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Diocese of Kerry and Aghadoe

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The Diocese of Kerry and Aghadoe (Kerriensis Et Aghadoensis), suffragan of Cashel, Ireland, is sixty-six miles in length, and sixty-one in breadth, containing a superficial area of 983,400 acres, and extending over the whole County of Kerry and a portion of that of Cork; in 1901 the Catholic population was 187,346. This diocese, in its actual condition, was constituted by the union of two very ancient sees — Ardfert and Aghadoe, but the precise date of this incorporation cannot now be definitely ascertained. All we know is that it had taken place before the Synod of Rathbrassil (1110), for it is there proposed and sanctioned that the see of the then united Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe should be at Rathass near Tralee. Our ecclesiastical historians give a detailed account of the various journeys of St. Patrick, who, though visiting the neighbouring County of Limerick, never set foot in Kerry, being content (as the ancient chroniclers say) with giving this remote corner of Ireland his blessing, while standing on some point of vantage in West Limerick and viewing the lofty mountains and vast bogs of ancient Kerry. Nevertheless, we know from many sources that Christianity was introduced here at a very early period. This fact is attested not merely by the annalists, but also by the many monuments of great antiquity and Christian character which still exist in various districts of the diocese. The first bishop whom we find mentioned in connection with the history of Kerry, was named Erc, and there can be no reasonable doubt that this bishop was St. Erc of Slane, who died according to the Annals of Ulster in 512. He exercised episcopal jurisdiction in the county before the birth of St. Brendan, and from what we read about his relations with that great saint, must have resided there almost continuously for several years afterwards. It is very probable he came to Kerry soon after the mission of St. Benignus, who was sent by St. Patrick in 450 to preach to the tribes of West Munster, and "to unite them to the Church by the saving waters of baptism". This visit of St. Benignus was comparatively short, for he was called away to North Clare and Connaught, where his apostolic labours may have been more urgently needed. To complete, however, the conversion of Kerry thus auspiciously begun, St. Patrick sent one of his most zealous and devoted bishops, St. Erc, who had spiritual charge not only of Kerry, but also of a wide range of southwest Limerick, in the heart of which lay the convent of St. Ita at Killeedy, over which he seems to have had jurisdiction. He was the special friend and tutor of St. Brendan, the patron of Kerry, whose feast is celebrated on 16 May. There is not among the ancient saints of Erin a more interesting figure than this patron of Kerry. His travels by land, and still more his voyages by sea, have made him famous from the earliest times. Very ancient manuscript copies of his famous seven years' voyage in the Atlantic Ocean are found in several European libraries, while his romantic career was a favorite theme with the poets and romancers of medieval Europe. (See Brendan, Saint.)

The other ancient see included in the modern Diocese of Kerry, is that of Aghadoe. Another native saint, Finan Cam, was the first to build a church at Aghadoe, which in after times became the see of a bishop. It was this saint also who founded the famous monastery and school of Innisfallen, a lovely island in the Lower Lake of Killarney. It was here that one of the greatest of Ireland's kings was educated - Brian Boru, who destroyed the power of the Danes at Clontarf in 1014, while his distinguished professor, Maelsuthain O'Carroll, was most probably the original compiler of the famous Annals of Innisfallen. The principal copy of this valuable work is preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It begins with a general history of the great empires of the world down to A.D. 430. The remainder, and the more valuable portion of the Annals, contains a brief chronicle of Ireland to 1319. This monastery, owing to its situation, escaped the ravages of the Danes, who had worked such ruin on other churches in Kerry. Unfortunately, there are few records of the early bishops either of Ardfert or Aghadoe previous to the Norman invasion in the twelfth century. All we know is, each had its distinct succession of bishops, and each cathedral had its separate chapter. But these, in the days of persecution, were allowed to lapse. The chapter of Kerry was re-established by Brief of His Holiness, Pius IX, in 1858. Owing to persecution, and the disturbed state of the country, this diocese had no bishops from 1610 to 1641, and again from 1653 to 1703, being governed during both these periods by vicars Apostolic. From this latter date there has been no interruption in the episcopal succession.

Many of its bishops have been men of distinction. We may mention Dr. Richard O'Connell (1641-1653), who at a very trying time successfully resisted the determined attacks of heresy on the faith of the people. In modern times Kerry had Dr. David Moriarty (1856-1877), a most accomplished pulpit orator, and Dr. Daniel McCarthy (1878-1881), for many years professor in the College of Maynooth, and author of valuable works on Sacred Scripture. The religious orders were introduced into the diocese chiefly through the piety and zeal of some of the ancient lords of the county. The Franciscans came to Ardfert in 1253, to Muckross in 1440, and to Lislaughtin in 1464. The Dominican convent in Tralee was founded in 1213. The Cistercians built the Abbey of Kyrie Eleison in Odorney in 1154, while at a much earlier period religious communities existed at Killagha in the parish of Kilcoleman, at Derrinane, at Rattoo, etc. During the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth all those religious establishments were destroyed, the priests were expelled, while their property was confiscated. The successful career of Cromwell and his lieutenants had a still more disastrous effect on the religious condition of this remote see in southwest Munster. In modern times there has been a satisfactory revival. Though these ancient monasteries, and the parochial churches throughout the diocese, were utterly ruined in days of persecution, there has been a complete restoration from the wreck and disaster of those sad times. The Dominicans are again established in Tralee, while the Franciscans flourish — if not in lovely Muckross, still in Killarney not far away. The parish churches, which were mostly thatched cabins not so long ago, are now magnificent stone structures raised through the zeal and energy of a faithful priesthood, aided by the generosity and religious spirit of the laity of the county. The ancient cathedrals at Ardfert and Aghadoe are now in ruins, but the modern cathedral of Kerry, canonically erected in the ancient parish of Aghadoe by special Brief dated 18 May, 1858, surpasses even old Ardfert — still magnificent, though in ruins. It was designed by Pugin and was begun under Bishop Egan in 1840. For over fifty years it remained in an unfinished state, but the present occupant of the See of Kerry and Aghadoe, Most Rev. Dr. John Mangan, has with characteristic energy undertaken the completion of this magnificent structure according to the original designs of its celebrated architect. Dr. Mangan was born in the parish of Listowel in 1843, and was educated at Killarney and Maynooth, where he won the highest academical distinctions. His missionary life in Kerry was mainly spent in the parishes of Glengariff and Kenmare, which, owing to their extent, always demand great labour on the part of their pastor. As a reward for his energy and zeal, he was appointed archdeacon of Aghadoe, parish priest of Kenmare, and vicar-general of the diocese in 1901. He was raised to the episcopate, 21 July, 1904. This diocese consists of 51 parishes, has 49 parish priests, two administrators, and 69 curates. It has 99 churches, 2 friaries, 5 monasteries, and 17 convents.

About this page

APA citation. O'Connor, D. (1910). Diocese of Kerry and Aghadoe. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. O'Connor, Denis. "Diocese of Kerry and Aghadoe." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kieran O'Shea.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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