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Diocese of Ossory

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In the Province of Leinster, Ireland, is bounded on the south by the Suir, on the east by the Barrow, on the west by Tipperary and King's County, and on the north by Queen's County. It has an area of 600,000 acres, and corresponds geographically with the ancient Kingdom of Ossory, whose first king, Aengus Osrithe, flourished in the second century of the Christian era. His successors extended their boundaries to include part of Tipperary. In the fifth century the neighbouring tribe of the Deisi, aided by the Corca- Laighde, conquered South Ossory, and for over a century, the Corca- Laighde chiefs ruled in place of the dispossessed Ossory chiefs. Early in the seventh century the ancient chiefs recovered much of their lost possessions, the foreigners were overcome, and the descendants of Aengus ruled once more. One of the greatest was Carroll, prominent in the ninth century and distinguished in the Danish wars.

Ossory had been Christianized long before this. St. Kieran, its apostle, now the patron of the diocese, was born about the fourth century at a place now known as St. Kieran's Strand, near Cape Clear, and was probably converted to the Faith by foreign traders. According to the tradition, he went to Rome and was there ordained priest and bishop. Having met St. Patrick, St. Kieran received from him a bell with the charge to return to Ireland and found a monastery on the spot where the bell should first sound. When the saint had passed beyond Ossory, and was descending the western slopes of Slieve Bloom, the bell at length sounded; and here St. Kieran established the monastery of Seir-Kieran, the centre from which Ossory was evangelized. St. Patrick also visited Ossory and preached and founded churches there. There is some difficulty in accepting the story of St. Kieran having preached before St. Patrick, since the former is said to have flourished in the sixth century. It is, however, certain that St. Kieran laboured in Ossory. In the centuries following the newly-converted kingdom was ruled from Seir-Kieran by the abbots. They had other monasteries subject to them, and probably other bishops, and perhaps were not always bishops themselves, though at Seir-Kieran, as at Iona, there was always a bishop. Their jurisdiction was tribal rather than territorial, and hence the diocese was enlarged or contracted as the fortunes of the Ossory chiefs rose or fell. At the synod of Rathbreasail (1118) the limits of the diocese were permanently fixed substantially as they have since remained. At the same time the see was transferred from Seir-Kieran to Aghaboe (see SAINT CANICE), but at the end of the twelfth century it was transferred to Kilkenny, where it has since remained. It is probable that St. Canice founded a monastery at Kilkenny, and not unlikely that the beginnings of a town soon appeared there, to become more important when the bishops changed from Aghaboe. Kilkenny also became the residence of Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, Strongbow's heir and descendent, by whom Kilkenny Castle was built. Before the fourteenth century Marshall's inheritance passed to the Butlers, and under them Kilkenny became great. It was made up of an Irish and an English town, each with a charter, and each, until 1800, returning two members to the Irish Parliament. The united towns were incorporated by a charter from Elizabeth, and by a further charter from James I, as a free city, with a mayor. The city still returns a member to the Imperial Parliament. The Butlers, ennobled as Earls and Dukes of Ormonde, have always interested themselves in its welfare. These powerful nobles were sometimes charged with the government of Ireland; not infrequently Kilkenny was the residence of the viceroy and saw a Parliament sitting within its walls, and there the Statute of Kilkenny was passed (1367). The Ormondes were always favourable to Anglo-Norman development at Kilkenny, and after the beginning of the thirteenth century no Irishman was appointed to the See of Ossory. In the reign of Bishop Hugh De Rous (1202-15) the cathedral of St. Canice was built. Two subsequent bishops, De Mapilton (1251-60) and Thomas Barry (1427- 60), filled the office of treasurer of Ireland, while another, Richard De Northalis (1387-95), acted as the King's ambassador abroad. At the Reformation, though the Earls of Ormonde were among the first to conform, Ossory clung to the Faith; and when John Bale was appointed bishop by Edward VI, and endeavoured to Protestantize the people, he was roughly handled and driven from Kilkenny, leaving Ossory in peace. The peace ended with the death of Mary, and in Elizabeth's reign the see was vacant for seventeen years. From 1602 to 1618 Ossory was again without a bishop, and when Dr. Rothe was appointed (1620) there was not a Catholic bishop in Ireland. In the rebellion of 1641 Kilkenny was the centre of national resistance and the headquarters of the Catholic Confederation. The part played by Dr. Rothe was prominent and patriotic; but his best efforts were unavailing, for Ormonde was able to foment divisions, the Anglo-Irish and the old Irish would not blend for the common good, and the want of vigour in Catholic counsels prepared the way for Ormonde's treachery and Cromwell's victories. While the Cromwellians held Kilkenny, Rothe died there (1650), and for twenty years following Ossory was governed by vicars. During the few periods of toleration in the reign of Charles II a feeble revival of religion took place. In 1678 the bishop reported to Rome, that in many cases one priest was in charge of five or six parishes; that the few remaining Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Capuchins ministered by stealth and in ruined churches; and that the Carmelites, Cistercians, and Canons Regular of St. Augustine had completely disappeared.

In the penal times Ossory suffered much, but its faith survived, and when toleration came it was ruled by an exceptional man, De Burgo (1759-86). Equally capable was his successor, Troy (1777-86), subsequently Archbishop of Dublin. To understand his praise of George III, his friendship with the viceroy and with Luttrell, son of the infamous Lord Carhampton, we must make allowance for the times in which he lived. He acted from no personal motive, but for the good of the Church, for he was zealous in propagating the Faith and enforcing discipline. He was among the first of the Irish bishops to take advantage of the relaxation of the penal laws and set up a college for his diocese by the purchase of Burrell's Hall, Kilkenny. Two of its first staff became his successors, Dr. Dunne (1787-89) and Dr. Lanigan (1789-1812). Under the latter the college at Burrell's Hall was transferred to more suitable premises and its curriculum extended. It was not until the episcopate of Dr. Kinsella that a diocesan college worthy of Ossory was founded. In 1836 the foundation stone of St. Kieran's College, Kilkenny, was laid and two years later the college was opened for students. Dr. Kinsella also aided his priests to build several parochial churches. He laid the foundation stone of the Cathedral of St. Mary in 1843, though the exterior was not finished until 1857, nor solemnly consecrated until 1899. Dr. Walsh (1846-72) succeeded Dr. Kinsella, and was succeeded by Dr. Moran, now (1911) Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. Dr. Moran was succeeded, in 1884, by Dr. Brownrigg, a native of Carlow. Educated at Maynooth, Dr. Brownrigg displayed unusual ability, was ordained priest in 1861, and was subsequently professor at St. Peter's College, Wexford, and superior of the House of Missions at Enniscorthy.

No diocese in Ireland is more interesting than Ossory for historical and antiquarian remains. There are the relics of old churches associated with the lives and acts of the early Irish saints, such as those of Seir-Kieran and Aghaboe. There are round towers, Norman castles, and holy wells, raths and mounds, ancient forts, cromlechs, and pillar stones. In the parish of Danesfort is Burnchurch castle, in Durrow the castle of Cullahill. There are the ruins of Kells Priory and of Inistioge, the Dominican priory of Rosebercon, and the Cistercian abbey of Jerpoint. Kilkenny Castle is an interesting relic of history, and near by are the remains of the Franciscan abbey, the Black Abbey, and St. John's priory. The number of distinguished men connected with the diocese is large. Clyn and Grace, the annalists, were both of Kilkenny. Rothe was not only a public man, but an author of eminence. De Burgo's work on the Irish Dominicans is still an essential book for Irish historians. Other famous men are: James Butler, Archbishop of Cashel, author of "Butler's Catechism"; Dr. Minogue, Bishop of Sacramento; Dr. Ireland, Archbishop of St. Paul; Dr. O'Reilly, Archbishop of Adelaide; Dr. John O'Donovan; Dr. Kelly, for many years professor of ecclesiastical history at Maynooth; Dr. O'Hanlon, theological professor in the same college; Dr. MacDonald, his successor; and Dr. Carrigan, whose "History of Ossory" is the most complete history of any Irish diocese. In 1910 the diocese contained: 41 parishes; 36 parish priests; 5 administrators; 58 curates; 11 regulars (a total of 119 priests); 96 churches; 1 college; 4 houses of regulars; 15 convents; 4 houses of Christian Brothers. In 1901 the Catholic population was 83,519; the non- Catholic, 6029.


MORAN, Spicilegium Ossoriense (Dublin, 1874-84); CARRIGAN, History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory (Dublin, 1905); LANIGAN, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (Dublin, 1822); HEALY, Life and Writings of St. Patrick (Dublin, 1905); MORAN, Analecta of David Rothe (Dublin, 1884); GILBERT, History of Irish Affairs (Dublin, 1880); O'DONOVAN, ed., Annals of the Four Masters (Dublin, 1860); MEEHAN, Confederation of Kilkenny (Dublin, 1882); IDEM, Irish Hierarchy in the Seventeenth Century (Dublin, 1872); RINUCCINI, Embassy in Ireland, tr. HUTTON (Dublin, 1873); GRACE, Annals (Dublin, 1842); CLYN, Annals (Dublin, 1849); HARRIS, Ware (Dublin, 1764); CARTE, Life of James, Duke of Ormonde; HARDIMAN, Statute of Kilkenny (Dublin, 1843); STOKES, Lives of the Saints from the Book of Lismore (Oxford, 1890); BRADY, Episcopal Succession (Rome, 1867); MURPHY, Cromwell in Ireland (Dublin, 1871); PRENDERGAST, Cromwellian Settlement (Dublin, 1875); Catholic Directory for 1910.

About this page

APA citation. D'Alton, E. (1911). Diocese of Ossory. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. D'Alton, Edward. "Diocese of Ossory." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook. A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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