An ecclesiastical history of Ireland, from the first introduction of Christianity among the Irish, to the beginning of the thirteenth century , Compiled from the works of the most esteemed authors ... who have written and published on matters connected with the Irish church; and from Irish annals an online

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was no detortion, but founded on the true meaning of the name.
The original word is Comhorba, (pronounced Covorba) derived
from Comh [con in Latin) and forba^ i. e. a district, landed estate,
or patrimony ; and which by a certain usage was applied to the
successors of distinguished persons in ecclesiastical situations, as
if signifying joint-partners. Colgan writes ; ( Ti: Th. p. 8.) " Vox
" Hibernica Comhorba, si vocis etymon spectes, idem denotat ac
'< compraedianus, sive ejusdem praedii, patrimonii, vel agri pos-
*< sessor. Derivatur enim a comhy quod idem denotat ac con
*< apud Latinos, ci/orba, i. e praedium, ager, vel patrimonium.
" Usurpatui' tamen passim apud priscos nostros scriptore pro suc-
" cessore in praelatura vel dignitate ecclesiastica. Unde et hodie
<< videmus comhorbanos appellari, licet plerumque shit seculares,
<' qui praefecturam tenent agrorum et praediorum, quae olim spec-


** tabant ad jura divitum abbatiarum ; sive id ortum sit, quod
" majores familiarum, ex quibus illi comorbani assumuntur, se et
« sua praedia protection! et jurisdictioni istarum abbatiarum sive
** monasteriorum voluntarie consecraverint, ut quidam opinantur ;
" sive ex eo quod, rebus ecclesiasticis paulatim labentibus, siliqui
*' seculares titulum abbatis vel praelati in talibus monasteriis
" primo usurpaverint, et postea ad suos posteros transmiserint."
(See also ib. p. 293 and 630.) Colgan has these words in a note
to a passage, in which the successors of St. Fiech of Sletty are
called his comhorhans ; and we have seen over and over the arcli-
bishops of Armagh styled comorbans of St. Patrick, the comor-
bans of Columbkill, of Finnian of Clonard, Barr of Cork, &c.
&c. This title is often translated hereSy which signifies not only
an heir, biit. an owner or possessor, apparently the primitive
meaning of heres, hke that of the German word hen\ Thus
Usher has (Prim. p. 860) from the Annals of Ulster; " Duo
heredes S- Patriciiy nempe Forranna7ius — et Dermitius — quieve-
runt." The 4 Masters (ap, Tr. Th. p. 295.) call them comorbans
of St. Patrick. It is usually joined with the name of the founder
of a church ; thus we read of the comorbans of St. Patrick, of
Columbkill, of Adamnan not as abbot of Hy but as founder of
Raphoe, of St. larlath of Tuam, of Comgall, &c. Yet sometimes
it occurs united with the name of a church, as the comorban of
Inniscntthyy the comorban of the chwch of St. Brigid of Ar-
magh, a title given [Tr. Th. p. 299.) to Gormgal Laighsech, who
died in 1085. And hence we see, that this name was used not
only for bishops and abbots, but likewise became gradually ex-
tended to persons holding minor ecclesiastical dignities.

In the above quoted passage Colgan observes, that in his time
the comorbans were mostly laymen. After the synod of Kells,
M^hich defined the episcopal sees, we find but few instances of
our bishops being called comorbans ; and this title fell into dis-
use also as to regular abbots. The laymen, who usurped old
ecclesiastical livings, that had belonged to decayed or neglected
monasteries and churches, appropriated it to themselves ; and we
find in later times a great number of comorbas, or, as corruptly-
called, Corbas or Corbes of this kind, chiefly in Ulster, as may
be seen from the grand Inquisition, held in the year 1609, for the
county of Tyrone and the other escheated counties, now in the


Roll§ Office, Dublin, and abstracts from which are to be found
^rpong Harris' MSS. in the library of the Dublin Society. But
an inquiry into this subject would lead me beyond the times, which
I intend to treat of; and let it suffice to observe, that several of
these corbes possessed even lands belonging to episcopal sees, pay-
ing, however, certain mensal dues to the bishops, who did not hold
the lands in demesne. (See Sir John Davies' Letter to the Earl
of Saliburtj in Collectan. Vol. L) This system had partly begun
before the times of St. Malachy.

Yet there were in Colgan's times some comorbas or corbes in
holy orders, and they are described by Sir John Davies, (ib.) on
the authority of an Irish scholar, as provosts of collegiate churches
under the name of plebani, a title corresponding to that of pie-
vano in the North of Italy. The certificate of the Irish scholar,
or his description of the corbanatus, which is given by Davies, has
been republished by Spelman, (^Glossar. ad Corba) who got his in-
formation from Usher, and by the Benedictine editors of Ducange,
(at Corba) who, by the bye, were mistaken in quoting it as if
from Isidorus Moscovius De Majest. Mil. Eccl. This sort of
Corbes were probably the heads of churches, which had been
formerly small bishoprics, and who, as they could not be called
bishops, were distinguished by that name. But there were other
corbes not in holy orders and usually married, although Davies
seems to say that all the corbes had some order, meaning, I sup-
pose, the tonsure. Colgan, however, positively states, that the
greatest part of them were mere laymen. This much is certain,
that the corbes or comorbas were not in general, as Usher, Spel-
man, and others would fain insinuate, the substitutes for chore-
piscopi, but persons occupying the church lands, which had for-
merly belonged to dignitaries of various ranks. Harris, in his
usual mode of adding some mistake to Ware's works, says {Antiq.
p. 225) that the Corbes were anciently married men till celibacy
was enjoined the clergy. What confusion ! We do not find any
married corbes or comorbas until very long indeed after the law
of celibacy was established ; and the married corbes, who ap-
peared in late times, were either not clergymen in any sense of the
word, or at most had received only some minor order, ex. c. the
: Besides the corbes there was a much more numerous description


of perfons somewhat like them, but considered as of an inferior
rank, viz. the Erenachs. This name originally meant archdea-
cons, as has been justly remarked by Usher, (on Corhes, SfcJ
Spelman, Cad Corha) Ware, {Antiq. cap, 17.) &c. In Irish it is
written Airchinneach, Airchindeachj or Airchid7ieach. Colgan's
conjecture (Tr. Th, p, 631.) of its being perhaps derived from
the Greek ethnarches, as if signifying the head of a people, is quite
futile ; and he himself was sometimes obliged to translate it archi-
diaconus. According to the ancient discipline the archdeacons
were the managers and economes of the property of the church*
By degrees tliis duty fell into the hands of laymen, who conse-
quently assumed the title of archdeacons. This happened also
in France. In the Capitularies it is more than once enjoined, ut
archidiaconi non sint laid. In an old document (apud Catellum,
L, 5. Rei'um Occitan. p. 872.) we read ; " Ut tunc temporis erat
mos milites tenere archidiaconatus.'' Ordericus Vitalis (L. 3. p.
4-96.) says, that about A. D, 1066 Fulcoius son of Ralph de Cal-
dreio gave to monks an archdeaconry, which he held in fief from
his predecessors under the archbishop of Rouen. (See more in
Ducange at Archidiaconatus.) In the middle ages we find several
archdeacons in one and the same diocese, some called rnajores,
others minores- {Gallia Christiana in Episc. Antissiodor. No. 58.)
Hincmar of Rheims writes in his letter to the Church of Tournay,
quoted by Usher (ib.) ; " Ut pro constituendis ministerialibus cc-
clesiasticis praemium non accipiat (episcopus) sed archipresbyteros
et archidiaconos eligat, Jxicultatum ecclesiasticarum dispensatores"
SfC. In course of time the Erenachs became exceedingly nu-
merous in Ireland. They were universally laymen, except that
they were tonsured, on which account they were ranked among
the Clerici or Clerks. In an inquisition taken for the county of
Tyrone in 1608 we read ; " In qualibet dictarum baroniarum prae-
ter illas terras, quae antehac possidebantur ac modo possidentur ab
hominibus nunc laicis, sunt aliae quaedam terrae, de quibus qui-
dam clerici sive homines literati, qui vocantur Erinaci, ab antique
seisiti fuerunt." Then it adds, that each of these erenachs used
to pay, and was bound to do so, a certain subsidy, reflections,
and yearly pension to the archbishop or bishop, in whose diocese
the lands held by them were situated, in proportion to the quan-
tity of land and the custom of the country. Usher observes,

G 2


(ib) that in the dioceses of Deny and Raphoe the bishop got a
third part, the other two thirds being reserved for the repairs of
churclies, hospitality, and Erenach's maintenance. In fact the
crenachs were tlie actual possessors of old church lands, out of
which they paid certain contributions either in money or kind
towards ecclesiastical purposes. Davies says {ib.) ; " The church
land (in Monaghan) was either monastery land, corbe-land, or
erenach's land ; for it did not appear unto us, that the bishop had
any land in demesne, but certain mensal duties of the corbes and
erenachs ; neither did we find, thai the parsons and vicars had any
glebe land at all in this country." " There are," he states, " few
parishes of any compass in extent, where there is not an erenach;"
which he derives from a right o^ juspatronatus or advowson. This
might have been sometimes the case, but was not generally so.
Besides keeping the church in order, exercising hospitality, and
giving alms, " he was also to make a weekly commemoration of
" the founder in the church ; he had always p-imam tonsuraniy
" but took no other orders. He had a voice in the Chapter, when
" they consulted about their revenues, and paid a certain yearly
" rent to the bishop, besides a fine upon the marriage of every
*' of his daughters, which they call a Loughinipy ; he gave a
" subsidy to the bishop at his first entrance into his bishopric :
*' the certainty of all which duties appear in the bishop's regis-
** ter ; and these duties grew unto the bishop first, because the
" erenach could not be created nor the church dedicated without
" the consent of the bishop." Here Davies goes still on the prin-
ciple that the erenachs held the lands in virtue of ^ juspatronnUis
founded on grants made to churches by their ancestors ; but the
fact is, that those erenachies consisted chiefly in usui-pations made
by laymen, or merely tonsured clerks, calHng themselves archdea-
cons, who, as well as the so called comorbas or corbes, transmitted
the church lands to their posterity, or at least to the sept, to which
they belonged, according to the Irish laws of succession and inhe-
ritance. On the death of an Erenach, the sept used to elect ano-
ther from among themselves, and, in case they did not agree, the
bishop and clergy were authorized to interfere and chuse one out
of said sept ; for they could not take the erenachy into their own
hands. And if a whole sept became extinct, it was necessary to
look out for another, to which it should be transferred, and which


would be vested with the right of electing the erenach, under the
same conditions and charges, without alteration, as those observed
by the former erenachs. Similar regulations existed with regard
to the corbes, and much may be seen concerning them and some
other collateral points in the Inquisitions in Harris' MSS. above
mentioned, in which, by the bye, there are some foolish and
groundless speculations relative to the origin of corbeships and
erenacliies. Harris himself is not sufficiently correct in what he
has on these subjects in his additions to Waxe {A7iiiq. p. 2SS.
seqq.) ; but I shall not enlarge further on them, having said as much
as may suffice to illustrate the allusions to them in such part of our
ecclesiastical history as I have undertaken to treat of; merely add-
ing, that the corbes diffi^red from the erenaghs in their possessing
more extensive lands, and sometimes having erenachs under
them, whereas the erenach's power and influence were of an in-
ferior kind. Besides, many corbes held lands, that had belonged
to old abbeys, independently, it seems, of the bishops ; and such
was St. Malachy's uncle, who was in possession of the property
of the monastery of Bangor, and who was called comorb (tanta-
mount to abbot) of Bangor. On the contrary, the erenachs
were perpetual tenants of the bishops, under whom they held their
lands. Add, that some corbes v/ere in holy orders and heads of
collegiate churches ; whereas the erenachs had no higher order
than the tonsure.

The name of Termon lands is often given to some of those,
which the corbes and erenachs were possessed of. Concerning
this name Usher (on Corbes, c^t.) says, that '* Tcarmuin musQ^
*• in the Irish tongue for a sanctuary, (whence Termon- Fechin, a
" town belonging unto the archbishop of Armagh, hath its deno-
** mination, as it were the sanctuary of P^echin) and may well be
" thought to have been borrowed by the Irish, as many other
*♦ words are, from the Latin termimcs, by reason that such privi-
•' leged places were commonly designed by special marks and
" bounds. Terminus sancti loci habeat signa circa se, says an
** ancient synod of Ireland ; and the old law of tlie Bavarians
" {Tit.^, §.!,) Si quis servum Ecclesiae vel ancilJam ad fugi-
" endum suaserit, et eos foras termimim duxerit. I conclude,
" therefore, that Termons were indeed free land, but free from
" ^11 claim of temporal lords, not of the Church, being truly ter-


*' ritorium ecclesiasticum." Colgan also, speaking of another
Tearman-Fechin in the county of Sligo, explains it (AA. SS»
;?. 141.) as a sanctuary or refuge. But Terminus in the ecclesi-
astical style means originally district or territory ; the idea of sanc-
tuary was secondary. Gregory of Tours says; (Lib. 1. de Mira^
cul. cap, 59.) " Ecclesia est vici Iciodorensis sub termino Tu-
ronicae urbis." Tlie patrimony of the Roman church is called by
Pope John VIII. Terminus sancti Petri ac Pauli. Lotharius the
third decreed, A. D. 1132, " Ecclesiam parochialem S. ServatH
solam in Trajectensi urbe habere decimas et terminum." (See
more in Ducange, ed. Bened. at Terminus,) Some have thought,
that Termon was the same as terra monnchorum, or in French
Terre-moine, the land of monks; but (as remarked ib. at Termon-
landes) this is an idle derivation. Nor is there any necessity for
deriving it from terra iynmunis, free land, although it is true that
the church lands were, at least sometimes, exempt from tribute in
Ireland, and some of them were considered as sanctuaries.

(64-) St. Bernard, ib. cap. 5. Here we have an instance of the
election of a cormoba or corbe, undoubtedly by the sept which
had got possession of the lands, that formerly belonged to the

§. X. At this time the adjoining see of Connor
being vacant, as it had been for many years, St,
Malachy was chosen to fill it, but declined accepting
of it, until he was ordered by Imar and his metro-
politan Celsus to submit. Accordingly he was con-
secrated bishop, when about thirty years of age, but
not, as is usually said, as early as the year 1 J 24. (65)
This diocese had been so much neglected, that every
thing was in disorder, and he had never before met
with a set of people in so deep a state of corruption.
They made no offerings to the churches ; did not
contract lawful marriages ; (66) neglected confession,
nor was there any one who asked for penances, or
who was to prescribe them. For the ministers of the
altar were very few, and, had there been more of
them, what could they have done amidst such a
people ? There was neither preaching nor singing


in the churches. St. Malachy finding his utmost
exertions necessary, made use of all possible means
to reclaim them and to introduce a correct system of
discipline. He admonished them publicly and pri-
vately, used to stop them in the streets for the pur-
pose of instructing them, and spent whole nights
praying for their conversion. Attended by his
faithful disciples of Bangor, whom he still continued
to govern, he visited in all directions the smaller
towns and country parts of his diocese, constantly
on foot, and conducting himself as a really apostolical
man. He suffered great hardships, met with many
repulses, and received injuries. Yet lie persevered,
and, with God's assistance, succeeded at length in
softening that hard-hearted people and bringing them
to a sense of their duty. Instead of certain Irish
practices of theirs he introduced the Roman ones,
got the churches rebuilt, ordained clergymen for
them, and took care that the sacram.ents should be
duly administered. Confession is frequented ; the
people flock to the churches ; marriage is celebrated
in a solemn manner j and in short every thing was so
much changed for the better, that what the Lord had
said by the Prophet ; Those, zvho were not my people,
are now my people ; might be justly applied to that

(^S) St. Bernards' words, {id. cap. 6.) " Tricesimoferme aeta-
lis suae anno Malachias consecratus episcopus" have been under-
stood by Colgan (7V. Th. p. SOO.) as referring to A. D. 1124,
reckoning from his birth in 1095. He has been followed by Ware
and Harris (Bishops at Connor). But this date cannot agree with
St. Malachy 's having been acquainted, before he returned to Ul-
ster, at Lismore with Cormac Mac-Carthy, and his having been
there when Cormac was liberated in 1 127, a date which I find no
sufficient reason for calling in question. We may suppose, that
he was consecrated in that same year ; for it is clear that he was
but a short time at Bangor when he was appointed bishop ; and
St. Bernard's round num r, tricesimn ferme, must be explained


not as meaning exactly or nearly thirtieth, but as we would say,
about thirty^ although in all likelihood St. Malachy was then
thirty two years of age. Ferme is often used for thereabouts, more
or less,

{66) The charge here made by St. Bernard is thus expressed ;
Non legitima inire conjugia. This is relative not to the neglect of
marriage, but perhaps to the non-observance of the rule of the ca-
nonists, as to the seven degrees, which has been treated of above
Not. 51. This rule had not been generally received in Ireland,
and indeed it could scarcely be expected that it should, considering
the system of clanships, and the Irish practice of marrying chiefly
within their septs. It was found so difficult to observe it any where»
that it was modified not very long after St. Bernard's death. He does
not say, that the people of Connor did not marry ; for were this his
meaning he would have omitted the word legitima. Or, what is
much more probable, St. Bernard alluded to the practice of not
celebrating marriage by sponsalia de i^raesenti, but by those de
futiiro, a practice, which, however disapproved of by him, ren-
dered marriage valid not only in Ireland but elsewhere. In short,
he blamed, as followed in the diocese of Connor, that system,
which, he tells us, was reformed by St. Malachy at Armagh,
where in all likelihood the new matrimonial regulation consisted
merely in substituting the Sponsalia de praesenti for those de
futuro, or adding the former to the latter. (See Not. 52.) St.
Bernard does not say, what Harris (at ConnorJ falsely attri-
butes to him, that the people were adulterers ; but Harris did
not understand the meaning of non legitima hiire conjugia.

§. XI. After some time it happened that Connor
was destroyed by a king of a northern part of
Ireland, and St. Malachy, being obliged to quit
that country, went with 1 20 brethren to Monster,
where he was received with a most cordial welcome
by his friend Cormac Mac-Carthy, king of Des-
mond. This must have taken place after the death
of Celsus, which in all appearance occurred while
St. Malachy was still at Connor. (67) Celsus was
very anxious to put a stop to the hereditary succes-


sion, which had continued so long in his family,
and to be succeeded by Malachy. Accordingly,
perceiving his end approaching, he drew up a sort
of will, in which he declared his intention that
Malachy should be appointed, on his demise, as the
person fittest to govern the primatial see of Ire-
land. This he communicated to persons both pre-
sent and absent, and particularly to the two kings
of Munster, where he then happened to be, whom
as well as others he enjoined by the authority of
St. Patrick to exert themselves for that purpose.
Some short time before his death a woman of
tall stature and reverend countenance appeared
in a vision to St. Malachy, and on being asked
who she was, answered, that she was the wife of
Celsus, (that is, the church of Armagh). She
then handed him a pastoral staff, which she held
in her hand, and disappeared. (68) After a few
days Celsus being on his death-bed sent his staff
or crosier to Malachy as the person, who was to
succeed him ; which, when he saw, he perceived
that it was exactly like that, which he had seen
in the vision. Celsus was then at Ardpatrick in
the now county of Limerick, where he died on the
1st of April, A, D, 1129, in the .50th year of
his age. His body was removed, according to his
will, to Lismore, and honourably interred there,
in the burying place of the bishops, on the
Thursday following, which in that year was the
4th of April. (69) His name is in the Roman
martyrology at the oth of April. (70) Some
writers have made him an author, and speak of
him as a very learned man ; but I greatly
doubt whether much credit be due to their as-
sertions. (71)

(67) It is true that St. Bernard speaks fcap. 6.) of St. Ma-
lachy s going to Munster before he treats fcap. 7.) of the last pro-
ceedmgs and death of Celsus. But he must be understood a.s writ-


ing by anticipation, and as continuing his account of the personal
transactions of St. Malachy. And in fact he says that, while the
saint was reforming the diocese of Connor, &c. Celsus happened
to fall sick ; and his stating that Connor was not destroyed until
sotne years, annos aliquot, after St. Malachy had undertaken
the administration of it, obhges us to suppose, that he did not go
with his 120 brethren to Munster before the death of Celsus,
which occurred on the 1st of April, A. D, 1129. Now St. Ma-
lachy could not have been bishop of Connor prioi' to 1 127, ac-
cording to what we have seen above Not. 65. We must therefore
allow for the some years of St. Bernard some longer time than
what had elapsed before April 1129. Perhaps the devastation
in which Connor was destroyed, was that of part of Ulster ] 130
by Conor, son of Artgoil Mac-Lochlin, at the head of the
forces of Tirconnel and Tirone. (See Annals of Innisfallen at
A. 1130.)

(68) St. Bernard, ib. cap. 7. Hence in all appearance, as al-
ready observed, (JSot. 75. to Chap, xxv.) Hanmer took his
fable of Celsus having been a married man.

(69) Four Masters and Colgan, Tr. Th. p. SOO-SOl. See also
the Annals of Innisfallen and of Mary's Abbey at A. 1129. Ba-
ronius was mistaken (Note to the Roman Marty rology at 6
April) in assigning his death to 1128. The Bollandists (at Celsusy
said day) strangely observe, that Baronius' reason for the year
1128 was that the Ulster annals used to anticipate the com-
mon Christian era by one year. Had this been his reason, he
should have marked not 1128, but 1130; for the Irish annals
agree in affixing Celsus' death to 1129. Besides, that system
of anticipation had ceased before the times we are now
treating of.

(70) Its being placed at 6 April is owing to another mistake of
Baronius, who was the first to insert it in the Roman Martyrology,
which he revised by order of Gregory XIII. It was already in
Molanus' Additions to Usuard, published in the year 1568. Not
only the 4 Masters, but likewise Marian Gorman, who lived in the
same century, has, in his martyrology, the death of Celsus at 1 st
April. As his interment was marked iv. April, this notation
was probably mistaken for vi. April and thus adding a confu-


sion of said day with that of his death, this error seems to have

(71) Ware (Archbishops of Armagh) refers to Brian Twine,
who calls Celsus a universal scholar , and affirms from Bale (fine
authority!) that he had spent some time at Oxford. And
( Writers at Celsus) he says, that he wrote a Theological sum-
mary, which he was told had been extant (not published, as the

Online LibraryUnknownAn ecclesiastical history of Ireland, from the first introduction of Christianity among the Irish, to the beginning of the thirteenth century , Compiled from the works of the most esteemed authors ... who have written and published on matters connected with the Irish church; and from Irish annals an → online text (page 8 of 45)