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O'Keeffe Clan

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9, 10 and 11 Sept 2016

guided tours, lectures

historical and genealogical exhibitions

cultural and musical events,

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The Synod of Rathbreasail 1111 A.D.

Duhallow is a small barony but within its bounds it has hosted some of the most important events in Irish History.

Both from a local and a national point of view, the most important of these events was held in the year 1111 A.D. It was the great Synod of Rathbreasail. At this Synod, Ireland was divided into dioceses as they are today each governed by a Bishop.

Rathbreasail is about two miles west of Banteer, in the parish of Dromtarriffe, in the diocese of Kerry and on the farm of Mrs. Pat Singleton. It has been declared a National Monunent and is being looked after by the Board of Works and signs will soon be erected to point out its location.

The following articles describe how it came about.
Rathbreasail is sited on the southern bank of the river Blackwater. It was built on a natural sloping field hillock. The raith is very extensive and even still to this day you can see the massive defensive structures.

A report in the Evening Echo of Wednesday, October 31st 1984 gives the following account :

An important discovery has been reported by the Archaeological survey of Co Cork. They have identified the location of  an important church Synod, which took place in the year 1111 AD at a place called Fiadh Mhic Aengussa or Raith Breasail and the synod is known to historians as the Synod of Rathbreasail.

The Archaeological survey of Co Cork is compiling an inventory of all monuments in the county, for the national Parks and Monuments Branch of the Office of Public Works.

In the course of the fieldworks, one of the archaeologists, Mr Anthony Candon, came upon a ringfort called Rathbreasail in Forthgrady near Banteer, Co Cork. Pursuing further research, he was able to show that Rathbreasail was in fact the old name for the townland of Forthgrady, and he has been able to trace the use of the name as far back as 1582. Mr Candon points to two factors in favour of this location.

One, is its actual siting. In early Ireland important centres tended to be situated on or close to the border. Rathbreasail is very close to the borders of three of the dioceses established at the Synod of 1111 – Cork , Emly and Raith Maige Deiscirt which later became  the diocese of Ardfert.

Secondly a great ecclesiastical affair such as this, would have taken place on church lands. Rathbreasail and many of the surrounding townlands belonged to the church in the sixteen century and this land probably also belonged to the church in the twelfth century.

This discovery of the site of the synod is something of a breakthrough. Geoffrey Keating, who preserved an account of the business of the synod in his Foras Feasa ar Eirinn, could offer  no suggestion as to its location. The great Irish scholar of the last century, Eugene O'Curry suggested that it was near Templemore in Co Tipperary and while most historians have accepted this, they have not been entirely happy with this location.

The Synod of Rathbreasail as a pivotal event in the history of the Irish church, and such was its importance, that it was presided over by the High King of Ireland, Muircheartach O'Bein. It was the culmination of the first stage in a process which had begun in the eleventh century, a process in which reformers were attempting to modernise the Irish Church.

Until 1111 the church was organised on the basis of great federations of Monasteries governed by Abbotts. While there were Bishops, their roll was restricted, and they played little or no part in the government of the church.

At Rathbreasail this was changed. The power of the Abbots was greatly reduced. Monks were ordered back into their cloisters and the extent of their activities were curtailed.

Dioceses were established and Bishops appointed, and authority within the church was transferred to the Bishops. The process of establishing a secular parish clergy to look after the ordinary spiritual needs of the faithful was begun.

The following is the account on Rathbreasail and its agenda by
Fr Geoffrey Keating in his Foras Fasa ar Eirinn.

It was also in the time of this Muircheartach that a synod of National Council was convened in Ireland at Rathbreasail, in the year of the Lord 1100 according to the old book of annals of the church of Cluain Eidhneach Fionntain in Laoighis, in which were recorded the principal things done at the synod: and Giolla Easpuig, Bishop of Luimneach, who was the Pope's legate in Ireland at the time, was president of that council. Now here follow the regilations that were made therein.

Just as twelve Bishops were fixed under Canterbury in the south of England, and twelve Bishops in the north under the City of York, a similar arrangement was made at the Synod of Raith Breasail in Ireland, to wit, twelve Bishops in Leath Moya and twelve Bishops in Leath Cuinn and also two Bishops in Meath. It was at this synod that the churches of Ireland were given up entirely to the Bishops free for ever from the authority and rent of the lay Princes. It was there also were regulated the Sees or Dioceses of the Bishops of Leath Cuinn: six in the province of Ulster, including the primate, five in the province of Connaught and two in Meath and this gives the full twelve Bishops of Leath Cuinn excluding the primate. The following are the dioceses of the province of Ulster to wit , Ard Macha, the see of the Archbishop of Ard Macha and the Primate over all the Bishops of all Ireland, Clochar, Ard Sratha, Doire Cuinneire, and Dun da Leathghlas, the see of Meath, Daimhliag and Cluain Ioraid, the Sees of the province of Connaught, namly Tuaim da Ghualann,  Cluain Feasta Breanainn, Conga,  Cill Aladh  and Ard Charna.

The Sees of Munster and Cashel held by the Archbishop of Leath Mogha,  Lios Mor or Portlairge,  Corcach,  Raith Mhaigh Deiscirt,  Luimneach,  Cill Dalua,  Imleach Tobhair.  These were the seven Sees which were decreed to Munster at the synod.

Five Sees in Leinster,  Cill Chainnigh,  Leithghlinn, Cill Dara,  Gleann da Loch,  Fearna or Loch Garman. Adding these five Sees to the seven Sees of Munster they make twelve Sees in Leath Morga.

The reason Ath Cliath is not counted here is that it was not customary with its Bishop to receive consecration except from the Archbishop of Canterbury in England.

Hammer states falsely that the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the Irish clergy from the time of Augustine the monk, until the Norman Invasion. For you will not find that the prelates of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the Irish clergy except in the time of Lanfrancus Ranulphus and Anselmus.  Even then, the portion of the clergy of Ireland, over whom they had Jurisdiction, were the clergy of Ath Cliath, Port Lairge, Loch Gorman and Luimneach who were descended from Normani. It was through a feeling of friendship for that, the prelates of these places gave Jurisdiction and Authority to the Archbishop of Canterbury over them.

It is clear from the booklet written by Dr Usher, that they considered if there were to be an election by the people between themselves and one of the Geals who sought the same dignity, that their side would not have an equal chance, as in the election the Geal would have a larger popular vote than any of them.

I think that although the old book does not so state, it was six Bishops that were in Munster and six in Leinster, with the Archbishop of Cashel over them all, as Chief Prelate of Leath Morga after the manner of the temporal sovereignity, as we have said above in treating of the matter in the reign of Laoghaire.

Here follow the Sees or Dioceses and their bounderies as they were regulated in this Synod of Rathbreasail.

# The See of the Archbishop of Ard Macha, from Sliabh Breagh to Cuaille Ciannachta and from Bior to the Abhann Mhor.
# The See of Clochar, from the Abhann Mhor to Gabhail Liuin and from Sliabh Beatha to Sliabh Larga.
# The See of Ard Sratha, from Sliabh Largha to Carn Glas and Loch Craoi to Beann Foibhne.
#  The See of the Bishop of Doire or Raith Both, from Eas Ruadh to Srubh Broin and from Carn Glas to Srubh Broin.
#  The See of the Bishop of Cuinnire, from Beann Fhoibhne to Forbhuirg and from Port Murbhoilg to Ollorbha and to Clan Snamha Aidhne and from Gleann Riogh to Colbha Gearmainn.
# The See of the Bishop of Dun Da Leathghlas , its boundery is not found in the old book.
#  The See of the Bishop of Daimhlaig , from Sliabh Breaga to Carn Duin Cuair and from Lochan na hImrime eastwards to the see.
# The See of Cluain Ioraird, from Clochan westward to the Sionainn, and from Iubhar Coillte to Cluain Conáire.
#  The See of Cluain Feasta, from the Sionainn to Buireann and from the Succa to Ard Charna, and from Ath an Fearmainn to the Sionainn.
#  The See of Conga, from Abhann UíBhriuin northwards to Neimhtheann, and from Ath an Tearmainn westwards to the see.
#  The See of Cill Aladh, from Neimhtheann to Eas Ruadh and from Cill Airdbhile to Sraith and Fhearainn.
# The See of Ard Charna or of Ardachadh from Ard Carna to Sliabh an Iarainn and from Ceis Chorainn ti Iobhar Coiltean. If the Connaght clergy agree to this division, we desire it, and if they do not, let them devide it as they choose, and we approve the division that will please them, provided there be only five Bishops in Connaught.
# The See of the Archbishop of Cashel, from Sliabh Eibhlinne to the Siur and from Cnamhchoill at Tiobraid Arann eastwards to Grain Airbh, that is Cros Ghreine.
# The See of Lios Mhór or Port Lairge, from Mileadhach on the brink of the Bearbha at Cumar na dtri nUisceadh  to Corcach, and from the Siur southwards to the see.
#  The See of Corcach, from Corcach to Carn Ui Neid, and fro the Abhann Mhor southwards to the see.
# The See of Raith Mhaighe Deisceirt, from Baoi Bheirre to Ceann Beara, and from the Feil to Dairbhe.
# The See of Cill Dalua, from Slighe Dhala to Leim Chon Culainn, and from Echtghe to Sliabh Uidhe an Riogh to Sliabh Caoin or Fleann Caoin.
# The See of Luimneach, the Maoilcheann eastwards, Ath ar Choinne, Lodan and Loch Gair, and the Laitheach Mhor from Aine westwards and Ard Padraigh to the south and Bealach Feabhradh and Tulach Leis, the Feil westwards and Tairbeart and Cuinche in Thomond and Crossa in Sliabh Uidhe an Riogh and the Dubhabhann.                  Whoever shall go against these boundaries goes against the Lord and Peter the Apostle and St Patrick and his comhorba and the Christian Church.
# The See of Imleach Iobhar, from Cluain Caoin to the Abhann Mhor and from Cnamhchoill at Tiobrad Arann to Abhann Ealla.
# The See of Cill Chainnigh, from Sliabh Bladhma to Mileadfach, and from Grain Airbh to Sliabh Mairge.
# The See of Leithghinn, from Sliabh Bladma to Sliabh Uidhe Laighean, from Sliabh Mairge to Bealach Carcrach, and from Bealach Mughna to Teach Moling and its termon land.
# The See of Cill Dara, from Ros Fionnghlaise to Nas Laighean, and from Nas to Cumar Chluana Ioraid and to Sleibhte Ghlinne da Loch.
#  The See of Gleann da Loch, from Grianog to Beig-Eire, and from Nas to Reachruin.
# The See of Fearna or Loch Garman, from Beig-Eire to Mileachach on the west of the Beasbha and from Sliabh Uidhe Laighean south to the sea, and if the Linster clergy agree to this it is our pleasure, providrd they have only five Bishops.

The blessing of the Lord and Peter the Apostle and of St Patrick be on everyone of these twenty-five Bishops who shall let no Easter pass without consecrating oil.

There are many other good decrees of this holy synod which we have not set down here for brevity.

The cross of the Comhorba of Peter and of his legate, that is Giolla Easpuig, Bishop of Luimneach.

The cross of Maoiliosa O Ainmire, Archbishop of Cashel.

The crosses of all the Bishops and of all the laity and clergy who were at this holy synod of Raith Breasail against whosoever shall transgress these decrees and the maledication of them all on whosoever shall oppose them.

by Con Tarrant. First published in Seanchas Duthalla 1986.

The Ringfort of Rathbreasail near Banteer