Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 2


On the kings of Ireland after the Faith as follows:

Laoghaire, son of Niall Naoighiallach, son of Eochaidh Muighmheadhon, son of Muireadhach Tireach, son of Fiacraidh Sraibhthine, of the race of Eireamhon, held the sovereignty of Ireland thirty years; and his mother was Rioghnach; and it was in the fourth year of his reign that Pope Coelestinus sent Patrick to Ireland to plant the Faith, in the year of the Lord 431 and Patrick was sixty-one years of age then. For when he was taken into captivity in the ninth year of the reign of Niall his age was sixteen years, and he lived the remaining eighteen years of the reign of Niall, so that he was thirty-four years at the close


of that reign. Add to this the twenty-three years Dathi held the kingdom of Ireland, and it leaves Patrick fifty-seven years when Dathi was slain. Add four years of Laoghaire's reign to this, and it gives sixty-one years as Patrick's age on his coming to Ireland. And this is rendered the more probable, as we read in the book called the Roman Martyrology that Patrick's age was six score and two years at his death. This is equivalent to saying that he had completed his sixty-first year when he came to Ireland as bishop. For it is certain that he spent sixty-one years in planting the faith in Ireland before his death. But before Patrick, Coelestinus sent Paladius as bishop to plant the Faith in Ireland in the year of the Lord 430, according to Beda in the annals of the History of Sacsa. Thus does he speak: In the year of the Lord 430 Pope Coelestinus sent Paladius as first bishop to the Scots who believed in Christ. {Anno quadringentesimo tricesimo Paladius ad Scotos in Christum credentes a Coelestino Papa primus mittitur episcopus.}’’

And that was the third year of the reign of Laoghaire and the year before Patrick came to Ireland. And when he reached Ireland with twelve clerics he landed in the lower part of Leinster at Innbhear Deaghaidh, and blessed three churches there, to wit, Ceall Fine, where he left his books and a portion of the relics of Paul and Peter; the second church, the House of the Romans, and the third church, Domhnach Arda. And when he had blessed these churches, Nathi, son of Garrchon, lord of that country, came and banished him from that district, and he went to Alba and died there.

As to Patrick, he came to Ireland a year after Paladius, with twenty-four holy clerics, or, according to Henricus Antisiodorensis in the life of St. Germanus, as we read in the 168th chapter. Patrick brought thirty bishops with him to Ireland. Here are the author's


words: Blessed Patrick, (says he,) having come a long journey and from a distant country, first gladdened his own people by his presence, and having got together thirty bishops, whom he himself had consecrated beyond the seas, he sent them into the Lord's harvest, for the harvest was great and the labourers few. {Benedictus Patricius itinere longo de regione longinqua peracto, praesentia sui suos exhilarabat et triginta episcopos ex transmarinis partibus congregatos et a se consecratos in Dominicam messem, eo quod esset multa et operarii pauci, destinabat.}’’

From this it is to be inferred that a number of prelates came with Patrick to Ireland to plant the Faith.

Moreover, we read in the seanchus that when Patrick was coming to Ireland he brought hither with him as many as he could find of the Scotic race who had received the light of the Faith; and learning and faith and law were maintained in Ireland for four hundred years after the coming of Patrick until the coming hither of the Lochlonnaigh. Besides, silver was struck at Ard Macha and at Cashel at that time. Henricus above says in the 174th chapter that Patrick made an apportionment of Ireland, as to land, people and cattle, and that he set aside a tithe of these for the Church, to wit, a tithe of the people, the land, and the cattle, and made monks of the men and nuns of the women, and built monasteries for them. Thus does the same author speak referring to these people who formed the tithe: He made monks of all the men and nuns of the women, and he built many monasteries and he set apart a tithe of the land and a tithe of the cattle for their maintenance. {Omnes ergo mares monachos, feminas sanctimoniales, efficiens, numerosa monasteria aedificavit, decimamque portionem terrarum ac pecudum eorum sustentationi assignavit.}’’

The same author also says that as a result of the regulation laid down by Patrick, there was not a nook or corner or desert in Ireland that was not full of pious persons and of saints, so that it came to pass that the name by which Ireland was distinguished among the nations in general was the Island of Saints. Nennius, a British author, in the History of Britain, speaking of Patrick, uses these


words: He built, (says he,) 355 churches, he consecrated the same number, 355, of bishops, and he ordained priests to the number of three thousand. {Ecclesias 355 fundavit, episcopos ordinavit eo numero, 355, presbiteros autem usque ad tria millia ordinavit.}’’

Thus does the seanchus agree with Nennius as to the number of bishops consecrated by Patrick:
    1. Five and fifty learned bishops
      Did the holy man consecrete,
      With three hundred young clerics
      On whom he conferred orders.

Should anyone be surprised at there being so many bishops together in Ireland in the time of Patrick, let him read what St. Bernard says in the life of Malachias of the custom of Ireland regarding her bishops. Thus does he speak: Bishops are changed and multiplied at the will of the archbishop, so that a single diocese is not content with a single bishop, but they have almost a bishop for each church. {Mutantur et multiplicantur Episcopi pro libitu Metropolitani, ite ut unus episcopatus uno non esset conentus, sed singulae pene ecclesiae singulos haberunt episcopos}’’

From these words of St. Bernard it is to be inferred that it is not strange that so great a number of bishops as we have mentioned should be in Ireland in the time of Patrick, as the Church was then flourishing. The number of bishops we have above mentioned is the less to be wondered at, since we read in old books that there was a bishop in Ireland for every deanery in the country.

Moreover, it is certain from the Irish annals that Patrick made two archbishops in Ireland, to wit, the archbishop of Ard Macha the primate of Ireland, and the archbishop of Cashel; the primate of Ard Macha being over all Ireland and especially over Leath Cuinn, and the archbishop of Cashel directly over Leath Mogha, while the primate had higher authority over him. And the reason of that arrangement was that the supreme sovereignty of Ireland was in the possession of the race of Eireamhon, being in the possession of Laoghaire, son of Niall; and Eoghan and


Conall and the other nobles of that race, who were baptized by Patrick, insisted that the principal church in the kingdom should be in their own half of Ireland, to wit, in Leath Cuinn, and that it should have authority over the churches of Ireland after the manner of the supreme sovereignty which was then in their possession. As to the race of Eibhear, they were permitted by Patrick to found the second principal church in Leath Mogha, namely, in Cashel, because to them belonged Leath Mogha under the king of Ireland from the time of Conn up to then. This should with the greater reason be believed from the fact that the archbishop of Cashel is called not only archbishop of Munster, but also archbishop of all Leath Mogha in the old books of chronicles and annals of Ireland.

But as regards another statement made by some writers of the present time that Imleach Iobhair was the seat of an archbishop, it is to be understood in this way: the archbishop and the clergy of Cashel were for a time banished from Cashel in these days, through the oppression of the Lochlonnaigh, when Maoilseachlainn, son of Maolruanaidh, was king of Meath, and Niall Caille king of Ireland, and Olchobhar king of Munster, and while Turgesius the Lochlonnach tyrant was harassing Ireland. For the expulsion of Forannan, primate of Ireland, from Ard Macha by Turgesius, so that he was forced into banishment in Munster, was not a more likely event than that the archbishop of Cashel and his clergy should be driven from Cashel by the Lochlonnaigh, and should betake themselves for refuge to Imleach Iobhair, where there were then woods and bogs and morasses. And there did they spend some of their time while they were subject to the persecution of the Lochlonnaigh.

We find in the annals of Ireland only mention of two archbishops being in Ireland, to wit, the archbishop of Ard Macha and the archbishop of Cashel, down to the time


when Cardinal Johannes Papiron came to Ireland together with Giolla Criost O Conairce, bishop of Lios Mor, then the Papal legate in Ireland, in the year of the Lord 1152. For in that year they convened a National Council at Ceanannus na Midhe, in which an archbishop was consecrated for Ath Cliath and an archbishop for Tuam, and where each of the archbishops received a pallium, as we shall hereafter set down from the ancient annals of Ireland which were written at Cluain Eidhneach.