Waterford and Lismore, Diocese of (WATERFORDIENSIS ET LISMORENSIS), suffragan of Cashel. This diocese is almost coterminous with the ancient Celtic territory of Decies; it comprises the County of Waterford (except five townlands) with a considerable portion (two baronies and part of two others) of Tipperary County, as well as a small area (12,000 acres) of County Cork. The population is 131,643, of whom 124,367 are Catholics, ministered to by one bishop and 122 secular priests. The diocesan chapter, in abeyance since the seventeenth century, was revived with modifications in the last decade. In addition to the secular clergy, there are three houses of Franciscans, a Cistercian abbey, and one community each of Dominicans, Augustinians, Fathers of Charity, and Congregation of the Divine Pastor. There are thirty houses of nuns and ten of brothers, including the (Irish) Christian Brothers, whose parent house is Waterford, and the Brothers of the Christian Schools (de La Salle). The following orders or congregations of nuns are represented: Presentation; Ursuline; Our Lady of Mercy; Sisters of the Poor; Good Shepherd; Sisters of Charity; Loreto; Carmelite; Sisters of St. John of God; Sisters of Le Bon Sauveur; and Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. All the communities of brothers and the majority of the female religious are engaged in educational work.
It is probable that the region of Decies received its first Christian message-presumably from Britain—previous to the advent of St. Patrick. The Life of St. Declan (cf. Plummer and the Bollandists) places the preaching of Declan in the early fifth century, before St. Patrick had lighted his Paschal fire at Slane. The chronology of Declan’s life is very confused, and first-class authority is available for the opinion that Declan’s mission was subsequent to Patrick’s. But it is quite certain that at this period there was considerable intercourse between Wales and the southeast coast of Ireland. Controversy ceases when we come to St. Carthage, who established himself at Lismore and founded a great school there in 630. Long before that event, Lismore had been the seat of a religious establishment, for four early abbots, predecessors of St. Carthage, are mentioned (Colgan, “Acta Sanctorum”, and “Annals of the Four Masters“). It may be, however, that the abbots in question belonged not to the Irish but to a Scottish Lismore. Lismore gradually became the acknowledged ecclesiastical capital of the Decies. There were other bishops and episcopal churches within the region in Celtic times, but there does not appear to have been anything approaching to episcopal succession in these instances, if we except the case of St. Declan’s Church of Ardmore. It has been contended that the ancient deaneries represent these early episcopal churches. They probably represent the chief of them, but certainly they do not represent them all. In Waterford and Lismore the ancient deaneries were: Waterford, Kilbarrymeaden, Ardmore, Lismore, Ardfinan, and Kilsheelan. Up to the Synod of Rathbreasil (1110) we have the names of twelve abbots or abbot-bishops who sat in the chair of Carthage at Lismore. Presuming succession to have been continuous during the period, there must be many others whose names are lost. Some of the recorded successors in question are catalogued as saints in the Irish martyrologies, e.g. Cuanan, Cronan, Mocholomog etc. At the synod just named Irish episcopal jurisdiction was more clearly defined and diocesan boundaries formally aligned. The Bishop of Lismore at the time of the Synod of Rathbreasil was Nial Mac-Aeducan, whose episcopal staff, inscribed with his name and covered with Celtic ornament, is still preserved at Lismore.
Keating has doubts that a Diocese of Waterford, as distinct from Lismore, was recognized at Rathbreasil. But Waterford was recognized as an independent see forty-two years later, when its bishop assisted at the Synod of Kells. Unseemly disputes between Waterford and Lismore paved the way for a union of the sees on the death of the last Bishop of Waterford, Roger Cradock, in 1362. Waterford was the smallest diocese in Ireland, embracing an area of only twelve miles by nine; it included little more, in fact, than the city of Waterford and the adjoining cantred of the Danes. Its history is peculiar; the Christianized Ostmen of the city determined, towards the close of the eleventh century, to set up a bishop and cathedral of their own, and the racial friction between them and their Celtic neighbors is reflected in their method of procedure on the occasion. Having chosen one Malthus, a monk of Winchester in England, to be their first bishop, they sent him for consecration—not to Cashel or Lismore—but to the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was during the incumbency of Malchus (1096-1110) that the cathedral was erected by the Ostmen citizens, on the same plan and of the same dimensions as the Danish Christ Church of Dublin. This building, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was not allowed to survive long in its original plan; a practically new cathedral was erected early in the thirteenth century, and survived till 1770. The original endowment of the cathedral may have been meagre or precarious; at any rate there was a reendowment by King John—probably on completion of the second cathedral. Then too its first dean was appointed, and a formal confirmation of its statutes and possessions made by Innocent III.
Among the more noted bishops of the see up to the time of its union with Lismore may be mentioned: David the Welshman, who was killed by O’Phelan (1207); Robert (1210-22), who commenced the century-long quarrel with Lismore which led to his excommunication and to his death from grief; Stephen of Fulburn (1373-86), who became Lord Justice or Chief Governor of Ireland, and established a mint for coinage of “a new kind of money” in his episcopal city; Roger Cradock (1350-62), between whom and the Archbishop of Cashel there arose litigation, because of Roger‘s action in executing two Irishmen for heresy at Bunratty Castle.
Though the sees were formally united in 1362, they continued to have separate cathedrals and chapters down to the suppression. During the period from the union of the sees to the Reformation, Lismore was regarded as the senior partner, and the title of the diocese in papal documents ran “Lismore and Waterford”. Of its bishops we have little information beyond what we can glean from occasional references in state papers. The majority of them bear English names; in fact, there is only one—Nicholas O’Hennessey—with a distinctly Irish cognomen; three—Purcell, Power, and Cantwell—are Norman-Irish. Nicholas Comin, the bishop of the suppression period, had an unusually long reign if, as Brady states, he resigned only in 1551, for he was translated from Ferns to Waterford as early as 1519, and the latter year was the tenth from his consecration as bishop. The history of this Bishop Comin is not at all clear. He appears to have been an Englishman; he was consecrated in St. Paul’s, London. His name does not appear in the Bull nominating his successor; instead we have the name of his predecessor, Thomas Purcell, who resigned in 1519. It was probably during Comet’s episcopate that the famous vestments of Flemish work, still preserved in Waterford cathedral, were presented to that church by the king. These consist of four copes, two dalmatics, and one chasuble, with stoles and maniples richly wrought with silver gilt ribbons twisted around silk thread on a ground of Genoese velvet, and are valued at thousands of pounds. Patrick Waishe (1551-79), the next bishop, has been the subject of much controversy; he was certainly consecrated by royal mandate. On the other hand, from the fact that he was not deposed in Mary’s reign and from the appearance of his name in the provision of his successor, it is evident that he was regarded as orthodox. We may take it that he received absolution from Cardinal Pole. However he may have temporized, his orthodoxy further appears from his consistent patronage of Dean Peter White, the greatest pedagogue of his day, and the most strenuous opponent of royal supremacy.
From the death of Walshe, for full half a century the diocese was administered by vicars only. Some years previously Archbishop Walsh of Cashel, a native of Waterford, had advised the Holy See that one archbishop and at most two bishops would be enough for Munster. James White, the daring ecclesiastic who reconciled the Waterford churches on the death of Elizabeth and confronted Mountjoy when the latter came to chastise the city, was named vicar Apostolic upon the bishop’s death. James White was brother to Father Stephen White, S.J. (Polyhistor), and to Father Thomas White, S.J., founder of the Irish College of Salamanca. Twice again within the seventeenth century had the Holy See to revert to government of the diocese by vicars: from 1652 to 1671 and from 1693 to 1696. From 1677 to 1693 the affairs of the diocese were administered directly by the Archbishop of Cashel. For the first thirty-six years of the eighteenth century there was no resident bishop. The de facto bishop, who was an exile for thirty-five years, governed through vicars; he was Richard Pierce, once military or court chaplain in the service of King James, and, in the years of his exile, coadjutor to the Archbishop of Sens.
John Brenan was bishop from 1671 to 1693, and became metropolitan in 1677, retaining the administration of Waterford. Patrick (De Angelis) Comerford (1629-52) was an Augustinian; he sat in the Supreme Council and died an exile at Nantes. Sylvester Lloyd (1739-48), a Franciscan (translated from Killaloe), has left two catechetical works, one in Irish and English, and the other, in two volumes published in London, is a translation of the great Catechism of Montpellier. Bishop William Egan (1774-96), while yet parish priest of Clonmel, was author of a pamphlet on the papal practice or right of nominating in certain cases to vacant parishes in Ireland, and Renehan insinuates that Egan’s criticism of the right in question led to its abandonment. Bishop Egan was consecrated by stealth and before daylight at Taghmon, whereas his successor, Thomas Hussey (1797-1803), was accorded a military guard of honor on the occasion of his consecration in old Adam and Eve‘s Chapel, Dublin. Hussey, who had been chaplain to the Spanish Embassy and later president of Maynooth College, was a persona grata with the government and a confidant of British statesmen. Burke’s correspondence with him is still extant, but unpublished. John Power was bishop, 1804-17; Robert Waishe, 1817-21; Patrick Kelly (transferred from Virginia, U.S.A.), 1822-29; William Abraham, 1830-37; Nicholas Foran, 1837-55; Dominic O’Brien, 1855-73; John Power (the second), 1873-87; Pierse Power, 1887-89; John Egan, 1890-91; Richard Alphonsus Sheehan, cons. January 31, 1892.
The history of the diocese embraces four distinct epochs: (a) the Celtic Church; (b) the Anglo-Irish Church; (c) the penal days; and (d) the modern revival. In the glory of the Irish Church during the first and third of these periods, Waterford and Lismore—especially Lismore—has had its full share. Some saints associated with the Decies during the Celtic period are: Ita; Finian the leper, and another Finian; Molua; Aileran; Molaise; two Aedhs; several Colmans; Kieran of Tubrid; Celsus of Armagh (buried in Lismore); Christian O’Connery, Bishop of Lismore and papal legate; etc. In the Danish wars the churches and monasteries along the Blackwater and up to Lismore suffered severely, and several of their religious were martyred. In the penal period Waterford produced a number of great ecclesiastics and scholars: Peter Lombard; Luke Wadding, O.M., and four other Waddings, his kinsmen, scil.: Ambrose, Luke, Peter, and Michael, of the Society of Jesus; Paul Sherlock, S.J.; Stephen White, S.J.; Thomas Walsh, Archbishop of Cashel; Dr. Geoffrey Keating.