exclaimed. “We are near some islands, I understand, and
It is difficult to determine how far the English kings succeeded in influencing appointments to Irish bishoprics. About Dublin, Meath, and Kildare there can be no doubt that their efforts were attended with success. In Armagh, too, they secured the appointment of Englishmen as a general rule, and in Cashel, Waterford, Limerick, and Cork their recommendations, or rather the recommendations of the Anglo-Irish nobles, were followed in many instances. Outside the sphere of English influence it does not seem that their suggestions were adopted at Rome. At any rate it is certain that if they sought for the exclusion of Irishmen their petitions produced little effect. During the early years of the reign of Henry VIII. more active measures seem to have been taken by the king to assert his claims to a voice in episcopal appointments. In the appointments at this period to Armagh, Dublin, Meath, Leighlin, Kilmore, Clogher, and Ross it is stated expressly in the papal Bulls that they were made /ad supplicationem regis/.
Unfortunately several of the ecclesiastics on whom bishoprics were conferred in Ireland during the fifteenth century had but slender qualifications for such a high office. On the one hand it was impossible for Rome in many cases to have a close acquaintance with the various candidates, and on the other the influence of the English kings, of the Irish princes, and of the Anglo-Irish nobles was used to promote their own dependents without reference to the effects of such appointments on the progress of religion. The Archbishops of Dublin and Armagh, and the Bishops of Kildare and Meath were more interested as a rule in political and religious affairs than in their duties as spiritual rulers. They held on many occasions the highest offices in the state, and had little time to devote their attention to the government of their dioceses. Absenteeism was as remarkable a characteristic of the Church in the fifteenth century as it was of the Established Church in the eighteenth, and in this direction the bishops were the worst offenders. Very often, too, Sees were left vacant for years during which time the king's officials or the Irish princes, as the case might be, wasted the property of the diocese either with the connivance or against the wishes of the diocesan chapters. Of the archbishops of Ireland about the time of the Reformation, George Cromer, a royal chaplain, was appointed because he was likely to favour English designs in Ireland, and for that purpose was named Chancellor of Ireland; John Alen, another Englishman, was recommended by Cardinal Wolsey to Dublin mainly for the purpose of overthrowing the domination of the Earl of Kildare; Edmund Butler, the illegitimate son of Sir Piers Butler, owed his elevation to the See of Cashel to the influence of powerful patrons, and Thomas O'Mullaly of Tuam, a Franciscan friar, passed to his reward a few days before the meeting of the Parliament that was to acknowledge Royal Supremacy, to be succeeded by Christopher Bodkin, who allowed himself to be introduced into the See by the authority of Henry VIII. against the wishes of the Pope.
But, even though the bishops as a body had been as zealous as individuals amongst them undoubtedly were, they had no power to put down abuses. The patronage of Church livings, including rectories, vicarages, and chaplaincies enjoyed by laymen, as well as by chapters, monasteries, convents, hospitals, etc., made it impossible for a bishop to exercise control over the clergy of his diocese. Both Norman and Irish nobles were generous in their gifts to the Church, but whenever they granted endowments to a parish they insisted on getting in return the full rights of patronage. Thus, for example, the Earl of Kildare was recognised as the legal patron of close on forty rectories and vicarages situated in the dioceses of Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Limerick, and Cork, and he held, besides, the tithes of a vast number of parishes scattered over a great part of Leinster. The Earl of Ormond enjoyed similar rights in Kilkenny and Tipperary, as did the Desmond family in the South, and the De Burgos in Connaught. The O'Neills, O'Donnells, O'Connors, McCarthys, O'Byrnes, and a host of minor chieftains, exercised ecclesiastical patronage in their respective territories. Very often these noblemen in their desire to benefit some religious or charitable institution transferred to it the rights of patronage enjoyed by themselves. Thus the monastery of Old or Great Connal in Kildare controlled twenty-one rectories in Kildare, nineteen in Carlow, one in Meath and one in Tipperary, while the celebrated convent of Grace-Dieu had many ecclesiastical livings in its gift.
Owing to these encroachments the bishop was obliged frequently to approve of the appointment of pastors who were in no way qualified for their position. The lay patrons nominated their own dependents and favourites, while both ecclesiastical and lay patrons were more anxious about securing the revenues than about the zeal and activity of the pastors and vicars. Once the system of papal reservation of minor benefices was established fully in the fifteenth century, the authority of the bishop in making appointments in his diocese became still more restricted. Ecclesiastics who sought preferment turned their eyes towards Rome. If they could not go there themselves, they employed a procurator to sue on their behalf, and armed with a papal document, they presented themselves before a bishop merely to demand canonical institution. Though, in theory, therefore, the bishop was supposed to be the chief pastor of a diocese, in practice he had very little voice in the nomination of his subordinates, and very little effective control over their qualifications or their conduct.
Very often benefices were conferred on boys who had not reached the canonical age for the reception of orders, sometimes to provide them with the means of pursuing their studies, but sometimes also to enrich their relatives from the revenues of the Church. In such cases the entire work was committed to the charge of an underpaid vicar who adopted various devices to supplement his miserable income. Frequently men living in England were appointed to parishes or canonries within the Pale, and, as they could not take personal charge themselves, they secured the services of a substitute. In defiance of the various canons levelled against plurality of benefices, dispensations were given freely at Rome, permitting individuals to hold two, three, four, or more benefices, to nearly all of which the care of souls was attached. In proof of this one might refer to the case of Thomas Russel, a special favourite of the Roman Court, who held a canonry in the diocese of Lincoln, the prebends of Clonmethan and Swords in Dublin, the archdeaconry of Kells, the church of Nobber, the perpetual vicarship of St. Peter's, Drogheda, and the church of St. Patrick in Trim.
This extravagant application of patronage and reservations to ecclesiastical appointments produced results in Ireland similar to those it produced in other countries. It tended to kill learning and zeal amongst the clergy, to make them careless about their personal conduct, the proper observance of the canons, and the due discharge of their duties as pastors and teachers. Some of them were openly immoral, and many of them had not sufficient learning to enable them to preach or to instruct their flocks. It ought to be remembered also that in these days there were no special seminaries for the education of the clergy. Candidates for the priesthood received whatever training they got from some member of the cathedral chapter, or in the schools of the Mendicant Friars, or possibly from some of those learned ecclesiastics, whose deaths are recorded specially in our Annals. Before ordination they were subjected to an examination, but the severity of the test depended on many extrinsic considerations. Some of the more distinguished youths were helped by generous patrons, or from the revenues of ecclesiastical benefices to pursue a higher course of studies in theology and canon law. As the various attempts made to found a university in Ireland during the fourteen and fifteenth centuries proved a failure, students who wished to obtain a degree were obliged to go to Oxford, from which various attempts were made to exclude "the mere Irish" by legislation, to Cambridge, Paris, or some of the other great schools on the Continent. If one may judge from the large number of clerics who are mentioned in the papal documents as having obtained a degree, a fair proportion of clerics during the fifteenth century both from within and without the Pale must have received their education abroad. Still, the want of a proper training during which unworthy candidates might be weeded out, coupled with the unfortunate system of patronage then prevalent in Ireland, helped to lower the whole tone of clerical life, and to produce the sad conditions of which sufficient evidence is at hand in the dispensations from irregularities mentioned in the /Papal Letters/.
As might be expected in such circumstances, the cathedrals and churches in some districts showed signs of great neglect both on the part of the ecclesiastics and of the lay patrons. Reports to Rome on the condition of the cathedrals of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise indicate a sad condition of affairs, but they were probably overdrawn in the hope of securing a reduction in the fees paid usually on episcopal appointments, just as the account given by the Jesuit Father Wolf about the cathedral of Tuam was certainly overdrawn by Archbishop Bodkin with the object of obtaining papal recognition for his appointment to that diocese. The Earl of Kildare represented the churches of Tipperary and Kilkenny as in ruins owing to the exactions of his rival, the Earl of Ormond, while the latter, having determined for political reasons to accept royal supremacy, endeavoured to throw the whole blame on the Pope. Both statements may be regarded as exaggerated. But the occupation of the diocesan property during the vacancy of the Sees by the king or the nobles, the frequent wars during which the churches were used as store-houses and as places of refuge and defence, the neglect of the lay patrons to contribute their share to the upkeep of the ecclesiastical buildings, and the carelessness of the men appointed to major and minor benefices, so many of whom were removed during the fifteenth century for alienation and dilapidation of ecclesiastical property, must have been productive of disastrous effects on the cathedrals and parish churches in many districts. Yet it would be a mistake to suppose that such neglect was general throughout the country. The latter half of the fourteenth century and particularly the fifteenth century witnessed a great architectural revival in Ireland, during which the pure Gothic of an earlier period was transformed into the vernacular or national composite style. Many beautiful churches, especially monastic churches, were built, others were completely remodelled, and "on the whole it would not be too much to say that it is the exception to find a monastery or a parish church in Ireland which does not show some work executed at this period."
The disappearance of canonical election, the interference of lay patrons, the too frequent use of papal reservations, and the appointment of commendatory abbots and priors, led to a general downfall of discipline in the older religious orders, though there is no evidence to prove that the abuses were as general or as serious as they have been painted. Even at the time when the agents of Henry VIII. were at work preparing the ground for the suppression of the monasteries, and when any individual who would bring forward charges against them could count upon the king's favour, it was only against a few members in less than half a dozen houses that grave accusations were alleged. Even if these accusations were justified, and the circumstances in which they were made are sufficient to arouse suspicions about their historical value, it would not be fair to hold the entire body of religious in Ireland responsible for abuses that are alleged only against the superiors or members of a small number of houses situated in Waterford or Tipperary. Long before the question of separation from his lawful wife had induced Henry VIII. to begin a campaign in Ireland against Rome, the Mendicant Friars had undertaken a definite programme of reform. In 1460 the Bishop of Killala in conjunction with the Franciscan Friar, Nehemias O'Donohoe, determined to introduce the Strict Observance into the Franciscan Houses, and from that time forward in spite of obstacles from many quarters the Observants succeeded in getting possession of many of the old Conventual Houses, and in establishing several new monasteries in all parts of Ireland, but particularly in the purely Irish districts. The Dominicans, too, took steps to see that the original rules and constitutions of the order should be observed. In 1484 Ireland was recognised as a separate province, though the houses within the Pale were allowed to continue under the authority of a vicar of the English provincial, while at the same time a great reform of the order was initiated. Several houses submitted immediately both within and without the Pale, amongst the earliest of them being Coleraine, Drogheda, Cork, and Youghal. The various religious orders of men did excellent work in preaching, instructing the people, in establishing schools both for the education of clerics and laymen, and in tending to the wants of the poor and the infirm. In the report on the state of Ireland presented to Henry VIII. it is admitted that, though the bishops and rectors and vicars neglected their duty, the "poor friars beggers" preached the word of God. That the people and nobles, both Irish and Anglo-Irish, appreciated fully the labours and services of the Friars is evident from the number of new houses which they established for their reception during the fifteenth century. The convents of Longford, Portumna, Tulsk, Burishool, Thomastown, and Gola were established for the Dominicans; Kilconnell, Askeaton, Enniscorthy, Moyne, Adare, Monaghan, Donegal, and Dungannon for the Franciscans; Dunmore, Naas, Murrisk and Callan for the Augustinians, and Rathmullen, Frankfort, Castle-Lyons and Galway for the Carmelites.