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Galway and Kilmacduagh

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Diocese in Ireland; an amalgamation of two distinct ancient sees; excepting the parish of Shrule (County Mayo) entirely in County Galway. Kilmacduagh, covering 137,520 acres, includes the whole Barony of Kiltartan, and part of Dunkellin and Loughrea. Galway diocese includes the barony of Galway and part of Moycullen and Clare. Its extent is less than Kilmacduagh, the united dioceses covering about 250,000 acres. Kilmacduagh coincides with the ancient territory of Hy Fiachrach Aidhne. On Ptolemy's map the district was called the country of the Gangani; later it was occupied by the Firbolg; and in the sixth century by the descendants of Fiachrach, brother of Niall of the Nine Hostages and uncle of Dathi. The time of its conversion to Christianity is uncertain. Probably it was Christian before the end of the sixth century, and it is certain that St. Colman was its first bishop. A near relative of King Guaire of Connaught, and a native of Kiltartan, he was born after the middle of the sixth century and educated at Arran, after which he lived for years a hermit's life in the Burren mountains. Drawn from his retreat by the persuasions of his friends, he founded a monastery at Kilmacduagh (610), becoming its abbot, and subsequently bishop of the whole Hy Fiachrach territory. He died in 632, and was buried at Kilmacduagh. In the five centuries following, the annalists make mention of only three bishops of Kilmacduagh. At the Synod of Kells, the diocese was made a suffragan of Tuam. Among its subsequent bishops we find men with the distinctively Irish names of O'Ruan, O'Shaughnessy, O'Murray, O'Felan, O'Brien, and O'Moloney. In the reign of Henry VIII the bishop was Christopher Bodkin, a time-server who earned the goodwill of Henry and of Elizabeth, and who through royal favour was promoted to the See of Tuam. Persecution had to be faced by his successors. One of these, Hugh De Burgo, was a prominent figure in the Confederation of Kilkenny (1642-50), and a prominent opponent of the Nuncio Rinuccini; when the war ended in the triumph of Cromwell, exile was his fate, imprisonment or death the fate of the priests, and confiscation that of the Catholic landholders. After 1653 the See of Kilmacduagh was ruled by vicars, but after 1720 the episcopal succession was regularly maintained. In 1750 Kilmacduagh was united with the smaller Diocese of Kilfenora, the latter situated entirely in County Clare, and corresponding in extent with the Barony of Corcomroe. This union has continued. At first the Bishop of Kilmacduagh was Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora, his successor Bishop of Kilfenora and Apostolic Administrator of Kilmacduagh, and so on alternately.

Contemporary with the monastery of Kilmacduagh was that of Annaghdown, on Lough Corrib, founded in the second half of the sixth century by St. Brendan. In process of time, Annaghdown became an episcopal see extending over the territory ruled by the O'Flahertys. In this district was the town of Galway. Placed where the waters of the Corrib mingle with the sea, it was at first but a fishing village. In the ninth century it was destroyed by the Danes; subsequently it was rebuilt and protected by a strong castle; in the twelfth century again destroyed by the King of Munster; and towards the end of that century wrested from the O'Flahertys by the powerful Anglo-Norman family of De Burgo. Other Anglo-Norman families also settled there, these in process of time being called the Tribes of Galway. Loyal to England and despising the old Irish, whom they drove out, the settlers made progress, and Galway in the first half of the seventeenth century, with its guilds of merchants, its mayor, sheriff, and free burgesses, was in trade, commerce, and wealth little inferior to Dublin itself. The Diocese of Annaghdown was joined to Tuam in 1324, and Galway town became in consequence part of the latter diocese. But the Galway men, regarding the surrounding people as little better than savages, were reluctant to be associated with them, and in 1484 obtained from the Archbishop of Tuam exemption from his jurisdiction. The arrangement, sanctioned by a Bull of Innocent VIII, was to have the church of St. Nicholas, at Galway, a collegiate church, governed by a warden and eight vicars; these having jurisdiction over the whole town, as well as over a few parishes in the neighbourhood. And warden and vicars "were to be presented and solely elected by the inhabitants of the town". It was a peculiar arrangement. The warden exercised episcopal jurisdiction, appointed to parishes, visited the religious institutions, but did not, of course, confer orders. The eight vicars resembled somewhat the canons of a cathedral church. In 1485 Galway obtained a new royal charter subjecting the town to a mayor, bailiffs, and corporation. In 1551 the warden and vicars were dispossessed of their church and lands, which were given to a lay warden and vicars, all Protestants. Just a century later the Catholics were driven from the town by the Cromwellians. Gradually they came back, and having been tolerated during the reign of Charles II and favoured under his successor, James II, had again to face persecution during the penal times. In 1731 the town contained about 5000 inhabitants. In 1747 the Protestant governor complained of the insolence of the Catholics, and of the number of priests coming there from abroad; in 1762 out of its 14,000 inhabitants all were Catholics except 350.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were frequent disputes between the warden and the Archbishop of Tuam as to the latter's rights in Galway. There were troubles also attending the election of the warden and vicars. Driven from the corporation, the Catholics had no legally existing free burgesses, and had been compelled to meet by stealth, and constitute a mayor and corporation, so as to have the necessary electoral body. But the Galway Tribes insisted on keeping the wardenship in their own hands. When the repeal of the penal laws allowed a Catholic corporation to come into existence, in 1793, the inhabitants insisted on exercising their right to vote, and conflicts with the Tribes arose. These disputes were finally ended in 1831 by the extinction of the wardenship and the erection of Galway into an episcopal see. In 1866 the Bishop of Kilmacduagh being unable to discharge his duties, the Bishop of Galway was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, "durante beneplacito Sanctæ Sedis". In 1883 the union of the three dioceses was made permanent by papal Bull. Since that date the bishop is "Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora". Among those connected with the diocese several have acquired fame. St. Ceallagh, who died about 550, is still venerated in Kilchrist, St. Sourney in Ballindereen, St. Foila in Clarenbridge, St. Colga in Kilcolgan. In the ninth century lived Flan MacLonan, chief poet of Ireland. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lived John Lynch, author of "Cambrensis Eversus"; O'Flaherty, author of the "Ogygia"; Dr. Kirwan, Bishop of Killala; MacFirbis, the annalist; Dr. Fahy, whose history has become a standard work; Dr. O'Dea, Bishop of Clonfert, and others.

Statistics (1909): parish priests, 29; administrator, 1; curates, 29; regulars, 20; churches, 53; houses of regulars, 4; convents, 10; college, 1; monasteries, 3; Catholic population in 1901, 70,576; non-Catholic, 1931.


HARDIMAN, History of Galway (Dublin, 1820); FAHY, History and Antiquities of Kilmacduagh (Dublin, 1893); O'FLAHERTY, Description of Iar Connaught (Dublin, 1846); BRADY, Episcopal Succession (Rome, 1876); Irish Catholic Directory for 1909.

About this page

APA citation. D'Alton, E. (1909). Galway and Kilmacduagh. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. D'Alton, Edward. "Galway and Kilmacduagh." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael Kolarcik, S.J.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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