4. non Aug.’ [67]

These petitions confirm that Matthew was a scholar-cleric and possibly sought higher orders given his study of canon law, though at the time of his death he was still in minor orders. [68] The petitions also state that he held the rectories of Tymurlogach (Tymorlogyg in Quin parish) and Drúlygayll (Drumline), which were sinecure rectories and probably provided him with an income to support his studies. The reference to ‘Matthew Mcnemayrkyny’ being of ‘noble lineage’ is cited in both the papal mandates and Regestum Supplicationum and links him to the landholding lineage of the Mac an Oirchinnigh sept of Kilnasoolagh parish.

Matthew did not receive the vicarage of Kilnasoolagh until at least 1419. We can only guess where he studied canon law, though the initial reference to him in 1411 as holding the perpetual benefice of Quin - which functioned as an important rectory in Tradraighe - could also have served as a place of study given its proximity to Quin friary. It is significant that Matthew is the only recorded Mac an Oirchinnigh kinsman to hold Quin. Quin was traditionally dominated by members of the Mac Conmara clan despite the Uí Bhriain being the lay patrons. [69]

More contentious was the appointment in 1443 of ‘Dermit Macinnercheny’ (Diarmaid Mac an Oirchinnigh) to the vicarage of Kilnasoolagh. His appointment came after a certain ‘Donatus Ydulayg’ (Donnchadh Ó Dubhlaoich, anglice O’Dowley) [70] resigned the vicarage, having held it since his appointment there in 1422 on the death of ‘Matthew Macanaerehynyg’ (above mentioned). [71] Dermit’s appointment in 1443 returned Kilnasoolagh to the hands of the Mac an Oirchinnigh immediately after it was held for about two decades by a member of the ‘Odublaych’ sept. The fact that Demit was of ‘noble race’ and that he and two other Mac an Oirchinnigh clerics possessed the vicarage of Kilnasoolagh in the fifteenth century, confirms the presence of the ruling or ‘noble’ lineage of the sept in the vicinity of Kilnasoolagh. The documents Obligationes Pro Annatis Diocesis Laoniensis, [72] record the appointment of clerics and the ‘Annates’ - value of the parish revenue - for the purpose of papal ecclesiastical assessment known as the ‘first fruits’. The Killaloe ‘Annates’ confirm the installation of ‘Dermicio Macumercheny’ to Kilnasoolagh vicarage probably in June 1443, and that he was obliged to pay the ‘first fruits’ of the yearly tithe of ‘sex marcharum sterlingorum’ (6 marks sterling) to the diocese. [73]

Dermit provides a good case study of the intertwined world of kinship and clan and how these social ties in Gaelic Ireland were the real logic behind clerics furthering secular ambitions through ecclesiastical office. In 1449-1450 Dermit was summoned to be removed from Kilnasoolagh due to allegations of abuse of his office which included simony, failure to be ordained a priest after installation, perjury and dilapidation of goods from the vicarage. This trend is suggestive that lay preferment was common and nepotism often the method of advancement:

[4 March 1449-1450] ‘To the archbishop, archdeacon and treasurer of Cashel. Mandate to collate and assign to Matthew de Maccomara, rector of Bunrathi [sic Bunratty] alias Traddry in the diocese of Killaloe who is by both parents of noble birth, the perpetual vicarage of Killathnasuleach [sic Kilnasoolagh] in the said diocese, value not exceeding 8 marks sterling, void because Dermit Macinnaerchynnyd, who is to be summoned and removed, having obtained collation in virtue of papal letters, held possession for more than a year without having himself ordained priest, from fear of whose power Matthew cannot safely meet him in the city and diocese of Killaloe; whether it be void as stated, or because Dermit has been a perjurer and dilapidator of the goods of the vicarage, or because in the obtaining of it he committed simony with Donatus Oduluyd, or by resignation of the said Donatus, or be void in any other way; and notwithstanding that he holds the said rectory, with cure, and the rectory without cure of Clonlothan [sic Clonloghan] in the same diocese, which is called in ecclesiastical fee, and a canonry of Limerick and the prebend of Donachmoyr, value not exceeding 32, 1 and 8 marks sterling respectively. Upon obtaining the vicarage he is to resign the rectory of Bunrathi’ [sic Bunratty]. [74]

This mandate suggests that Dermit’s simoniacal deal with ‘Donatus Oduluyd’ – the previous cleric who supposedly resigned in 1443 - had more to do with dividing the tithe revenue of Kilnasoolagh between the long-standing incumbent Donatus and the newly installed Dermit. The fact that ‘Matthew de Maccomara rector of Bunrathi’ (sic Bunratty) was to be assigned the vicarage may hint toward greater Mac Conmara control over outlying vicarages that had fallen under the influence of local septs. The mention of ‘dilapidator of the goods of the vicarage’ - which was a common accusation by ‘delators’ recorded in the Papal Registers - could be a veiled reference to Dermit using the vicarage as a source of patronage. Unfortunately we do not know the outcome of the allegation and whether Dermit was removed. The activities of Gaelic clergy often ran counter to canon law rules and were a convenient pretext for dismissal by aspiring clerics who coveted lucrative benefices. It is not surprising that a Mac Conmara cleric is proposed to replace Dermit; such allegations were often motivated by secular interests of powerful clans and had little to do with legitimate allegations of misconduct.

An important papal mandate dated 2 June 1463 was issued from Rome to unite the vicarage of Kilnasoolagh with the Treasurership of Killaloe and the rectory of Bunratty. The mandate was written in favour of a high status Mac Conmara cleric named ‘Odo [son] of James Mac Conmara’. Odo (Aodh) held the diocesan post of Treasurer of Killaloe. [75] This mandate to form a temporary rectory out of Kilnasoolagh to support Odo with a benefice ‘on account of the slenderness of the treasury’ [76] may have been in response to past monopolisation of the vicarage by local septs. The encroachment of Mac Conmara clerics over the rectorial tithe of the united Kilnasoolagh and Bunratty parishes was short-lived, however, as Odo was recorded in a mandate of 8 October 1463 as having ‘died at the apostolic see’ in Rome before execution of his petition for the united rectory with the treasurership. [77] The creation of a rectory at Kilnasoolagh, and its collation with the Treasurership of Killaloe and rectory of Bunratty, must have been a temporary event as Kilnasoolagh is mentioned in a papal mandate of 6 May 1482 as simply a vicarage valued at 8 marks. [78]

The papal mandates relating to Kilnasoolagh provide a useful kaleidoscope of clans that were located in the neighborhood of Kilnasoolagh. A 1405 mandate refers to ‘Donatus Mclanchega’, who unmistakably was a member of Mac Flannchadha brehon clan, confirming an early connection of that clan to Kilnasoolagh. [79] This example offers further light on the Mac Flannchadha clan as a mandate dated 1418 states that Donatus also held the rectory of Glae (parish of Killilagh) in the diocese of Kilfenora and which was located on the traditional sept-land of the Mac Flannchadha. [80] Thus, Donatus’ mandate alludes to an early Glae/Kilnasoolagh connection of the Mac Flannchadha, which may have been approximately contemporaneous to the settlement of a branch of the Mac Flannchadha at Ballysallagh West in Kilnasoolagh parish. [81]

Other minor septs that occur in the Kilnasoolagh mandates include ‘O dublaych’ (Ó Dubhlaoich), [82] ‘O machayn’ (Ó Mocháin or Ó Maicín) [83] and ‘Oflannura’ (Ó Flannabhra). [84] Clerics of the name ‘Oheny’ (Ó hÉanna) [85] and Ogriffa (Ó Gríobhtha), [86] as well as ‘Omurluayn’ (Ó Maoláin or O’Maelane) [87] are recorded for Kilmaleery. These suggest that minor septs were successful in obtaining positions at the smaller parishes such as the two Ó hÉanna clerics who occupied Kilmaleery in c.1427 and 1468 and the three ‘Macgyllamury’ (Mac Giolla Mhuire) clerics who served at Clonloghan for the years c.1417, 1427 and 1464. But the principal trend which can be seen throughout the Papal Registers is the infiltration of Mac Conmara clerics into many local vicarages in east Clare - a trend consistent with their status as overlord clan in east Clare.

While evidence points to Kilnasoolagh as a vicarage whose ‘cure is exercised by a chaplin’ [88] and in the fifteenth century associated with the Mac an Oirchinnigh, it is unclear whether the benefice was in the possession of either a coarb (Latin plebani) [89] or erenagh family. In this respect, Kilnasoolagh is similar to neighbouring parishes in Tradraighe in terms of whether the ancient coarb and erenagh system - once a part of the Gaelic ecclesiastical economy - was still extant after the settlement and collapse of the Norman colony. The presence of termon lands ‘in ecclesiastical fee’ in various Tradraighe parishes may suggest a partial continuation of erenagh clans on these lands, despite the disruptive changes wrought by Norman settlement on the Irish diocesan economy in the thirteenth century.

In determining the presence of an erenagh clan at Kilnasoolagh and surrounding parishes it is important to consider that any prior erenagh connection may have been absorbed into the reorganization of church lands after the 1210 Synod of Connacht when the coarb and erenagh became principal tenants of the diocesan bishop. [90] This move was likely to result in their downgrading in status as quasi-ecclesiastical clans became chief tenants of the bishop, though their sept-head (ceannfine) held both the secular status of chief representative of the clan, as well as the status of erenagh. Norman influence in Tradraighe in the thirteenth century may have resulted in changes to Gaelic forms of ecclesiastical economy. In the anglicised areas of Ireland, Norman settlement resulted in the disappearance of erenaghs and coarbs from the diocesan economy. [91]

The presence of church lands in Kilnasoolagh parish that owed rent to the Bishop of Killaloe may point to the occupancy of an erenagh clan there as episcopal tenants. [92] The existence, if at all, of an erenagh family from the fifteenth century in Kilnasoolagh could be envisaged as a landholding local clan that had stewardship of church lands and paid a chief rent, and provided noxials, to the Bishop of Killaloe. In this situation it would be expected that they would provide a steady supply of clerics to local benefices, and were possibly literate and of quasi-clerical status. While still unclear, circumstantial evidence suggests that the Mac an Oirchinnigh may have had the trappings of an erenagh sept in Kilnasoolagh during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. However, the specific arrangements that prevailed in the parish up to the sixteenth century are now difficult to quantify.

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