Kilmore, Diocese of (KILMORENSIS), Ireland, includes almost all Cavan and about half of Leitrim. It also extends into Fermanagh, and has half a parish in both Meath (Kilmainham Wood) and Sligo (Ballintrillick). It is accordingly seen to be roughly coincident with ancient Breffney, embracing both Breffney O’Rourke and Breffney O’Reilly. St. Fedlemid, or Felim, who flourished in the early part of the sixth century, is the first known Bishop of Kilmore. He is patron of the diocese, and his feast is celebrated on August 9, the day of his death. A holy well near the old Catholic cathedral of Kilmore still bears his name. From Hugh O’Finn, appointed 1136, to Andrew Mac-Brady, consecrated in 1445, the bishops of this see were often styled Episcopi Brefiniae; and no bishop outside of Breffney is known to have ever claimed jurisdiction over it. With a hiatus or two, all its rulers during this period have been ascertained. Many of them are also sometimes called bishops of Triburna, probably from the name of a village near Butlersbridge, close to which village was the episcopal church and most probably the episcopal residence. The spot now marked by the grave-yard of Urney (Triburna) contains some remains of this very ancient structure.
Towards the middle of the fifteenth century the above-mentioned Andrew MacBrady (1445-55) rebuilt on a much larger scale the primitive church of St. Fedlemid, situated about seven miles due south of Triburna, and in 1454, with the approval of Pope Nicholas V, made it his cathedral. Thenceforth this church (till mor, i.e. great church) imparted its name to the surrounding parish and also to the diocese, just as the church of Triburna did before, or just as the town of Cavan has given its name to the whole County of Cavan. Bishop MacBrady lived at Kilmore. During the penal times many of his successors, in striving to discharge their sacred functions, suffered untold hardships. Richard Brady (1580-1607), for instance, was three times thrown into chains. In 1601 the friary of Multifarnam, in which he sought refuge, was burned over his head by the English soldiers. As late as the middle of the eighteenth century, Bishop Andrew Campbell (1753-1769 or 1770), to escape the dangers that beset him, had to go on his visitations disguised as a Highland piper. A beautiful oil-painting representing him so attired is preserved in the dining-room of the diocesan college at Cavan. The cathedral chapter of Kilmore originally consisted, besides the bishop, of eleven canons, together with a dean and an archdeacon. But in 1636 the latter two titles alone remained. Of later years they too have wholly disappeared. The seal of the ancient chapter of “Tirbrina” was dug up at Urney about sixty years ago.
In 1636 Kilmore was described as having forty parishes. In July, 1704, in compliance with the provisions of the act passed the previous year for “registering the popish clergy”, thirty-nine Kilmore “popish parish priests” gave in their names. “Curates or assistants” were excluded, being placed on the same footing as regulars, and “had to depart out of this Kingdom before the 20th July” under diverse pains and penalties. It is worth noting that twelve of these thirty-nine priests had been ordained by Oliver Plunket, the saintly Primate of Armagh; and one of them, the Rev. Owen McHugh of Killesher, at Rome, in 1682, by Pope Innocent XI. Three parishes claim to have been founded by St. Patrick in person: Drumlease, Cloonclare, and Oughteragh (now Ballinamore). Father Maguire, a well-known controversialist, died parish priest of the last-mentioned place. Drumlease derives its name (drum-lias, ridge of the huts) from the sheds St. Patrick is said to have raised there; and the neighboring village of Dromahair was for long called C’arrig-Padruig, or Patrick’s Rock. The saint, struck by the scenic beauty of the surroundings, designed to establish there his primatial see. For twenty years he left his fosterson and destined successor, Benignus, in charge of it; and it was only towards the end of his life that he reluctantly changed his intention, and adopted Armagh.
In the seventh century the diocese gave illustrious names to the Church; to the parish of Mullagh we owe St. Kilian (d. 688), the Apostle of Franconia; to Killinkere, St. Ultan (d. 656); and to Templeport, St. Aidan, or Mogue (d. 651). Inishmagrath, in the next century, was probably the birthplace of the scholarly St. Tighernach; Ballaghameehan, in the previous century, was under the care of St. Molassius (or Laserian; d. 563), the founder of Devenish; his copy of the Gospels, which was encased in a reliquary about the year 1001, is now in the Dublin Museum.
The most famous religious house in Kilmore was St. Mary’s friary in Cavan town, founded by the O’Reillys in 1300. The Dominicans were the first religious to be introduced; in 1393 they left and were replaced by Franciscans. After the Suppression, in the time of James I, the monastery was converted into a courthouse. In the beginning of the last century it was used as a Protestant place of worship. The crumbling tower of this church is all that remains of it. In its graveyard the remains of three noted Irishmen were interred: Owen Roe O’Neill, Ireland‘s noblest soldier, who died at Clough Oughter in1649; Hugh O’Reilly, Bishop of Kilmore (1625-28), Primate of Armagh (1629-52), and founder of the Catholic Confederacy; most probably also Myles O’Reilly, surnamed the Slasher, Ireland‘s greatest swordsman. Their graves were purposely concealed through fear of desecration, and cannot now be pointed out. The other chieftain family of Breffney, the O’Rourkes, founded Creevelea (creeve, branch, and liath, grey) beside Dromahair in 1508, and brought thither the Franciscans. A beautifully chased silver chalice, bearing an inscription declaring that it was presented to this monastery in 1619 by Mary the wife of “Thaddeus Ruaire°”, is still in use in Butlersbridge chapel in the parish of Cavan. Creevelea, as the annals declare, and as its ruined chancel and cloisters attest, was one of the most imposing of the many noble structures that the Franciscans had. The priory of Drumlane, established before 550, was confiscated in 1670. Its round tower is still in a good state of preservation. An abbey yet traceable beside St. Fedlemid’s church in Kilmore is said to date from the sixth century, and to have been founded by St. Columbeille. On Trinity Island, two miles to the west of it, the White Canons of St. Norbert established in 1237 or 1239 the Abbey of Holy Trinity. It was confiscated in 1570. A beautifully carved doorway, transferred from its ruins, now adorns the vestry of Kilmore Protestant cathedral, the memorial church of the Anglican bishop Bedell.
The Protestant cathedral and episcopal palace and gardens are located on the sites once sanctified by St. Fedlemid and St. Columbeille. At Mounterconnaught, at Ballylinch in Kilmore, and also at Drumlumman there existed as late as the seventeenth century hospitals for the poor. They were dissolved, says Archdall, though chargeable with no crime but that of being endowed; in 1605 they were granted by King James I to Sir Edward Moore, ancestor of the Earls of Drogheda. Kilmainham Wood, County Meath, a preceptory belonging to the Knights Ternplars, was erected by the Preston family some time in the thirteenth century. On the shores of Lough Melvin in Ballaghameehan, Leitrim, St. Tighernagh founded a convent for his mother St. Mella, who died before 787. It was known as Doiremelle. He also built for himself the monastery of Killachad somewhere in County Cavan. On Church Island in the lake just mentioned St. Sinell (d. 548), St. Patrick’s bell-founder, had a retreat called Kildareis. Finally on Lackagh mountain, near Drumkeeran, St. Natalis (d. 563) founded the monastery of Kilnaile, whose beehive cells may still be traced on the bleak mountain top amid the rocks and brown heather.
The Catholic population of the diocese in 1901 numbered 109,319—a decline of nearly one-third since the census of 1871—and its non-Catholic population, 24,447, a somewhat greater decrease. It has 42 parishes, and usually 104 or 105 priests. St. Patrick’s College, Cavan, opened by Dr. Conaty in 1874, replaces St. Augustine’s Seminary, established by Dr. Browne in 1839; it is one of the finest diocesan buildings in Ireland. The Poor Clares, brought to Cavan town in 1861, care for an industrial school or orphanage. In 1872 they established a second convent at Ballyjamesduff. The Sisters of Mercy have convents at Belturbet, Ballinamore, and Cootehill. All the communities are in charge of technical and primary schools. Intermediate schools for boys are at Manorhamilton and Ballyjamesduff. The Most Rev. Andrew Boylan, C.SS.R. (b. 1842), a native of the diocese, consecrated Bishop of Kilmore in 1907, died on March 25, 1910.