Monahan: Records relating to the Dioceses of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise

Pdf Monahan, John Canon. Records relating to the Dioceses of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. Dublin: M.H. Gill and Son, 1886.
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Records Relating to the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise by Very Rev John Canon Monaghan was published in 1886. The diocese extends into seven counties including Longford, Leitrim, Westmeath, Offaly, Cavan, Roscommon and Sligo with a total of forty-one parishes.

The history of the diocese began with the coming of Christianity to Ireland. St. Patrick is said to have visited Ardagh and founded a church. The original diocese was distinct from Clonmacnoise before both were united centuries later.

The first bishop of the diocese was St. Mel, reputedly a nephew of Patrick and the most important monastery in the Ardagh portion of the diocese was at Inchcleraun in Lough Ree. The island is also referred to as Inis Dhiarmada after Diarmuid who was said to have been a mentor to St. Ciaran, the founder of the more famous monastery of Clonmacnoise. The monks of these monasteries were celebrated for their learning during the Dark Ages when much of the knowledge of the ancient world had been lost after the fall of the Roman Empire . Ireland was referred to as 'the island of saints and scholars' and missionaries from monasteries in Ireland helped to convert pagan barbarian tribes who had conquered continental Europe .

Ardagh was offically a diocese after the Synod of Kells in 1152 as a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Armagh. A jurisdictional dispute between the archdiocese of Tuam and Armagh referred to Pope Gregory IX in 1235 was decided in favour of Armagh .

During the 16th and 17th centuries Ireland experienced a series of devastating wars that brought about the defeat of the Catholic Gaelic Irish and Old English aristocrats and their replacement by a new Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning elite. The Anglican church wioth the British monarch at its head was the established religion and all were forced to pay tithes regardless of their faith.

Penal Laws were introduced persecuting Catholics and Presbyterians with the intention of forcing the population to convert to Anglicanism. Catholic priests continued to minister with a price on their heads and faced arrest, torture and execution. St. Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland was executed in 1681. For a time the dioceses of Ardagh and of Clonmacnoise was administered by apostolic vicariate, a form of territorial jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church established in missionary regions and countries that do not have a diocese.

It was first proposed that the dioceses of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise should be amalgamated in 1709 but this did not happen until after the death of Stephen MacEgan, Bishop of Meath who had been the administrator of Clonmacnoise. The first bishop of the new united diocese was Bishop Augustine Cheevers in 1756.

By the rime the Very Rev John Canon Monaghan wrote his book in the late 19th century, Irish society had been transformed by seismic political events. The Penal Laws had been gradually repealed from the 18th century until Catholic Emancipation in 1829 as the influence of the Enlightenment and a spirit of democratic revolution and increasing liberalism swept through Europe . A programme of Catholic church building began in earnest in the 1830s and the neo-classical Cathedral of St. Mel in Longford town was constructed between 1840 and 1856.

Tragically the Great Potato Famine devastated the diocese and the rest of Ireland , causing the deaths of over a million people and before setting off waves of emigration that continued into the 20th century. In the late 19th century, the Land League and the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Charles Stuart Parnell campaigned for the rights of tenant farmers. The Catholic diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise was typical of the church across Ireland which provided material, moral and spiritual support to the Catholic poor during these harsh times.

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