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Early Church History

Heritage > History & Archaeology


In Ireland the church was always the local church.. The meeting point for the local tribe and the number of tribes was enormous, about 4,000 churches is an estimated number. An enclosure would be set aside, with boundaries and 'Termon' (place of sanctury), sometimes with a ditch, sometimes with a wall, clearly marking out to everyone that the area was sacred. Within it a tiny church of wattle and daub would be built.
Many monasteries were built on tribal boundaries which could explain why Mayo of the Saxons was on the border of Clanmaicne with Tir Terra and Tir Neachtain.
As some monastic communities grew they attracted a resident local community in an arrangement that was of benefit to all. The monasteries provided spiritual guidance, teaching, and families helped with the labour, and livestock. Monastery and village grew together.
The early church history of Mayo Abbey would probably resemble the history of the early Irish church in general. At this stage monasteries in the south of Ireland had accepted the Roman rule (Synod of Carlow 630) while monasteries in the northern part of the country still held on to the old dating of Easter and the tonsure.

The history of the arrival of the Normans overshadows the day to day local history which leaves actual events and names within the church hard to come by. Strife and battle was still rife within the Church during this time as well as local disputes between the Anglo-Normans and the natives.

1236 Mayo Abbey was plundered by ' Mac William who...proceeded to Maigh Eo of the Saxons and not a stack of seed or corn of all that was in the great relig of Mayo, or in the relig of the church of Michael the Archangel , was left without being taken away together ' (Hennessy 1871, 341).

The Mayo Abbey district became colonised by the De Prendergast family (alias MacMaurice). They established a stronghold in Brize where they became known as 'Clann Muiris na mBrí' eventually giving their name to the barony of Clanmorris (Orpen 1968, 209).
The Annals tell us: 'Maghnus O' Muiredhaigh was slain by Thomas Mac Murchadha. Niall, son of Domhnall Mur, Son of Ruaidhri O' Conchobhair was burned, together with three O' Sechnasaighs in a house in Magh Eo of the Saxons by Loghbhais of the people of Mac Maurice' (Hennessy 1871, 359).

1380, a Parliamentary decree banned native people entering the religious life in Mayo Abbey declaring 'It was this year enacted by Parliament, that no mere Irishman should be permitted to make his profession here.' (Archdall 1786, 506).

The 12th century saw a movement of reform with the move away from the Irish system. The idea of monastic communities was replaced by the European system of Dioceses. Irish ecclesiastics were often members of local dynasties with abbots and other ecclesiastical officials inheriting positions from their fathers or were succeeded by their sons, indicating either that they remained laymen, or that the Irish church did not require them to be celibate.
The monastery at Mayo became a part of this process.

1101 with pressure mounting for reform a synod was convened at Cashel. The most prominent ecclesiastic at the synod was Bishop Maél Muire Ua Dunáin of Meath as papal legate of Pope Pascal II.
The synod took cautious steps toward reform. It moved to limit lay control and influence over ecclesiastical affairs. It also issued a decree against marriage among close family members.

1111, The Synod of Rath Breasail with Bishop Gilbert of Limerick as Papal Legate was important for establishing new ecclesiastical structures vital for the reform movement.

1152 A defining moment in the evolution of Mayo took place when it became the centre of a diocese after the synod of Kells, which established three new dioceses, Mayo, Achonry and Kilmacduagh.
Continuing the work begun at Cashel, the synod also formally removed all churches in Ireland from lay control.
1161-1201, The See of Mayo again comes into light with the career of Cadhla Ua Dubthaig , an associate of the Irish reformer St Laurence O' Toole.
1169 " Magh-Eo of the Saxons, with its Church, Fobhar-Fachine, and Diamliag-Chianain were burned".
1172 Mayo bishop, Gilla Iosa Ua Mailin paying feudal respects at Cashel to Henry II.
1176, Donnell O'Connor, son of the ruler of Connaught, Turlough O'Connor and brother of the last High king of Ireland was buried here.
1184, the death of Gilla Isu O'Mailin, Bishop of Mayo,
1210, the Annals of Loch Cé mention the death of Ceile Ua Dubthaig known as 'Bishop of Mayo of the Saxons.' no successor was appointed. Mayo is claimed by the archdiocese of Tuam.
But despite this, bishops of Mayo were still appointed down to the end of the 16th century.

1579, Bishop Patrick O'Healy coming to take possession of his See of Mayo was cartured with his companion Friar O'Rourke and hanged at Kilmallock He was the first bishop to be executed for the faith in Ireland.

At one time Mayo had no fewer than twenty-eight parishes under its jurisdiction, which extended from the Dalgan River at Kilvine (Irishtown) to Achill. Today this small rural parish and the "City of Mayo" comprises not more than half a dozen houses.

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