© Donal G. Burke 2013
The greater part of the lands associated with the Gaelic family of Cormican or O Cormican in east Galway was located in the late sixteenth century about the parish of Kilmalinoge, north of Portumna in east Galway, in what was known as Síl Anmchadha, (later known as the barony of Longford) the ancestral territory of the O Madden family.
The wider family had a long tradition of service to the Roman Catholic Church in the diocese of Clonfert and surrounding dioceses, providing both diocesan and religious clerics and two Bishops to the diocese of Clonfert; Muirchertach and William O Cormican. Tradition also ascribes the foundation of an Augustinian Abbey in the diocese to the patronage of one of the name.
The monastery of St. Mary, also known as the ‘Abbey de Via Nova’, ‘founded under the invocation of Virgin Mary, for canons regular of St. Augustine, was said to have been erected under the patronage of one O Cormican and was known commonly as ‘Monaster O Gormagan’, ‘Abbey Gormacan’ or Abbeygormacan.[i] The abbey was situated within O Madden’s country and gave its name to the parish of the diocese of Clonfert in which it was located. (The date of the foundation is uncertain but the abbey was flourishing, or at least active, in the early fourteenth century at the time of the Anglo-Norman occupation, at which time its abbot and prior were engaged in legal disputes concerning land with various Anglo-Norman landholders.)[ii] It is unclear if any direct connection was maintained between the O Cormican descendants of the founder and the abbey, but the abbey itself was granted to the powerful neighbouring chieftain Ulick na gceann Burke and his descendants on his creation in 1543 as 1st Earl of Clanricarde and at that time it had already been in the possession of the Earl’s son.[iii]
Two members of the wider family were appointed by the Pope as Bishop of Clonfert. Muircheartach or Murtough O Cormican served as Bishop of Clonfert at the beginning of the thirteenth century about the time that the Anglo-Normans were beginning to encroach into the Gaelic kingdom of Connacht. He died at Clonfert about 1203.[iv] Almost two centuries later, after the decline of the Anglo-Norman lordship of Connacht, William O Cormican became Archbishop of Tuam but in a dispute was forced to resign by the Pope. In 1394 the Pope translated Maurice O Kelly Bishop of Clonfert, who sided with O Cormican’s rival, to the Archbishopric. O Cormican was instead granted the bishopric of Clonfert in 1398.[v] O Cormacain declined the offer and never took out the bulls and is said to have died soon after ‘of a broken heart from ill usage.’[vi] The Pope then that same year appointed David Corre a Franciscan friar as Bishop of Clonfert in March.
Like many of the Gaelic and Anglo-Norman families of the territory, the O Cormicans, down through the centuries, provided ecclesiasts to the diocese of Clonfert and surrounding dioceses. Among those was John O Cormican, priest of the Archdiocese of Tuam, who was assigned to the perpetual vicarage of the church of Tuam in 1434.[vii]
Church records of the medieval period contain various references to cases where the Papal authorities intervened to address occasional local abuses. As many important posts within the local Church were held by members of long established Gaelic or Anglo-Norman families, a number of such cases involved members of the wider O Cormican name.
On such case involved John O Cormican, who aspired to a canonry of the diocese of Clonfert and the prebend of Fyndiur (Finnure), about Abbeygormican. About 1460 he was accused of illegally making a bargain with Donatus Ohathnyn (O Hannon), who held that prebend. O Hannon was accused of resigning his canonry and prebend in favour of O Cormican, in return for a payment from O Cormican.[viii] O Cormican was appointed by the authority of the Bishop but was accused by Malachy Makayg, (McKeigue) clerk, of being ‘an open and notorious fornicator,’ who had neglected divine offices in the church of Clonfert and of having made the ‘simoniacal bargain’ with O Hannon. The Church authorities ordered that O Cormican be brought before the prior of Clontuskert abbey and accused by McKeigue before him. If his accusations were found to be true, O Cormican was to be removed and the canonry and prebend assigned to McKeigue ‘if found fit.’
James O Cormican held by right ‘the rectory of the rural lands of Magonnbharlay’ (Magheranearla, parish of Tiranascragh) in the diocese of Clonfert but he died in or before 1464 ‘at the Roman Court.’ His reason for being in Rome at that time is unclear but it may have been related to the occupation of that rectory by one Maurice O Cormican, clerk, of the same diocese. This Maurice had for between two and three years illegally detained the rectory and on the death of John, the Papal authorities ordered that he should be removed and assigned to one Arthur O Horan, priest of the same diocese.[ix]
About 1481 Maurice O Cormican, priest, John O Cormican, clerk and William O Brogay, an Augustinian canon, were accused of detaining a canonry of Clonfert and the prebend called ‘of Kyllaiayn therein’ and the perpetual vicarage of Lickmolassy and a perpetual benefice without cure called a rectory in the church of Kyllmolonog (Kilmalinoge) and another in the church of ‘Magunacclay’ (Magheranearla) in the diocese of Clonfert. They were believed to have had one Thady O Lorcan captured and forced ‘by lay power’ to swear under oath to desist from any attempt to obtain the same canonry, positions and benefices but the Papal authorities ordered the matter to be investigated, the removal of the O Cormicans and O Brogay and to have the vicarage of Lickmolassy given to O Lorcan.[x]
John O Cormican appears to have come to an accomodation with O Lorcan as one of that name, a clerk of the diocese of Clonfert, together with Thady O Lorcan was illegally detaining ‘the perpetual benefice without cure called the church or rectory de Madnurlay (recte: Magheranearla) and the perpetual vicarage of the parish church of Lickmolassy in the late 1480s. The detention was brought to the attention of Rome by John O Treacy, a clerk of the diocese. The Papal authorities decreed in April 1488 that the matter should be fully investigated and if the two accused were guilty, O Treacy was to be made beneficiary.[xi]
It was common in the medieval and late medieval period for parishes often to have had their priests or clerics appointed from those families whose ancestral lands lay within that parish, individuals from the family group thereby deriving the income from the benefices of that office. At the time of the Visitation of the Diocese of Clonfert in the late 1560s by the then Bishop, Roland Burke, the wider O Cormican family group provided the greatest number of clerics of any single family name to offices within the diocesan Church. At least five men of the name were then holding offices or derived benefices. Thadeus (Tadhg) O Cormacayn held the prebendary of Kilquain, Odo (Hugh) that of ‘Bennmor’, while Johannes (John) was vicar of Kyllmoconna (Kilmochonna, parish of Lusmagh), Maurice vicar of ‘Dunnochto’ (the parish of Donanaughta or ‘Eyrecourt’), Donatus (Donagh) O Cormacayn vicar of Tirenascragh parish and William O Cormacayn held the vicarage of Kilmalinoge and rectory of ‘Kenvoy.’[xii]
The family likewise provided clerics to the local religious houses. Henry O Cormican, in the mid sixteenth century, was serving as abbot of the monastery of Augustinian Canons Regular de Portu Puro at Clonfert about the time that the officials of King Henry VIII began the suppression of monasteries and the confiscation of their property. In 1543 Roland Burke, Bishop of Clonfert, succeeded in obtaining a grant from King Henry VIII uniting the abbey to the bishopric at the same time that his kinsman Ulick Burke was created 1st Earl of Clanricarde.[xiii] (The abbey had previously been united to the bishopric by the Pope since 1488 but had not been put into effect.)[xiv] Bishop Burke did not, however, surrender the abbey at Clonfert to the King and Henry O Cormican, abbot of the monastery, retained control of ‘the lands and the temporalities and the spiritualities’ of the abbey until his death.[xv] (The lands associated with the abbey at that time amounted to six quarters ‘and the annual rent of the quarter of Down McMearan,’ about the old church of Doon in the parish of Donanaghta. The six quarters appear to have been those of Killine, Rath, Corragh, Ballyhugh, Claggernigh and the two half quarters of Gortnaskemore and Clonesmucke, all of which later composed the modern townland of Abbeyland Great in the parish of Clonfert, at a distance south of the abbey.)[xvi]
Henry O Cormican died about 1561 as a dispute arose following his death between the Bishop and others concerning the profits of the abbey, which lasted for five or six years until William O Cormican travelled to Rome in 1567 and obtained the abbacy from the Pope. Bishop Burke and William O Cormican thereupon agreed to divide the profits between them. William died in 1571 and the Bishop thereafter was the sole beneficiary of the profits until his death in 1580.[xvii] Following the death of Bishop Burke, Stephen Kirwan was appointed by Queen Elizabeth I as Protestant Bishop of the diocese.
About fifty years later, in 1615, at a time when a struggling Protestant Church was attempting to establish effective control over the existing structures of the Roman Catholic Church in the same diocese, the diocese was inspected in a Royal Visitation of 1615.[xviii] It found the then Bishop, Roland Lynch, was of dubious loyalty, as was the one member of the O Cormican name then holding an office in the diocese. ‘Donaldus (Donal) O Cormacan’, they noted, was a reading minister according to the Bishop, but according to the Visitators, ‘altogether ignorant.’ He was resident curate of the vicarage of Kilmackona (parish of Lusmagh), the vicarage of which was held in sequestration by one Thomas Pilly. Cormican was also vicar of Meelick and held the prebendary of Kilquain, but, when they examined him, the Visitators ‘discovered him to be a mass priest (ie. a Roman Catholic), for being interrogated as to the number of the sacraments he maintained there were six.’ The Visitators thereupon deprived O Cormican of his offices and sequestered the revenues or ‘fruits’ he would have derived therefrom.
Landholders of the late medieval and early modern period
Of those O Cormicans who appear in the secular records of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, almost all were resident in or about the parish of Kilmalinoge. Donell O Cormokan of Meleek, cottier and Hugh O Cormokan of Kilmalanock (Kilmalinoge), husbandman, were both pardoned in a wide sweeping pardon that included the prominent rebel Owen McMelaughlen ballow O Madden of Meelick in 1585.[xix]
The barony of Longford in the early Seventeenth Century (in yellow), showing townlands wherein principal O Cormican landholders held lands (in green) and modern towns and villages (in red).
The lands of the O Cormicans in the parish of Kilmalinoge lay for the most part in the western part of that parish, about the site of the old church in the townland of that name. A sept of the O Maddens, whose ancestor had apparently last held the chieftaincy of Síl Anmchadha some time about the late fifteenth century were based about Derryhiveny and held the greater portion of the eastern part of the parish, along by the River Shannon.[xx] Cappaghsallagh, the southernmost townland and near to the Earl of Clanricarde’s manor at Portumna, was held by the Earl and leased by him to various tenants.
The ruins of the late medieval church of Kilmalinoge, viewed from the south.
Part of the lands occupied by the O Cormicans were Church lands which they appear to have occupied for some time. The Protestant Bishop of Clonfert claimed in 1615 that the O Cormicans were among a number of septs who detained land from the Bishop ‘by prescription’, preventing his deriving an income from the same. The Church land detained by the O Cormicans, according to the Bishop, comprised of one quarter of Lickmolassy.
Those landholders of the name who were confirmed in possession of their lands by the Crown in 1618 comprised Thomas, Teige and Donell O Gormogan of Kilmalanock, gentlemen, who jointly held one third of the half quarter of Kilmalanock (modern townland of Kilmalinoge); five sixths of the half quarter of Cappaghbeg; a moiety of the cartron of Gortrea; the like of Gortmcgillevaghinye; one quarter cartron of Care (modern townland of Corr), all in the parish of Kilmalinoge. Thomas McGormegan (recte: ‘O Gormegan’ ie., O Cormican) of Kilmalanock in Galway co. gentleman held one cartron of Lisnunin in the barony of Longford, which appears to have been the cartron called Lisdoonyne in the adjacent parish of Tiranascragh.[xxi] This is likely to have been the same Thomas who held lands alongside Teige and Donell, as one individual would hold most of these lands about twenty years later.
The principal landholder of the Cormican name in the late 1630s, prior to the redistribution of lands in the Cromwellian period, was one Erevan mc Erevan O Cormican, identified in certain documents also as ‘O Corman’.[xxii] His estate at that time consisted to a large extent of the lands held in 1618 by Thomas, Teige and Donell O Cormican, but his father ‘Ereven’ had not been mentioned as one of those landholders at that time. He held the third part of the half quarter of Kilmalinoge and the half part of the cartron of Gortrea as had previously been held by Thomas, Teige and Donell and had acquired an additional portion in Gortmcgillevaghinye (called at that time ‘Fowermore and Gortgillmurrine). He no longer held any part of the townlands of Corr or Cappaghbegg, those lands having been acquired by one John oge O Dolan, who held other lands alongside O Cormican in the parish. In the nearby parish of Tiernascragh Erevan mc Erevan was proprietor of a half cartron of the cartron of Lisdoonyne, the other half of that cartron having been acquired by Richard Blake of Kilquain.[xxiii]
The O Cormicans lost possession of their lands in this area as a result of the Cromwellian confiscations and transplantations in the mid seventeenth century. Much of the lands of Killmalinoge were reserved for Henry, son of Oliver Cromwell, as part of a large estate along the Shannon from the parish of Lickmolassy to Clonfert and included the Earl of Clanricarde’s seat at Portumna, resulting in the confiscation of O Cormican’s ancestral lands as part of that estate.[xxiv]
Following the turmoil of that period and the restoration of the monarchy in the person of King Charles II in 1660, an Act of Settlement was passed in Parliament, in an attempt to address the complaints of those whose lands had been taken or divided by the Cromwellians and to placate those who had acquired lands at that time.
Henry Cromwell had a number of influential friends whose support ensured that a special clause was included in the Act of Settlement to preserve for him the greater part of his Irish estates along the Shannon. The Earls of Clanricarde regained their Portumna lands but the O Cormicans and the O Maddens of Derryhiveny failed to regain ownership of their lands. Cromwell sold his Irish lands, which were purchased thereafter by the Earls of Cork and Arran.[xxv]
These lands were subsequently sold by Lady Burlington and Cork in 1717 to a London merchant, Benjamin Gascoigne.[xxvi] The lands about Kilmalinoge were sold in 1749 to one Theobald Wolfe, through the marriage of whose daughter those lands came into the possession of the Fetherstonhaugh family. The lands formerly held by the O Cormicans were leased to representatives of various local landholdings families, with a branch of the Dolphins leasing lands at Corr and O Kellys at Gortrea at one time.[xxvii]
[i] Walsh, T., History of the Irish hierarchy with the monasteries of each county, biographical notes of the Irish saints, etc., D. & J. Sadlier & Co., New York, 1854, p. 444.
[ii] Walsh, T., History of the Irish hierarchy with the monasteries of each county, biographical notes of the Irish saints, etc., D. & J. Sadlier & Co., New York, 1854, p. 444. Corbellynegall or ‘Corbally of the foreigners’ may be a reference to Corballybeg or Corballymore, both denominations of land in the early modern parish of Abbeygormican. Another Corballybeg and Corballymore was located in the parish of Doonanoughta, while Fynoughta may be a reference to Finnure, in the parish of Abbeygormican or the quarter of Fynagh in the early modern parish of Clonfert.
[iii] The identity of his son is uncertain but it was in all likelihood his son Thomas ‘farranta’ Burke. The Earl’s heir was his legitimate son Richard, a minor at the time of his father’s death, but Thomas was older and active politically at the time of Ulick na gCeann’s death.
[iv] Cotton, H., Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae. The Succession of the Prelates and Members of the Cathedral Bodies in Ireland, Vol. IV, The Province of Connaught, Dublin, Hodge and Smith, 1850, p. 162; His death was given as having occurred in 1202 in the Annals of the Four Masters.
[v] Other records say that he was translated from Tuam in January 1393 and deprived of Clonfert in 1398.
[vi] Cotton, H., Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae. The Succession of the Prelates and Members of the Cathedral Bodies in Ireland, Vol. IV, The Province of Connaught, Dublin, Hodge and Smith, 1850, p. 164.
[vii] Twemlow, J.A., (ed.) Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 8: 1427-1447, London, (1909), Laterna Regesta 323: 1433-5, p. 487.
[viii] Twemlow, J.A., (ed.) Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12: 1458-1471, London, 1933, Lateran Regesta 557: 1460, p. 84.
[ix] Twemlow, J.A., (ed.) Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12: 1458-1471, London, 1933, Lateran Regesta 607: 1464, p. 409.
[x] Twemlow, J.A., (ed.) Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 13: 1471-1484, London, 1955, Lateran Regesta 813: 1480-1482, p. 764.
[xi] Twemlow, J.A., (ed.) Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 14: 1484-1492, London, 1960, Vatican Regesta 732: 1488, p. 221.
[xii] McNicholls, K.W., Visitations of the Dioceses of Clonfert, Tuam and Kilmacduagh, c. 1565-67, Analecta Hibernica, No. 26, 1970, pp. 144-157.
[xiii] J. Morrin (ed.), Calendar of the Patent and Close Rolls of Chancery of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth, Vol. I, Dublin, Alex, Thom & sons, 1861, p. 87.
[xiv] Egan, Rev. P.K., The Parish of Ballinasloe, its history from the earliest times to the present century, Clonmore & Reynolds, Dublin, 1960, p. 52.
[xv] Blake, M.J., A note on Roland de Burgo alias Burke, Bishop of Clonfert; and the Monastery “De Portu Puro” at Clonfert, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. IV, No. iv, pp. 230-232; Egan, Rev. P.K., The Parish of Ballinasloe, its history from the earliest times to the present century, Clonmore & Reynolds, Dublin, 1960, p. 52.
[xvi] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, p. 192; Blake, M.J., A note on Roland de Burgo alias Burke, Bishop of Clonfert; and the Monastery “De Portu Puro” at Clonfert, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. IV, No. iv, pp. 230-232; Simington, R.C., The Transplantation to Connacht 1654-58, Shannon, Irish University Press, for the I.M.C., 1970, p. 160. A number of these denominations occur in Petty’s mid seventeenth century map of the area about the later Abbeyland Great.
[xvii] Blake, M.J., A note on Roland de Burgo alias Burke, Bishop of Clonfert; and the Monastery “De Portu Puro” at Clonfert, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. IV, No. iv, pp. 230-232.
[xviii] Egan, P.K., The Royal Visitation of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, 1615, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. 35, No. 1976, p. 67-76.
[xix] Fiants Eliz. 1. The description of cottier and husbandman may be inaccurate in its description of some included in that same pardon, as other individuals, prominent in the territory, were listed also as cottiers or husbandmen but in other later documents as gentlemen.
[xx] N.L.I., Dublin, G.O., Ms. 146, Linea Antiqua (Betham), p. 272, 298, 299.
[xxi] Half of this cartron of Lisdoonyne was held in the late 1630s by Erevan Mc Erevan O Cormican.
[xxii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 180-2.
[xxiii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 180-2. This Richard of Kilquian was ancestor of the later Blakes of Holly Park, Loughrea.
[xxiv] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. xlvii, 180-2; Simington, R.C., The Transplantation to Connacht 1654-58, Shannon, Irish University Press, for the I.M.C., 1970, p. 161.
[xxv] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. xlvii, 180-2.
[xxvi] Melvin, P., Estates and Landed Society in Galway, Dublin, Edmund Burke Publisher, 2012, pp. 47, 64.
[xxvii] Melvin, P., Estates and Landed Society in Galway, Dublin, Edmund Burke Publisher, 2012, pp. 47, 64.