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Diocese of Elphin

Suffragan of Tuam, Ireland, a see founded by St. Patrick

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Elphin (ELPHINIUM), Diocese of, suffragan of Tuam, Ireland, a see founded by St. Patrick. All the known facts respecting its first bishop are recorded in two important memorials of early Irish hagiography, the “Vita Tripartita” of St. Patrick, and the so-called “Patrician Documents” in “The Book of Armagh” (q.v.). On his missionary tour through Connaught, which he entered by crossing the Shannon at Drumboilan, near Battlebridge, in the parish of Ardcarne, in 434 or 435, St. Patrick came to the territory of Corcoghlan, in which was situated the place now called Elphin. The chief of that territory, a noble Druid named Ono, of the royal Connacian race of Hy-Briuin, gave land, and afterwards his castle or fort, to St. Patrick to found a church and monastery. The place, which had hitherto been called, from its owner’s name, Emlagh-Ono, received the designation of Elphin, which signifies “rock of the clear spring”, from a large stone raised by the saint from the well opened by him in this land and placed on its margin, and the copious stream of crystal water which flowed from it and still flows through the street of Elphin. There St. Patrick built a church called through centuries Tempull Phadruig, i.e. Patrick’s church. He established here an episcopal see, and placed over it St. Assicus as bishop, and with him left Bite, a bishop, son of the brother of Assicus, and Cipia, mother of Bite. St. Patrick also founded at Elphin an episcopal monastery or college, one of the first monasteries founded by him, and placed Assicus over it, in which office he was succeeded by Bite. Both were buried at Racoon, in Donegal, where St. Patrick built a church and a habitation for seven bishops. The “Septem episcopi de Racoon” are invoked in the Festology of Aengus the Culdee (q.v.).

The first bishop of Elphin is described in the “Book of Armagh” as the cerd, i.e. the wright or goldsmith of St. Patrick; and he made chalices, patens, and metal book-covers for the newly founded churches. Following the example of their masters, the successors and spiritual children of St. Assicus founded a school of art and produced beautiful objects of Celtic workmanship in the Diocese of Elphin. Some of these remain to the present day, objects of interest to all who see them. The famous Cross of Cong (see Cross), undoubtedly one of the finest specimens of its age in Western Europe, was (as the inscription on it and the Annals of Innisfallen testify) the work of Mailisa MacEgan, successor of St. Finian of Clooncraff near Elphin, in the County Roscommon, and was made at Roscommon under the superintendence of Domhnall, son of Flanagan O’Duffy, successor of Coman and Kieran, abbots of Roscommon and Clonmacnoise, and Bishop of Elphin. It is held that the exquisite Ardagh Chalice, which was given to Clonmacnoise by Turlough O’Conor, and was stolen thence by the Danes, was made, if not by the same artist, at least in the same school at Roscommon. The Four Masters record (1166) that the shrine of Manchan of Maothail (Mohill) was covered by Rory O’Conor, and an embroidery of gold placed over it by him in as good style as relic was ever covered in Ireland. It is therefore, fair to conclude that this beautiful work was also executed in the school of art founded by St. Assicus in the Diocese of Elphin. Within four miles of the present town of Elphin is Ratherroghan, the famous palace of Queen Meave and the Connaught kings; Relig-na-Righ, the Kings’ Burial Place; also the well of Ogulla, or the Virgin Monument, the scene of the famous conversion and baptism of Aithnea (Eithne) and Fidelm, the daughters of Leoghari, monarch of Ireland in the time of St. Patrick. Ware states that after the union with Elphin of the minor sees of Roscommon, Ardcarne, Drumcliffe, and other bishoprics of less note, finally effected by the Synod of Kells (1152), the see was esteemed one of the richest in all Ireland, and had about seventy-nine parish churches. The Four Masters describe its cathedral as the “Great Church” in 1235, and speak of the bishop’s court in 1258. It had a dean and chapter at this time, as we learn from the mandate of Innocent IV, sent from Lyons, July 3, 1245, to the Archbishop of Tuam, notifying him that the pope had annulled the election of the Provost of Roscommon to the See of Elphin, and ordering him to appoint and consecrate Archdeacon John, postulated by the dean Malachy, the archdeacons John and Clare, and the treasurer Gilbert. Among the early bishops was Bron of Killaspugbrone, a favored disciple of St. Patrick. He was also the friend and adviser of St. Brigid when she dwelt in the plain of Roscommon and founded monasteries there. According to Ware, of the successors of St. Assicus in the See of Elphin he found mention of only two before the coming of the English, Domhnall O’Dubhthaigh (O’Duffy), who died in 1036, and Flanachan O’Dubhthaigh, who died in 1168. There is reference to at least two other bishops of Elphin, in 640 and 1190. From St. Assicus to 1909 the names of at least fifty-four occupants of the see are enumerated in the ecclesiastical annals and public records of Ireland and Rome. Many of them were renowned for learning, wisdom and piety. During the Reformation and subsequent persecutions, there continued in Elphin an unfailing succession of canonically appointed Catholic bishops. They were faithful dispensers of the divine mysteries, like George Brann and John Max; confessors true to the Catholic Faith and the See of Peter, through years of persecution and exile like O’Higgins and O’Crean; martyrs sealing their testimony with their blood, like ‘Healy and Galvirius.

The present Diocese of Elphin includes nearly the whole of the county of Roscommon, with large portions of Sligo and Galway. In the census of 1901 the population was: Catholics, 125,743; non-Catholics,7661. The present chapter consists of a dean, archdeacon, treasurer, chancellor, theologian, penitentiary, and four prebendaries. The parishes number 33, parish priests and curates 100. There is a convent of Dominicans at Sligo. The female orders in the diocese are: Ursulines, Sligo; Sisters of Mercy, in various places; and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, at Loughlynn. To the convents are attached primary schools attended by 2500 girls. Three of them have also industrial schools for orphan and homeless children. The Ursulines conduct a boarding-school for young ladies. The diocesan seminary is the college of the Immaculate Conception at Sligo. The Marist and Presentation Brothers teach large schools. The cathedral of the diocese at Sligo, an early Romanesque structure, simple and massive, was erected by Most Rev. Dr. Gillooly, and consecrated in 1897. He also built St. Mary’s Presbytery, and the College of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo. These, with a Temperance Hall, form a group of ecclesiastical buildings worthy of their beautiful scenic surroundings.

Bishop Gillooly was succeeded, March 24, 1895, by the Most Rev. John Joseph Clancy, born in the parish of Riverstown, County Sligo, in 1856. He was educated at the Marist College, Sligo, and Summerhill College, Athlone, and entered Maynooth in 1876, where he spent two years on the Dunboyne Establishment. In 1883 he was appointed professor in the Diocesan College, Sligo, and in 1887 professor of English Literature and French in Maynooth College, which office he held until he was made Bishop of Elphin.



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