Archdiocese of Tuam


The Archdiocese of Tuam, the metropolitan see of Connacht, extends, roughly speaking, from the Shannon westwards to the sea, and comprises half of County Galway, and nearly half of Mayo, with a small portion of south Roscommon. It is territorially the largest diocese in Ireland, including in itself about one-fourteenth of the entire area of the country. At the census of 1901 the Catholic population was 193,768; the entire non-Catholic population was 4,194. There are several parishes in which all the inhabitants are Catholics. The mainland portion of the archdiocese is divided by a chain of lakes extending from the city of Galway to the Pontoon, near Foxford, Mayo. The largest of these lakes - Corrib, Mask, and Carra - form a magnificent and continuous watercourse, but are not connected by navigable rivers or canals. The country east of these lakes is a great undulating plain, mostly of arable land, interspersed here and there with bogs and smaller lakes. The country west of the great lakes is of entirely different character. It is nearly all rugged and heathery, with ranges of hills rising steeply from the lakes, especially from the shores of Lough Mask on one side, and from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the other, forming many lofty peaks with long-drawn valleys where the streams rushing down widen into deep and fishful lakes, which, especially in Connemara, attract fishermen from all parts of the United Kingdom. The population of this rugged lakeland is sparse and poor, but the scenery very picturesque, especially towards the west, where the bays of the ocean penetrate far in between the mountains, as at the beautiful Killary Bay. This western coast is bordered by many wind-swept islands, affording a precarious sustenance to the inhabitants. Of these the chief are the Isles of Aran in Galway Bay, and farther off, on the north-western coast, Inishark, Inisboffin, and Inisturk, Clare Island and Achill Island - all of which are inhabited and have schools and churches. There are three priests on the Aran Islands, one on Inisboffin, one on Clare Island, and three on Achill, which has a population of about 6000 souls.

The archdiocese comprises seven rural deaneries - Tuam, Dunmore, Claremorris, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Westport, and Clifden. There are three vicars-general who preside over three divisions of the archdiocese which from time immemorial have been historically distinct, that is Galway east of the Corrib; West Galway, or the Kingdom of Connemara, and the Mayo portion. There are 143 secular priests, of whom eight are usually employed in the seminary. There are only two regulars, properly so called, who reside in the Augustinian monastery of Ballyhaunis; two priests of the order of St. Camillus have charge of the hospice for infirm clergy, Moyne Park, Ballyglunin, Galway, and four secular clergy of a preparatory college for the African Missions in the Co. Mayo, generously given for the purpose by Count Blake of Cloughballymore. There are four houses of the Christian Brothers, and one of the Brothers of the Christian schools. There are eleven monasteries of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, who were formed by Archbishop MacHale to counteract the efforts of proselytizing institutions and to teach agriculture to their pupils. Of these schools the most successful has been the Agriculture College of Mount Bellew, which is working under the Agricultural Department. There are three Presentation convents, and ten convents of the Sisters of Mercy with schools. St. Jarlath's Diocesan Seminary has more than a hundred resident students.

St. Patrick in Tuam St. Patrick came into the Diocese of Tuam from Airtech in north-west Roscommon most likely in A.D. 440, and thence travelled almost due west from Aghamore, where he founded his first church, on the summit of Croaghpatrick. We have the names of some twelve churches which he established in this district; it is expressly stated that he placed bishops over several of these churches - at Cella Senes near Ballyhaunis; at Kilbenin, where he placed St. Benignus; at Donaghpatrick, which he gave to Bishop Felartus; at Aghagower, where he placed St. Senach, whom he called Agnus Dei on account of his meekness. His sojourn for forty days on ynod of Kells (1152), and the controversy was carried to Rome and finally decided in their favour. The primates, however, were allowed the rents of certain church lands in Tuam, but these claims they afterwards remitted in exchange for lands in the north of Ireland.

The Archdiocese of Tuam now comprises the territories of five of those ancient dioceses which at different periods were united to the original Diocese of Tuam. This original diocese, which may be taken as corresponding roughly with the modern deanery of Tuam, comprised the ancient territory known as the Conmaicne of Dunmore, and also the Ciarraigi of Loch nan-Airneadh, as well as a portion of Corcamogha and the Sodan territory. When the O'Conor kings of the twelfth century came to be the chief rulers of Connacht, and for a time of all Ireland, they resided mostly at Tuam and sought to control the spiritual as they did the temporal rulers of their principality. There can be no doubt that it was the influence of Turlough Mor, then King of Ireland, which induced the prelates and papal legate at Kells in 1152 to make his own Diocese of Tuam the archiepiscopal and metropolitan see of the province. This original See of Tuam was founded about A.D. 520 by St. Jarlath, son of Loga, the disciple of St. Benin of Kilbannon, and the preceptor for a time at Cloonfush near Tuam of St. Brendan the Navigator. The original cathedral known as Tempull Jarlath stood on the site of the present Protestant cathedral. After Jarlath's death his remains were enshrined and preserved in a church built for the purpose and called Tempull na Scrine, close to the spot on which the Catholic cathedral now stands. Around this cathedral, which was begun by Dr. Oliver Kelly in 1826, are grouped in a circle all the other ecclesiastical buildings - the college, the Presentation convent and schools, the Mercy convent and schools of the Sisters of Mercy, the Christian Brothers' House and schools, and the recently-erected archiepiscopal residence.

The ancient See of Annaghdown grew out of the monastery founded by St. Brendan for his sister St. Briga. Its jurisdiction extended over O'Flaherty's country around Lough Corrib and comprised in all some seventeen parishes. The see was independent down to the death of Thomas O'Mellaigh in 1250, when Archbishop MacFlionn seized and held it with the consent of the king. For the next 250 years a prolonged and unseemly conflict was carried on between the archbishops and abbots, the former declaring that Annahdown had been reduced by the pope and the king to the rank of a parish church, whilst the abbots stoutly maintained their independence. In 1484 the wardenship of Galway was established, and all the parishes on the south and west around the lake were placed under the warden's quasi-episcopal jurisdiction, Tuam still retaining eight parishes to the east of the lake. In 1830 the wardenship was abolished, and the See of Galway established as a regular episcopal see, suffragan to Tuam.

The Diocese of Cong included all the parishes subject to the Abbey of Cong, which was founded by St. Fechin in 626. The abbots seem to have exercised quasi-episcopal jurisdiction over nineteen parishes in the Baronies of Ballynahinch, Ross, and Kilmaine, which for the most part were served by the monks as vicars under the abbot. In the Synod of Rath Breasail Cong was counted as one of the five dioceses of Connacht, but there is no mention of it at the Synod of Kells in 1152. King Rory O'Conor retired to the abbey for several years and died there.

The Diocese of Mayo like that of Cong had its origin in Mayo Abbey, founded by St. Colman about 667 for Saxon monks who had followed him from Lindisfarne. In 1152 it was recognized by the Synod of Kells as one of the Connacht sees, and mention is made of the death of Gilla Isu O'Mailin, Bishop of Mayo, in 1184, but on the death of Bishop Cele O'Duffy in 1209 no successor was appointed and the see was merged in that of Tuam, probably through the influence of King Cathal O"Conor and his relative Archbishop Felix O'Ruadan of Tuam. But bishops of Mayo reappear from time to time in the annals down to 1579 when Bishop Patrick O'Healy coming home to take possession of his See of Mayo was seized with his companion Friar O'Rourke and hanged at Kilmallock by Drury, the English President of Munster. At one time Mayo had no fewer than twenty-eight parishes under its jurisdiction, which extended from the Dalgin River at Kilvine to Achill Head. At present this is a small rural parish, and the "City of Mayo" comprises not more than half a dozen houses.

Of the Diocese of Aghagower we need say little. It was founded in 441 by St. Patrick who placed over it Bishop Senach; the "Book of Armagh" tells us that bishops dwelt there in the time of the writer (early part of the ninth century). The jurisdiction of Aghagower extended over the "Owles", the territory around Clew Bay, comprising the modern deanery of Westport. But at an early date these churches were absorbed first into the Diocese of Mayo and afterwards into that of Tuam.


Besides the great monasteries of Annaghdown, Cong, and Mayo, there were others in the archdiocese that deserve mention. The monastery of St. Enda at Killeany in Aran become famous in the first quarter of the sixth century. Near it was the oratory Tempull Benain, which Benan, or Benignus, of Kilbannon, the disciple of St. Patrick, had built. It is very small but strikingly beautiful, and its cyclopean walls have not lost a stone for the last fourteen hundred years. There are in addition to the Aran Island many other holy islands around this wild western coast, as Island Mac Dara, which all the fishermen salute by dipping their sails, Cruach of St. Caelainn, Ardilaun of St. Fechin, St. Colman's Inisboffin, Caher of St. Patrick. The Cistercian Abbey of Knockmoy (de Colle Victoriae), six miles from Tuam, founded in 1189 by King Crovedearg, was one of the largest and the wealthiest in the West of Ireland. Mention, too, is made of a Bishop of Knockmoy. The ruins are full of interest, for some of its walls were frescoed and the sculptured tomb of King Felim O'Conor is well preserved. At its suppression in 1542 it was found to be in the possession of the rectories of several churches, and large estates in Galway, Roscommon, and Mayo. The same King Cathal of the Red Hand founded in 1215 the Abbey of Ballintubber close to St. Patrick's holy well. It was admirably built and has been partly restored as the parochial church of the district. It contains the tomb and monument of the first Viscount Mayo, the son of Sir Richard Burke and Grania Uaile, Queen of Clew Bay. The Dominican Abbey of Athenry was established in 1241 by Meyler De Bermingham who endowed it with ample possessions. It usually contained thirty friars. The "main" building was erected by Meyler; King Felim O'Conor built the refectory; Flann O'Flynn built the "Scholar House", for the friars kept a noted school; Owen O'Heyne built the dormitory; Con O'Kelly built the "chapter house", and so on with the guest chamber and the infirmary. In Queen Mary's reign this convent was selected to be a university college for Connacht, but the project was never realized. Buried there are many of the early Burkes of Clanrichard, who in life were benefactors and protectors of the convent.

The Benedictine Nuns had a convent at Kilereevanty, situated on the Dalgin River, four miles from Tuam. It was founded in 1200 by the same King Cathal O'Conor for the royal ladies of his family, and of other high chieftains by whom it was richly endowed. It held estates not only in Galway but also in Roscommpon, Mayo, Sligo, and Westmeath, and the rectories of score of different parishes. Its inmates at one time secured at Rome a curtailment of the archbishop's rights of visitations and procurations, but after a short experience, the pope found it necessary to restore his full rights to the archbishop. It was however the greatest and wealthiest convent in the West. There were many smaller religious houses in the archdiocese. The Augustinians had ten; the Dominicans three; the Franciscans three or four; the Cistericians two; the Templars one, and there were also three or four nunneries.


In the long list of the Archbishops of Tuam there are many illustrious names which can be referred to here only briefly.

  • Hugh O'Hession was present at the Synod of Kells in 1152, where he received the pallium from the papal legate, and so became the first Archbishop of Tuam.

  • He died in 1161 and was succeeded by Cathal or Catholicus, O'Duffy, who reigned for forty years. In 1172 he was present with his suffragans at the Concil of Cashel, which gave formal recognition to the claims of Henry II. Later, in 1175, he was deputed to sign the Treaty of Windsor on behalf of King Rory O'Conor, by which Rory consented to hold his Kingdom of Connacht in subjection to the English monarch. O'Duffy was also present at the Lateran Council in 1179, and in 1201 held a provincial synod at Tuam under the presidency of the Roman cardinal. He then retired to the Abbey of Cong where he died the following summer.

  • His successor, Felix O'Ruadain, who previously had been a Cistercian, probably at Knockmoy, filled the sea for thirty-six years. He was a near relative of Rory O'Conor, which strengthened his great influence in the province. Next year he convoked a great synod of the province at Tuam in which it was decreed to unite the termon lands of the monasteries to their respective bishoprics. Tuam thereby acquired vast estates in Galway, Mayo, and even Roscommon. The archbishop also complained that Armagh claimed jurisdiction over the Diocese of Kilmore and Ardagh, which rightfully belonged to his province, and also over several parishes in the Archdiocese of Tuam, to which the primate had no claim. A composition was effected later, in 1211.

  • In 1258 died Walter De Salerno, an Englishman, who was appointed by the pope but never got possession of his see.

  • In 1286 Stephen de Fulnurn, who had been justiciary, was appointed to the See of Tuam, but he resided mostly at Athlone. There is extant an inventory of his effects which goes to show that he lived in much state and splendour.

  • William de Bermingham, son of Meyler de Bermingham, Lord of Carbery, Dunmore, and Athenry, appointed in 1289. He was a powerful high-handed prelate, but the monks of Athenry and Annaghdown resisted him successfully.

  • Maurice O'Fihely, called in his own time "Flos Mundi" on account of his prodigious learning, was consecrated Archbishop of Tuam by Julius II in 1506, but like Florence Conry in later times, he never beheld his see.

  • In 1537 Christopher Bodkin, then bishop of Kilmaeduagh, was appointed archbishop of Tuam by Henry VIII, and it is said took the Oath of Supremacy. He managed to hold his ground in Tuam for thirty-five years under Henry VIII, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Bodkin, thought a temporizing prelate, was always a Catholic and zealous in the service of his flock. In 1558 he held a visitation of his diocese, the account of which has been preserved and gives invaluable information regarding the state of the archdiocese at that time.

  • Malachy O'Queely was one of the greatest Irish prelates of the seventeenth century - a patriot, a reformer, and a scholar; but he was not a general, and unwisely undertook to command the Confederate troops in Connacht during the wars of 1642-45. His forces were attacked unexpectedly during the night by Sir F. Hamilton near Sligo and the archbishop was slain on the field.

  • Mention must be made too, of Florence Conry, though he never took possession of his see. He rendered signal service to Ireland by the foundation of St. Anthonyh's Convent of Louvain, whose scholars - Michael O'Clery, Ward, Fleming, Colgan, and many others - did so much for the preservation of the literature and the language and the history of Ireland both sacred and profane.

  • John MacHale has a special article in this ENCYCLOPEDIA.

  • His immediate successor, John MacEvilly, was an indefatigable and zealous prelate; he found time to write commentaries in English on practically the whole of the New Testament. He was born in 1818, died in 1902, and lies buried before the high altar of Tuam cathedral beside John MacHale.

Moral and Social Condition

The moral state of the archdiocese is very good. Temperance is making rapid strides amongst all classes of the population. Grave public crimes of every kind have almost disappeared. Primary education is now universally diffused even in the remotest mountain valleys. The Christian Brothers' schools are remarkably efficient, St. Jarlath's College, Tuam, now holds a premier place amongst the diocesan colleges of Ireland. The social condition of the people also has been greatly improved mainly through he efforts of the Congested Districts Board. They are better housed and better fed; the land is better tilled, and much more is derived from the harvest of the seas around the coast. No part of Ireland suffered more during the famine years from starvation and proselytism than Connemara and the Island of Achill. The starving people were bribed during these years by food and money to go to the Protestant churches and send their children to the proselytizing schools. If they went they got food and money. "Silver Monday", as they called it, was the day fixed for these doles. If they refused to go to the church and to the school they got nothing; and to their honour it must be said, that most of them, but not all, preferred starvation to apostasy. The proselytizers have now completely disappeared, and have quite enough to do to take care of themselves.

The present archbishop, Most Rev. John Healy, a native of the Diocese of Elphin, was born in 14 Nov., 1841 at Ballinafad, Co. Sligo. His early education was received at an excellent classical school in the town of Sligo whence, at about fifteen years of age, he proceeded to the diocesan college, in those days situated at Summerhill near Athlone. On 26 August, 1860, he entered the class of rhetoric at Maynooth, and just before the completion of his course was called out by his bishop to be a professor in the college at Summerhill. Here he was ordained in Sept., 1867, and continued to teach for over two years. His missionary experiences were gained in the parish of Ballygar, near Roscommon, where he was curate for two years, and then at Grange, Co. Sligo, where he spent seven years. He was then for one year in charge of a deanery school in the town of Elphin. In 1879, he competed simultaneously for two vacant chairs - one of theology and the other of classics - in the national college of Maynooth, and had the unique honour conferred on him of being appointed to both and allowed to make his own choice between them. He naturally selected the chair of theology, which he filled till 1883, when he succeeded Dr. Murray, as prefect of the Dunboyne Establishment. During his tenure of this office, Dr. Healy acted as editor of the "Irish ecclesiastical Record", but this was only for a single year, for in 1884 he was appointed titular Bishop of Maera and Coadjutor Bishop of Clonfert. Here it may be interesting to note that no less than five members of Dr. Healy's class in Maynooth wear the episcopal purple in Irish sees. In 1896, on the death of the saintly Dr. Duggan, he succeeded to the see of Clonfert. Seven years after, by papal Brief, dated 13 Feb., 1903, he became Archbishop of Tuam, and on the following St. Patrick's Day took possession of his ancient see. On 31 August, 1909, he celebrated the silver jubilee of his episcopate.

The archbishop is a member of many Irish public bodies notably of the Agricultural Board, the Senate of the National University, the Board of Governors of University College, Galway. He is president of the Catholic Truth society of Ireland, and a Commissioner for the publication of the Brehon Laws. He acted on the Royal Commission of 1901 to inquire into and report on condition of University Education in Ireland. His principal published works are: "Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars", which has reached a fifth edition; "The Centenary History of Maynooth College"; "The Record of the Maynooth Centenary Celebrations"; "The Life and Writings of St. Patrick"; "Irish Essays: Literary and Historical"; "Papers and Addresses", a jubilee collection of fugitive periodical articles and reviews.

COLGAN, Acta sanctorum Hiberniae; KNOX, Notes on the Dioceses of Tuam, etc.; IDEM, Hist. of the County Mayo; HEALY, Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars; Annals of the Four Masters, ed. O'DONOVAN; BRADY, Episcopal Succession; D'ALTON, History of Ireland; HARDIMAN, Hist. of Galway; O'CONOR DON, The O'Conors of Connacht.


Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved