Killala, Diocese of (ALLADENSIS). It is one of the five suffragan sees of the ecclesiastical Province of Tuam, and comprises the northwestern part of the County Mayo with the Barony of Tireragh in the County Sligo. In all there are 22 parishes, some of which, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean, consist mostly of wild moorland, sparsely inhabited. Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary sets down the length of the diocese as 45 miles, the breadth 21 miles, and the estimated superficies as 314,300 acres—of which 43,100 are in the County Sligo, and 271,200 in the County Mayo. In the census returns for the year 1901 the Catholic population is given as 61,876, and the non-Catholic as 3576. The foundation of the diocese dates from the time of St. Patrick, who placed his disciple St. Muredach over the church called in Irish Cell Alaid. In a well that still flows close to the town, beside the sea, Patrick baptized in a single day 12,000 converts, and on the same occasion, in presence of the crowds, raised to life a dead woman whom he also baptized. Muredach is described as an old man of Patrick’s family, and was appointed to the Church of Killala as early as 442 or 443. His feastday is August 12. It is probable that he resigned his see after a few years, and retired to end his life in the lonely island in Donegal Bay which has ever since borne his name, Innismurray. It was at Killala that Patrick baptized the two maidens whom he met in childhood at Focluth Wood by the western sea, and whose voices in visions of the night had often pathetically called him to come once more and dwell amongst them. He did come, and he baptized them, and built them a church where they spent the rest of their days as holy nuns in the service of God.
Little or nothing is known of the successors of Muredach in Killala down to the twelfth century. Of the sainted Bishop Cellach, for example, we learn merely that he came of royal blood flourished in the sixth century, and was foully murdered at the instigation of his foster-brother. His name is mentioned in all the Irish martyrologies. Beyond doubt, however, the most illustrious of them all belongs to modern times. With pardonable pride the people of Killala still, and will ever, recall the fact that John McHale, Archbishop of Tuam, was a child of their diocese, and, if we may so speak, served his apprenticeship as bishop amongst them. He was born at Tubbernavine, at the foot of Mount Nephin, March 6, 1791; became Coadjutor Bishop of Killala in 1825, bishop in 1834, and later in the same year was transferred to Tuam, where for nearly half a century he exercised a more potent influence on the civil and ecclesiastical history of Ireland than perhaps any of his contemporaries, with the single exception of O’Connell. He died November 7, 1881, and is buried in the sanctuary of the Tuam cathedral. After him came Doctor Finan, a Dominican priest of remarkable piety and attainments, but rather unfit, owing to his continental training, to direct the affairs of an Irish diocese. On his resignation in the year 1838, a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Tuam, Rev. Thomas Feeney, who had formerly been professor and president of St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, was chosen for the task of repairing the injury that ecclesiastical discipline had suffered during his reign. Feeney is said to have been a most happy selection under the circumstances. Thirty-five years of his firm and resolute rule obliterated practically all traces of the wretched controversies that distracted the diocese under his predecessor.
The town of Killala is remarkable in Irish history as the place where the French under General Humbert landed in 1798. The exact spot is by the rocky ledge in the outer estuary of the Moy known as “St. Patrick’s Rocks”, from which it is said that the saint set sail when making his escape as a poor young slave from Ireland. The French officers occupied the palace of the Protestant bishop where they lived for a short time with his lordship and family. The bishop (Stock) has written a most interesting and authentic account of the “Invasion”, and of the sayings and doings of these gentlemen which he himself saw and heard. Along the left bank of the river are the ruins of several monasteries. Rosserk, a Franciscan house of strict observance, was founded in 1460. The beautiful Abbey of Moyne still stands nearly perfect on a most picturesque site just over the river, and further on, north of Killala, was the Dominican Abbey of Rathfran, also delightfully situated. On the promontory of Errew running into Lough Conn there was another monastery which existed as such till comparatively recent times. A fine round tower in Killala itself, still in perfect preservation, indicated the ancient celebrity of the place as an ecclesiastical center. Indeed it may be safely stated that in no other portion of Ireland of equal extent were the labors of St. Patrick and the holy founders of religious institutions who calve after him so arduous and full of interest as in this beautiful district of Tirawley.
Tireragh and Tirawley need not rely entirely for their fame on the traditions of the past, near or remote. Under the present occupant of the See of Killala religion has made quiet but very gratifying progress. One may judge of the learning and ability of Dr. Conmy from the fact that in Maynooth he held a distinguished place in the class that produced such men as the Cardinal Primate of Ireland and Archbishop Carr of Melbourne. After several years of fruitful labors as professor and missionary priest he was called in 1892 from the parish of Crossmolina to wield the crosier of Muredach. His rule has been characterized by prudence, and justice that is well tempered with mercy. Amongst his most conspicuous services to the twin cause of religion and education must be reckoned the building and equipping, from funds raised almost exclusively from his own faithful priests and people, of the splendid seminary that now graces the town of Ballina, and bids fair to revive the olden name of the School of Killala founded by St. Patrick. The bishop lives in a plain but commodious dwelling in Ballina, hard by the diocesan seminary, which since its opening has been the dearest object of his episcopal zeal.