Bishop Boethius Roe Mac Egan’s Account of the State of the Diocese of Elphin (3rd January, 1637)
The town of Elphin is totally possessed by English and Scottish Protestants among whom no Catholic is permitted to live or remain: scattered throughout the rural areas of the entire diocese live both Catholics and Protestants, with the Catholics in greater number. In all things we proceed, (to the extent that the difficulties of the times allow) according to the norms and prescriptions of the Council of Trent. At this time, besides several other priests, we have (praise be to God) forty-two priests in our Diocese, in which, before our promotion to the same, there were only thirteen parish priests. Our diocesan and provincial statutes, recently confirmed by the Apostolic See we cause (with the aid of the Almighty) most strictly to be observed by our priests. For fear of the Protestants we do not dare to convene all our priests together in a synod (as the canons prescribe) but year by year in a solitary place we convene in an almost synodal fashion the priests of a deanery and at that place we perform a visitation according to the exigency of the law, since indeed this our Diocese was anciently divided into seven small deaneries. Each parish priest teaches Chrisian doctrine to his parishioners at least on Sundays in secret and wooded places; there he celebrates Mass sustained only by the alms of faithful Catholics without any income coming from any ecclesiastical property, just as we ourselves are sustained and fed by the devotion alone of Catholics and by participation in the alms of our priests without any Ecclesiastical revenue, sustaining (praise be to God) the burden and anxiety of the time and fleeing from house to house and from mountains into woods following the footsteps of our Saviour, led by his Spirit, not having here a permanent residence where we could recline our head.
Whence it seems very expedient (if it shall seem so to His Holiness) that in future while the schism lasts in this afflicted kingdom nobody should be promoted to the episcopal state unless having been found by witnesses, worthy of credit, to have good and intimate secular friends and relations able to sustain, favour and feed him, otherwise certainly, unless miracles are permitted, the Episcopal state will cheapen and be despised in these lands. Because now to all the Catholics of this desolate Kingdom a mortal danger of complete supplantation of both secular and spiritual goods threatens (unless our compassionate and merciful Lord should swiftly succour our poor people). Since indeed the Protestant Primates of this kingdom in this present time have issued certain canons (as they call them) entirely destructive of our religion (if the Almighty permits this) in which it is strictly warned that all the inhabitants of this kingdom under pain of maximum punishment should acknowledge and accept our most serene king [Charles I – Shane] as Supreme Head in Spiritual and Temporal matters in all his dominions and it is warned also and has been proclaimed that all young people and schoolchildren of whatever age should be instructed and educated by Protestant schoolteachers and that all the inhabitants (which let God avert) of this miserable land should enter the protestant churches every Sunday, and those who contract marriage in the presence of a Catholic priest are forced to pay at least one mark and similarly those who give infants to be baptised by our parish priests; and that none in future can be buried in the tombs of their ancestors lying in Monasteries, in which practically all the tombs of this nation lie, and only very few in the parish churches, on account of the constant and singular devotion of the people and of the nobles of our nation towards the regular orders. These and many other portents of the same ilk which I omit to mention in the interests of brevity but I should add one other canon in which it is ordered that our tender youth should all be brought to the Protestant pseudo-bishops to be confirmed, which up to now we never knew to be done or ordered to be. Furthermore that all should acknowledge the legitimate power of conferring sacred orders which they themselves see in the same pseudo-bishops. In both cases our Catholics suffer and will suffer a great deal.
Of our own people, we have confirmed many thousands of all ages and we have conferred Holy Orders on at least two hundred from among the Regular and Secular clergy. Concerning temporal goods, all these lands now lie under the threat of confiscation. Because the ministers of the king have begun from the middle of the year to measure this whole province of Connaught [This refers to the scheme of Thomas Wentworth, Charles I’s Lord Deputy of Ireland, for a Plantation of Connaught – Shane] which as yet they have not completed (although they never ceased except on Sundays): in truth what part, or indeed if any will be left to the Catholic inhabitants is still completely unknown: but it is most certain that (unless our Lord, in whose hand the heart of the king is, should dispose otherwise) the intention of the king is to distribute all the lands of our people among his new-fangled Protestants, unless a certain portion, up to now unknown, is left to the Catholics.
That such evils may more maturely be prevented and the infirm and the weak, by this fact deprived and to be deprived of their most ancient possessions, should not descend into extreme desperation, we would ask with humble prayers and on bended knee that our most Illustrious Father, with a pastoral feeling for us, desolate paupers, by his paternal compassion should intercede, if he pleases, by private letters to our most pious and Catholic queen of Britain, that she should deign to petition our most powerful king to relieve us of these intolerable evils, or at least some initiative from his customary clemency towards his subjects, lest a whole people always most tenacious in the Catholic religion should here and in the future perish. Nor I pray should our most eminent lords wonder that we interpolate these perhaps indiscreet words into our relation which do not appear to pertain to it, since this extreme necessity which exceeds all modes and knows no laws compels us.
Wherefore with complete submission of the heart prostrate at the feet of our most Holy Lord and Father asking licence in this our excess (if so it was) we return to our purpose.
There were no regular clergy in this our diocese from the beginning of the schism up until our promotion to the same, but now, we have by God’s providence (all honour to our Creator) and our industry two convents of regular clergy from the Holy Order of Preachers of Saint Dominic and of the Seraphic fathers of Saint Francis living in woods and caves and working strenuously in the vineyard of the Lord, as far as is possible.
Here follows the complete number of Priories and Convents including places of nuns situated in this diocese. There are five priories of the regular canons of Saint Augustine, namely the Priory of Roscommon, or as it is called Tempullanoyghnayne. The Priory of Dorean, the Priory of Cluantuastearta, the Priory of Kilmore and the Priory of Inishmhicrinin, the Priory of the town of Athlone of the Order of St. Benedict, the Priory of Teaghloin of the Order of St Joseph. The Monastery of Isleibhe of the Order of the Carmelites and another small monastery called in the vernacular Keallraghna Galishe of the same order, as some say, and which others consider to be of the third order of Franciscans. The celebrated abbey of Boyle of St. Bernard, the Abbey of the Island of the order of the Most Holy Trinity. The Monastry of Ardiarna of certain regulars, whose patron we do not know except that some say it is of the order of Saint Bernard while others say it is of the order of Saint Augustine.
There are five priories of the order of Saint Dominic, namely the priory of Roscommon, the Priory of Tuillsge, the Priory of Chinseanmhuile, the Priory of Balleinduin and the Priory of Sligo. There is one convent of the observant branch of the Seraphic order of Saint Francis situated in the town of Elphin. All the said places (praise be to God) at this time are possessed by Protestants, more precisely mostly from the time of King Henry VIII.
The oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See and the Holy Pontifex, which is customary to be offered and taken by persons of our function and quality, and by us heretofore several times offered and taken now again, trusting in the Lord, we swear and promise firmly to observe while our life lasts. Let God help us and the Holy Gospels. In testimony and faith of each and every one of these things we here sign and place our small seal which we use for such things, kissing the feet of our most Holy Father Urban VIII.
Given in our private chamber, 3rd January, 1637.
Bishop of Elphin.