Comerford: Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin

Pdf Comerford, M. Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin. Volume 1. Dublin: James Duffy and Sons, 1883.
Size:37.8MbytesModified:10 July 2009, 16:12
Pdf Comerford, M. Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin. Volume 2. Dublin: James Duffy and Sons,
Size:34.5MbytesModified:21 July 2009, 15:28
Pdf Comerford, M. Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin. Volume 3. Dublin: James Duffy and Sons, 1886.
Size:45.5MbytesModified:10 July 2009, 16:12

Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare And Leighlin is a multi-volume work published in 1883 that contains a history of the diocese from early Christian times in Ireland right up to the mid to late 19th century. The history of the diocese spanned fourteen hundred years from the time of St. Conlaeth and St. Laserian, reputedly the founders of Christian community in the region, to their successor the Right Rev. James Walshe. Bishop Walshe served as bishop of the diocese from 1856 to 1888.

The author, Rev. Comerford, was constrained because a range of documents that would have assisted him and enriched his work were no longer available. He lists the Records of the Cathedral of Kildare, the Long Book of Leighlin, the Yellow Book of St. Moling, the Book of Clonast, the Annals of Clonenagh and others as sources that were lost and unavailable to assist him.

Instead he depended on the priests of the diocese who supplied local knowledge, outside help from the Bishop of Ossory, the Public Record Office, the Sisters of St. Brigid and the Presentation Sisters and many more individuals and organisations. This difficulty reflected the impact of centuries of persecution of the Catholic Church since the English Reformation. Catholic priests were often fugitives with a price on the head and risked torture and execution. Therefore for the church to survive it needed to operate often in absolute secrecy so little could be written down and only a few documents that were created survived. Valuable knowledge was unfortunately lost when individuals passed away or was not shared for security reasons.

From 1540 the Anglican Church took over the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin while the Catholic Church diocese went underground. Both Catholic dioceses merged in 1694 as the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.

Between the late 18th century and Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the Penal Laws were gradually dismantled removing restrictions on Roman Catholicism in Britain and Ireland . A symbol of this more tolerant attitude was the establishment of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. The intention of the college was to provide education for Catholic priests in Ireland , who before the Act went to the continent for their training. This reduced of the number of radicalised priests returning from revolutionary France and hindered potential revolution. In return a grateful Irish Catholic Church condemned the 1798 rebellion and supported the 1800 Act of Union.

Another St. Patrick's College was established in Carlow in 1782 and became a leading seminary and lay college where many influential Catholic clergy and Irish patriots were educated. Carlow Cathedral next door was dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1833.

Kildare and Carlow witnessed repeated warfare in both the 17th and 18th centuries. The town of Carlow was besieged and captured by Cromwellian forces in 1650. In 1798, the Battle of Carlow resulted in the deaths of hundreds of United Irishmen at the hands of British forces.

Typical of dioceses around Ireland there was a program of building parish churches in towns and villages from 1830 onwards. The diocese of Kildare and Leighlin also established hospitals and schools and became a major provider of social services particularly to the poor. The Catholic Church had a powerful influence over politics in Ireland supporting moderate democratic parties such as the Irish Parliamentary Party and the Irish Home movement.

Most clergy were bitterly opposed to the growing influence of republicans who espoused political violence and secularism though individual clergymen were sympathetic. For many Irish people, Roman Catholicism and their Irish identity became interchangeable. In the wake of the Irish Famine of the 1840s, the Irish poor took comfort in the same faith that had seen their ancestors through religious persecution.

At the time Rev. Comerford compiled his collection, Irish Catholicism was growing in political power and Anglo-Irish Protestant hegemony was beginning to crumble due to pressure from the Land League. Meanwhile the end of the Union and the introduction of Irish Home Rule also appeared imminent. However Irish independence was not achieved until 1922 and in the new Irish Free State the Catholic dioceses like Kildare and Leighlin played a major role especially in education, caring for the sick and the poor and its conservative influence over social norms and morality.


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