The Diocese and the Ecclesiastical Parish.




Christianity came to Ireland in the 5th.c.AD, brought to the then pagan country by a number of Saints including St. Patrick.  It spread quickly but co-existed quite happily  with the old pagan druidic religion for a long time.  Because of the separation from the rest of Europe, the form of Christianity practised in Ireland was quite unique, and this gave offence to Rome who were determined to unify practices and beliefs in the new Catholic World.


The great Reformer who undertook this task was Maol Maodoc Ua Morgair, better known to us as St.Malachy, who came from Armagh.  For many years he was a priest, then a Bishop engaged in administration in the Irish Church.  His real ambition was to become a Cistercian monk and retire from the World and he spent several years working with St.Bernard of Citaux, but this was not to be.  He died in 1140AD.


We are not here concerned with the great work that Malachy did in reforming the Church in general, but only with the two great Synods of Rathbreasail in 1111 and of Kells in 1152.  At Rathbreasail a beginning was made to introduce Dioceses and Parishes into the Country to replace the typical Irish system of  Monasteries and Abbot/Bishops attached to a Royal Palace.  The new reformed Administration of the Church was further improved at Kells, and although Malachy had died by then, his influence was still strongly felt.


These decisions were severely influenced by pressure from the individual Kings, but despite this difficulty we finished off with a structure which is not unlike that of today.


There were to be four Provinces, 36 Dioceses, and a complete structure of Parishes covering the entire country.  The actual introduction of this new structure took many years to accomplish.  Of course there were far too many Princes to try to please and we finished up with far too many Bishops.  But overall it was a huge improvement and only minor modifications were to continue over the next nine centuries.


County Cork was provided with three Dioceses, Cork, Cloyne and Ross.  This essentially gave complete coverage, although a few Parishes had to be catered for in Kerry and Aghadoe, Waterford and other neighbouring Dioceses.  Ross was included to mollify O’Driscoll, but was too small to be an economic success and eventually both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland had to amalgamate Ross with it’s neighbours.


The interesting fact is that most of the important over kingdoms in Ireland finished off with a Diocese, and most of the important Tuatha finished off with a Parish.  This must have been a massive task, and an excellent result which would please most people at the time and since.