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Diocese of Mayo

Heritage > History & Archaeology


The dioceses of Ireland as we know them today came into being at the beginning of the twelfth century. Prior to that, Irish bishops indicated spiritual rank only, were monastery based and in most cases were answerable to the Abbot of the monastery (see bishops in the Irish Celtic church).

During the twelfth century there were a number of synods, but it's most likely that the majority were meeting to reconcile feuding parties in the run-up to reorganising the Irish church and the formation of dioceses.
The main Synods concerning the dioceses are;

1101 synod of Cashel, papal legate, Mael-Mhuire Ua Dunain, 'chief bishop of Leth Cuinn'
1111 synod of Rath Breasail, divided Ireland into twenty four dioceses. Tuam and Cong were named as dioceses.
1152 synod of Kells, Papal Legate Cardinal Paparo (first papal legate from Rome) brought the Pallia for the four newly appointed archbishops of Armagh, Cashel, Dublin Tuam.

At this synod Mayo was one of three new dioceses named in the Archdiocese of Tuam.
(Mayo, Achonry and Kilmacduagh). The exact extent of the territory of the Mayo bishopric is not known, most likely extending from Kilvine (Irishtown) to the sea at Achill and enclosed all that part of the county now in the Archdiocese of Tuam with the exception of, Knock, Aughamore, Baken and Ballinrobe South of the river Robe. It had a chequered history, at times an Independent See, at other times a reluctant part of the Archdiocese of Tuam.

Pope Alexander III had so 'lost hope of the Irish church pulling itself together without help' that he gave approval to King Henry II of England to mediate in 1172.

1171-72 Synod of Cashel Papal Legate, Gilla Crist Ua Conairche, bishop of Lismore.

The Irish Church was viewed as a having fallen away from Roman ecclesiastical practice and theology. As the Irish Church had experienced several centuries of isolation from Rome, its structures had become clannish and parochial.

The first bishop was Gilla O'Mailin, died 1184. He is recorded as paying feudal respects to King Henry II at a Synod in Cashel in 1172.
Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Loch Cé mention the death of Ceile Ua Dubthaig in 1210 known as 'Bishop of Mayo of the Saxons.' an associate of the Irish reformer St Laurence O'Toole.

In 1202. The papal representative Cardinal John, of Pope Innocent III, declared that Mayo abbey church was merely a parish building after a petition from the Tuam chapter, and this verdict were confirmed by Honorius III in 1217, and upheld by Gregory IX in 1240. At some time after this Mayo seems to have gained independence again as bishops were still appointed till the end of the 16th century.

During the fifteenth century bishops appointed to the see of Mayo included men from several religious orders, In 1428 and 1430 Franciscans were appointed. William Prendergast and Martin Campania.
A Dutch Cistercian became bishop in 1432. Odo O h-Uigin, abbot and bishop of Mayo asserted the independence of Mayo diocese from Tuam, but after an appeal in 1447, Pope Nicholas V limited the status of the Mayo see. The church of Mayo became a parish church again.

1457, Simon de Duren was provided to Mayo, Simon a German friar was reluctant to come to Mayo and was allowed to live as a bishop in Worms, Germany, where that diocese paid him an annual income. Suffragan bishop of Worms & Münster (Germany).

1493, John Bell appointed to Mayo, assistant bishop of Canterbury and suffragan bishop to several English sees. He joined the Church of England in 1534.

After 1541 Eugene MacBrehon became bishop, but between 1537-72, Archbishop Bodkin of Tuam became the effective administrator of the diocese

After 1574, Dermot O'Dwyer OFM became bishop and during 1579, Patrick O'Hely became bishop of Mayo during the Counter-Reformation Elizabethan era. While attempting to take possession of his see, he landed at Dingle, was captured by Government troops and subsequently executed. Bishop O'Hely was beatified by Pope John-Paul II.

During 1585, Adam MacGauran took possession of the see and he was known as the last ' Bishop of Mayo.'

The story of Mayo Abbey as the seat of an independent diocese comes to an end in 1631 when the final union of Mayo with the Tuam diocese took place. Archbishop Malachy Queally wrote to Cardinal Ludovisi obtaining the final union with Tuam.

Bishops of Mayo (as we know at present).
(Because of the distance and timescale between Ireland and Rome some appointments and dates overlap)

1172 -1184 Gilla O'Mallin
-1210 Cele O' Dubthaig
1210 -1216 Patricius, Archdeacon of Mayo
never consecrated
1428 -1430 William Prendergast OFM
Failed to carry out his duties
1430 -1432 Nicholas Wogomai OFM
1432 -1439 Martin Campanula O.Cist….monk of Utrecht diocese
Also suffragan bishop of Münster (Germany) and Utrecht, (Holland)
1439 -1448 Aodh O'Huigginn….Canon. Reg.: Abbot of Mayo
1448 -1457 No bishops app.
1457 -1470 Simon Duran OSA
Suffragan bishop of Worms & Münster (Germany)
1493 -1534 John Bell OFM,
Assistant bishop of Canterbury
Joined the Church of England in 1534
1515 -1532 William Gilbert, OSB.
Abbot of Bruton (Summerset)
suffragan to Bishops of Bath and Wells to 1526.
1541 -1559 Eugene Mac Brehon O.Carm.
1574 -1576 Dermot O'Deire. OFM
1576 -1579 Patrick O'Healy,
First Irish Bishop to die for the faith
1585 -1587 Adam McGurran,
Last bishop of Mayo, fled to France
1631 Union of the Diocese of Mayo and Tuam.

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