Cork (CORCAGIA), Diocese of (CORCAGIENSIS), in Ireland, suffragan of Cashel. St. Finbarr was the founder and first bishop of this see. He was born about the middle of the sixth century at Rathculleen, six miles north of Bandon, and educated in Leinster. Having spent some time on “a green island” in Gougane Barra, he founded a monastery and a school at Lough Eire, the name given to the marshy expansion of the river Lee, on which the city is built, and from which both city and diocese derive the name Cork (corcagh, “marsh”). This monastery seems to . have been erected on the elevated plateau to the south of the city, now known as the Rock, close by the palace of the Protestant bishop. Soon many students flocked thither from various parts. They and those interested in them rapidly took possession of the large island in the marsh beneath, built on it, and so gave birth to a city which now numbers over 70,000 inhabitants, and is the residence of the saint’s episcopal successor.
The limits of the territory over which St. Finbarr ruled cannot be accurately defined today. A fact, however, not generally recognized by historians enables us to conclude that the boundaries were sufficiently clear even in the most ancient times. Finbarr’s father was chief metal-worker to Tigherneach, chief of Ui Eachach Mumhan. As the saint advanced in years he was venerated as a patron by the entire sept, and so obtained spiritual jurisdiction over their wide territories. The eastern and western limits were respectively Cork and Mizzen Head, and there are arguments to show that the northern and southern were the Avonmore (Blackwater) and the ocean. In the Synod of Rathbreasail (1110) these are also named as the limits of the Diocese of Cork, whence it would appear that the sept lands and the diocese were coterminous, as was the case with St. Faughnan’s Diocese of Ross, which coincides with the lands of the O’Driscoils; and that of St. Munchin, Limerick, with those of Ui Fighente, in later times O’Donovans. At some period after the twelfth century part of the territory between the Lee and Blackwater to the north was detached in favor of the neighboring Diocese of Cloyne; the land of the O’Driscolls had been already erected into the Diocese of Ross; and today Cork is approximately bounded on the north by the city and suburbs, and the River Lee as far as Gougane Barra, on the east by Cork Harbour, on the south by the Diocese of Ross and the ocean, and on the west by Bantry Bay.
The church and monastery founded by St. Finbarr were naturally the center of the diocese till the sixteenth century. For many years the successor to the first abbot was also bishop of the diocese. Other churches and monasteries, however, grew up in the city itself and in the territories over which he ruled. In a document dated 1199, in which Innocent III confirms to the Bishop of Cork his various privileges, mention is made of eight churches in the city, the first being Sancta Maria in Monte, doubtless St. Mary’s, Shandon, close by which stands the Catholic cathedral of today. Two centuries later (1309), in the will of John de Wychedon, we find the names of no fewer than fifteen churches, all in the city, four of them bearing names such as “Lepers of Dilby”, “Lepers of Glenamore”; but a hundred years after this (1462), in a charter of Edward IV, we find only eleven churches mentioned. Of the churches in country districts during this long period we have no definite account. The Carmelites were introduced into Kinsale in 1334 by Robert Balrain; much earlier, in the seventh century, we find mention of Saint Gobban, abbot of a monastery of regular canons in the same town. In Bantry Dermot O’Sullivan Beare built a convent for Franciscans about 1463, and McCarthy Lauder had done likewise at Balymacadane on the Bandon Road in 1460. Tracton Abbey, two miles west from Carrigaline, was begun in 1224, and the great monastery of Kilcrea, five miles west of Cork, was founded by MacCarthy Mor in 1466, who is interred in the middle of the choir.
At the Reformation, when Bishop Bennett was deprived of the temporalities of the see (1535), such of the churches as remained passed into Protestant hands. Among others the old church of St. Finbarr, called Gill Abbey, after a famous bishop of the twelfth century (1152-72), seems to have remained in some form till 1725. At that date it was removed to make room for a more modern building, which in turn has been succeeded by the present Protestant cathedral. After the Sequestration the Catholics had perforce to rest contented with very humble “Mass-houses”, as contemporary accounts describe them. In the reports given by government officials in 1731 we find many of them put down as huts; and the addition “built since George the 1st” applied to the names of many more. The existing churches of the diocese have been erected in recent years on, or near, the sites of these last monuments of persecution. In the five parishes into which the city is divided there are thirteen public churches, besides private oratories and chapels attached to institutions. In each of the thirty parishes in country districts there are one, two, or three churches, according to the population, all of recent erection, and built in a manner that befits the great mysteries they enclose. Of the city parishes two—that called the North, or St. Mary’s, and that of Sts. Peter and Paul—are held by the bishop. In the former stands the pro-cathedral, begun by Dr. Moylan in 1729, a red sandstone structure, overlooked by a magnificent tower of the same material, due to the energy of a well-known Cork priest.
The lists of successors to St. Finbarr in the bishopric vary considerably with the different authorities. The present (1908) occupant of the see is described as the 59th, or the 105th, from the first bishop. The latter number seems to be the more correct, though somewhat too large. Two have been raised to the altars of the Church—St. Nessan and Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy. The veneration of the former dates from ancient times, that of the latter from 1492, when he died a pilgrim at Ivrea in Piedmont, Italy. First appointed Bishop of Ross, and expelled therefrom on a false charge, he was nominated to the united Dioceses of Cork and Cloyne. Unable to occupy the see owing to the opposition of the Geraldines, etc., he journeyed to Rome, won his cause, but died amid wonderful evidences of sanctity on the return journey. The decree of his beatification was published in 1895. Giolla Aedh O’Muighin (1152-72) was a famous bishop. He practically refounded the old monastery of St. Finbarr; like his great predecessor he belonged to a Connacht clan. The Four Masters speak of him as “the tower of the virginity and wisdom of the time”.
Three centuries after his death (1430), at the instance of the Bishop of Cloyne, the two Dioceses of Cork and Cloyne were united, and remained thus for three hundred years (1747). During the seventeenth century the united bishoprics were more than once governed by vicars apostolic. This occurred in 1614-22, and again in 1666-76. During the same period Catholic citizens of Cork were more than once expelled for their religion; frequently the Catholics of the province were forbidden to live in walled towns or fortified places (1644, 56, 72). In 1693, on the representation of King James, the administration of Ross was given to the reigning Bishop Sleyne. It seems to have remained in the hands of his successors until 1747, when it passed into the jurisdiction of the newly enfranchised Bishopric of St. Colman.
The Diocese of Cork possessed a chapter, with twelve prebendaries and the usual dignitaries. Though reestablished by Dr. Delaney in 1858-59, it dates from the twelfth century; naturally it ceased to exist during the years of persecution. The religious orders and congregations in the diocese are eight in number: Augustinians (second foundation, Red Abbey, in fifteenth century); Dominicans (first foundation Abbey of the Island, 1229); Friars Minor (first foundation near Wise’s Hill, 1214); Carmelites (Kinsale); Franciscan Capuchins; Vincentians; Fathers of Charity; Society of African Missions, the last four being quite modern foundations. There are in addition two teaching orders of men, the Christian and Presentation Brothers, besides 11 communities of nuns; the latter are: Presentation (4 houses), Ursulines (2 houses), Sisters of Mercy (4 houses), Sisters of Charity (4 houses), Good Shepherd (I house), French Sisters of Charity (2 houses), Sisters of Marie Reparatrice (I house), Bon Secours (I house), Sisters of the Poor (I house), Sisters of the Assumption (I house), the last nursing the poor in their own homes.
At the census of 1891 the Catholic population of the diocese numbered 178,461. They are attended by one bishop and 114 priests, who administer 35 parishes, of which 5 are in the city. Kilcrea Abbey and Gougane Barra are the best preserved among the early monuments of the diocese. A great part of the former still stands. The latter is an island on which are the ruins of a square court, with walls fourteen feet thick, in which are eight cells or cloisters rudely arched over. Each of the cells is ten feet deep by seven broad, and the court fifty feet square. It was here that St. Finbarr prepared himself by prayer and seclusion in the lonely shadows of the mountains that surround the lake for the great work of founding a city and a diocese.