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A suffragan diocese of Cashel; it comprises the greater part of County Clare, a large portion of Tipperary, and parts of King's and Queen's Counties, Limerick, and Galway. Its Irish name is Cill-da-Lua, so named from St. Lua, an abbot who lived about the end of the sixth century, and whose oratory can still be seen in Friar's Island, near the town of Killaloe. Though St. Lua gave his name to the diocese, St. Flannan is its patron saint. He was of royal lineage, his father being the saintly Theodoric, King of Thomond, who towards the close of his life received the monastic habit from St. Colman at Lismore. St. Flannan was the first Bishop of Killaloe, and is said to have been consecrated at Rome by John IV about 640. In the time of St. Flannan, the Diocese of Killaloe was not so extensive as it is at present. It did not then include the old dioceses of Roscrea and Inniscathy. It was only when these were suppressed at the Synod of Rathbresail in the first quarter of the twelfth century, that Killaloe assumed its present shape, which is almost coterminous with the boundaries of the ancient Kingdom of Thomond. The parish of Seir Kieran in King's County, though in Thomond, was allowed to remain subject to the Diocese of Ossory, out of respect to the memory of St. Kieran.

The old See of Roscrea grew around a monastery founded there by St. Cronan about the middle of the sixth century. This monastery became a famous school, and it was within its walls that the scribe Dimma wrote for St. Cronan the copy of the Four Gospels now in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, for which Tatheus O'Carroll, chieftain of Ely, made a costly shrine in the twelfth century. The Diocese of Roscrea was coextensive with the territory of the O'Carrolls, added to that of the O'Kennedys. Ware holds that St. Cronan was Bishop of Roscrea, but Lanigan thinks that Ware has been misled by the fact that Roscrea became an episcopal see. Like the Diocese of Roscrea, the Diocese of Inniscathy grew around the monastery of Inniscathy, founded by St. Senan in the early portion of the sixth century. There is no question about St. Senan being the first bishop of the Diocese of Inniscathy, which comprised the Baronies of Moyarta, Clonderlaw, and Ibricken, in Clare; the Barony of Connello, in Limerick; and in Kerry, the ancient region of the Hy-Fidgente. The last Bishop of Inniscathy was Hugh O'Beachain, who died in 1188. Nevertheless, there were titular bishops of the see up to the close of the fourteenth century. The remains of the cathedral church of Inniscathy and a round tower now mark the ancient see of St. Senan. The Clog-oir, too, still in existence in County Clare, is a highly-prized relic of Inniscathy. St. Brecan's churches of Carntemple, Doora, and Clooney, St. Tola's church at Dysert O'Dea, St. Senan's hermitage at Bishop's Island, near Kilkee, St. Caimin's church and school at Iniscaltra, St. Brendan's and St. Cronan's abbeys at Birr and Roscrea may be named amongst hundreds of churches, schools, and hermitages, which covered Killaloe like a network and which in their decay attest to the devotion to the Catholic Faith of the far-famed Dalgais.

Some of these foundations deserve mention. Iniscaltra, a green little island in Lough Derg, was celebrated nursery of sanctity and learning in Thomond. It is associated principally with St. Caimin, who made Iniscaltra the seat of a very famous school, which attracted pupils even from foreign countries. A fragment of the commentary on the Psalms collated with the Hebrew text, written by St. Caimin (640), is preserved in the Franciscan convent, Merchant's Quay, Dublin. Birr also was a celebrated seat of learning in Thomond, founded by St. Brendan (550). The Gospels of McRegol, now in the Bodleian Library, were written by McRegol, Abbot of Birr, in 820. Terryglass also was a school of great repute founded by St. Columba (552). It was here that St. Patrick is said to have baptized the Dalgais from Northern Thomond, who crossed Lough Derg in their coracles to meet him. The monastery of Lorrha, founded by St. Ruadhan (550), can claim that it was within its walls that the famous Stowe Missal, now in the library of Lord Ashburnham, was written; but the desertion of Tara owing to the alleged cursing of St. Ruadhan, is without historical foundation. The abbeys at Ennis and Quin are striking illustrations of the piety and munificence of the foremost chieftains of the Dalgais.

About 1240 Donogh Cairbreach O'Brien built the monastery for Conventual Franciscan friars. It was considered one of the finest houses of the order in Ireland, and ultimately it became the occasion of Ennis being made the capital of County Clare. Even in ruin it is beautiful; the east window especially is much admired for its size, grace, and symmetry. Here are buried some of the Kings of Thomond and their chieftains. The Abbey of Quin is one of the noblest remains of monastic antiquity in Ireland, and is in so perfect a state of preservation that little more than a roof is required to make it fit to house the monks and have their chant daily re-echo within its walls. It was founded by Sheda McNamara in 1402. In 1641 a college was opened at the abbey, which soon had eight hundred students. But the most interesting historical remains are to be found at the picturesque little town of Killaloe, the ancient seat of the bishop, which is built on a ridge commanding a fine view of Lough Derg. For here we have the oratory of St. Lua in Friar's Island, the very perfect stone-roofed oratory of St. Flannan, and St. Flannan's cathedral, built in 1160 by Donald O'Brien, King of Limerick, near the site of Brian Boroimhe's royal palace of Kincora. St. Flannan's cathedral was, till the early years of Elizabeth's reign, the Catholic cathedral of the Diocese of Killaloe. Since then it has been in Protestant hands. Owing to the cruel persecution of the Catholic religion and its bishops and priests, and the suppression of the monasteries in Clare at the opening of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the churches and monasteries fell into decay and ruin, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being offered up on some rock on a mountain-side, or some lowly "Mass house." It is only since the time of Catholic Emancipation, a glorious era in the annals of Killaloe when the priests of Clare gave powerful aid to O'Connell to win the Clare election, that a "second spring" has come, and that Thomond has been again covered with handsome and commodious churches.

The first successor of St. Flannan in the Diocese of Killaloe whose name has come down to us, is Cormacan O'Mulcaishel, who died in 1019; and from the death of St. Flannan to the time of the learned O'Lonergain in 1150, the names of only five prelates have been recorded. But from this period the succession becomes regular and complete. In 1179, Constantine O'Brien, fifth in descent from Brian Boroimhe, was Bishop of Killaloe; he attended the Council of Lateran. Conor O'Heney, another Bishop of Killaloe, also attended the Council of Lateran in 1215. Cornelius Ryan, a Franciscan friar, and brother of a chieftain, was consecrated Bishop of Killaloe in 1576. He had a remarkable career. From the time of his appointment he used his marked ability and great organizing power in aid of the Earl of Desmond, who championed the Catholic cause, and succeeded in obtaining for him the support of Gregory XIII and Philip of Spain. For years he shared in all the perils of the insurrection, and he was regarded by Elizabeth and her minions as a most formidable opponent. When the Desmond insurrection ended in disaster, he escaped to the Continent and died at Lisbon in 1617.

John O'Moloney was another eminent Bishop of Killaloe. He was born in Kiltanon, County Clare, in 1617, was a doctor of the Sorbonne and, before his appointment to Killaloe, had been canon of Rouen, in France. He was named bishop by Propaganda in 1671, at the urgent request of the Catholics of the diocese, his qualifications for the exalted office being set forth in various testimonials from the doctors of the University of Paris, and several French bishops and archbishops. In 1673 he was deputed by the Irish bishops to visit France and endeavour to induce the French king and his minister to found an Irish ecclesiastical college in Paris. He succeeded in his mission, and a few years later the Irish college, of which he is regarded as the founder, was opened. In 1689 he was named Bishop of Limerick, retaining Killaloe in administration, but he was soon forced to flee to France, where he died in 1702 at the Sulpician house at Issy, near Paris. The present bishop is the Most Reverend Dr. Fogarty, born in 1859 near Nenagh, County Tipperary. Before his elevation to the episcopate he was vice-president of Maynooth College, where he had been for fifteen years previously a distinguished professor of dogmatic and moral theology. His consecration took place in 1904, at the procathedral at Ennis, the seat of the bishop and also of a well-equipped diocesan college.

The diocesan chapter, including dean, archdeacon, and canons, was re-established by papal decree on 11 February, 1903. Catholic population, 137,574, according to census of 1901; non-Catholic population, 8329; parishes, 57; secular clergy, 142; parochial and district churches, 143; houses of regular clergy, 2, viz. Franciscans at Ennis, Cistercians at Roscrea; convents of Sisters of Mercy, 12; Convent of Sacred Heart, 1; number in community, 198; monastic houses, 6; number in community, 63.


Annals of Four Masters (Dublin, 1846); LANIGAN, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (Dublin, 1829); HEALY, Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1897); DWYER, Diocese of Killaloe (Dublin, 1878); FROST, History of Clare (Dublin, 1893); MALONE, Life of St. Flannan (Dublin, 1902); MESCALL, Story of Inniscathy (Dublin, 1902); STOKES, Early Christian Art in Ireland (London).

About this page

APA citation. Breen, M. (1910). Killaloe. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Breen, Michael. "Killaloe." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by John Fobian. In memory of Philip R. Johnson.

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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