On my way home from Dean Woodworth’s talk nearly three weeks ago Patsy Lacey brought up the subject of Miler McGrath. He was looking forward to the lecture and asked me had I anything new on the man. The question stopped me in my tracks because I had to ask myself had I anything new. I couldn’t answer the question because I wasn’t fully aware of how much people did know. However, on the rest of the journey I discovered that Patsy knew quite a lot about Miler and, if his level of knowledge is common, I must pose another question: why, then, am I presuming to talk on this former Archbishop of Cashel, who provides a link with the past for Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic together.
Before attempting to answer the question I should like to tell you what source material is available on Miler. There is the original material contained in documents from the State Papers concerning Miler McGrath. They are collected together in Archivium Hibernicum and are essential reading for anyone who wishes to study Miler McGrath in depth. I have to admit that I haven’t studied those documents at first hand and am acquainted with them only through secondary sources. Then there are books that contain references to Miler like Philip O’ Sullivan Beare’s HISTORIAE CATHOLICAE, which was published in 1621. There is the long poem, containing 168 verses, entitled ‘The Apostasy of Miler McGrath’ by Eoghan O’ Duffy which was the first published in Irish in 1577, during the height of Miler’s career and was translated by John O’ Daly and printed by John Davis White in 1864.There are pieces on aspects of Miler’s career that have appeared in historical journals.
Then there are the main secondary sources. The one most of you are familiar with is Robert Wyse Jackson’s ‘Archbishop McGrath: the Scoundrel of Cashel’, which was published by the Mercier Press in 1974. Twelve years before that Patrick Ryan, a student in the Holy Ghost order, did an M. A. thesis on Miler that extends to over two hundred pages. It is probably the most comprehensive work done on Miler. In 1975, a Capuchin priest, Odhran O’ Duain, produced a book in Irish on Miler entitled Rogaire Easpuig, which contains over 140 pages.
However, despite this wealth of material there are a huge number of gaps in our knowledge of the man. We know virtually nothing about his boyhood and his education. We don’t know where he joined the Franciscans. It is presumed that he spent some time in the Netherlands. His life in Cashel is very vague. He is reputed to have lived in Camas and part of the castle ruin can still be seen between Hyde’s and the river on the left hand side of the bridge. An eighteen-century map shows a mill in the area and there is a graveyard down river. The ruin was partly demolished in the early seventies because it was in a dangerous condition. The demolished section was an arched affair and was the entrance to the castle. According to one source this was a mere residence for Miler. However, might he not resided there with an income from the Mill? At a time when travel was so slow and hazardous in the country might not a residence on the banks of the Suir be the best place to travel from? It is well known that most transport during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries from Clonmel to Waterford was by boat. So there are two good reasons why Miler might have resided in Camas. However, we have no contemporary account. The residence of the archbishop was the castle was on the Rock. We don’t know if Miler lived there. We do have a report from the last decade of the sixteenth century of a complaint made by some Cashel people to the Lord Deputy that Miler had cut down about a hundred oak and ash trees on Church lands. Miler’s defence was that he intended to build a great palace. We don’t know if he did or where it was built. I mentioned these things to illustrate how limited our knowledge of Miler really is and how difficult it is to fill out the bald tale contained in State Papers.
And what kind of man was Miler. A friend of mine imagines him big, fat and gross, a kind of Henry VIII in later years. We have no evidence of his physique. We do have a photograph, which is on display in Clogher Cathedral. It’s the kind of picture we expect of sixteenth century personalities. It is distinguished, perhaps fiftieth and perhaps a little sinister. The man lived to be a hundred and yet we have only one contemporary account of what he looked like. This account makes him handsome which may be the reason Elizabeth liked him so much.
We have some reports on his behaviour. It seems that in private life he was dissolute. In 1593 he was twice accused by Patrick Kearney of gross immorality: ‘The said Milerus, contrary to the sobriety required in a bishop, is an open and common drunkard and maketh all his guests to carouse at every sitting till they all be drunk. Moreover, he doth embrace none other qualities so much as whoredom, drunkenness, pride, anger, simony, avarice and other filthy crimes . . .’ . When one hears a litany like that one is inclined to shout stop and attribute it all to a political enemy. If any of you recall the period when Charlie Haughey was Minister for Agriculture and there was a lot of farmer agitation the stories that were doing the rounds about Charlie at that time would have made anyone blush.
The same authority, Kearney, accused Miler also of having a concubine during his stay in England in 1591-92. It is significant that Miler was seventy years old at that stage and, if he did have a concubine, it would indicate an unusually high level of sexual activity for a man of these years. Again, not impossible when one recalls the history of David and Abigail or the fact that Michael Collins’s father was seventy-nine years of age when Michael was conceived. Again, Kearney said that Miler was ‘an open gamester with mean and common carrughes and gamesters and not with them of his peers.’
Miler’s court must have been hilarious, with its Harper Gillpatrick Oge, wild kern, wine, cards and dice. Though he employed local men as his servants from the beginning we find his relatives and friends from Ulster assisting him. His brother Niall was constant companion of the general official Mathew Ryan. Niall resided at the Episcopal manor at Camas and married an O’ Kelly from Kiltinan near Fethard.
And what of Amy O’ Meara of Toomevara. Amy bore Miler nine children, Turlough, Redmond, Bryan, Mark, Mary, Sarah, Cecily, Ann and Elis. To have done so in those primitive days must have involved a number of mis-carriages. From what we know she remained a good catholic all her life and Miler’s best efforts failed to get her to embrace the new religion. Yet, from the story of the meat on Friday there seems to have been a good relationship between the two even if she were a little in awe of her man. We don’t know when she died or where she was buried. There is a report that Miler married again but I am inclined to doubt it.
In Fleming’s book of Charges of 1591 we are left a description of how Miler went about ‘in doublet of proof buff leather, jerkin and breeches, his sword on his side, his scull and horseman staff with his man a horseback, after which a train of armed men to the great terror and bad example of the people … And, having any meeting for matters of controversy with his neighbours, doth assemble an army of horsemen and footmen to win his demands with a strong hand …’ The archbishop admitted that he had to go armed even to his Chapter House. His extreme unpopularity with certain elements of society and the fact that he was attacked on a number of occasions, barely escaping with his life, made such armour necessary.
But let’s get back to the beginning of the story.
Miler was the eldest son of Donough McGrath and heir to the ensestral estates. His father was both local chieftain and erenach of St. Patrick’s Purgatory, which was under Augustinian care. The family were in possession of the original monastic lands, the Termon Daberg. The family territories were Termon McGrath and Termonamongan in the counties of Tyrone, Donegal and Fermanagh. In medieval times Termon McGrath formed a tiny buffer statelet between the powerful families of O’ Neill, O’ Donnell and Maguire.
The family were also erenach of St. Patrick’s Purgatory. The office of erenach was less prestigious than that of being a coarb. The latter was the heir of the original saintly founder of the monastery. The erenachy was vested in a family. It was hereditary but deriving from the bishop’s authority. The bishop had the right to refuse to appoint if he thought the candidate was not worthy. The erenach gave the bishop a small annual payment, dispensed hospitality when his diocesan looked for it, was regarded as a sort of a cleric and so was often in minor Holy Orders. He was invariably married and from the ranks of his sons came many of the clergy.
Into such a family was born Miler McGrath in 1522. We know nothing of his early life. One source said he was brought up in the neighbourhood of modern Pettigo. We know nothing of his schooling but as the son of an Irish chieftain he was probably brought up the same way. The Irish chieftains lived a simple and primitive life and practised their religion.
Perhaps brought up in the shadow of Lough Derg and an influence on Miler. He decided to become a Conventual Franciscan and in doing so renounced his right of inheritance.
From about 1450 up to the time of the Suppression of the Monasteries there was a remarkable revival within the Franciscan Order. This revival was marked by the foundation of a number of houses in the west and southwest, by the prodigious growth of the Third Order and by the introduction of the Strict Observance into the First Order.
The first house of Strict Observance to be established in Ireland was at Quin in 1433. This was founded by the McNamaras as a burial place for their family, instead of Ennis. Nine houses accepted the reform in 1460. By 1500 some 24 houses and by the time of the Suppression two-thirds of all Franciscan houses had adopted it.
The first great outburst of Observant activity occurred during the provincialate of Fr. William O’ Reilly, the first man of pure Irish blood to hold the office of Provincial Minister of Ireland.
More than one quarter of the Franciscan houses were reformed or built for the Observants by Irish chiefs. All the reformed houses were confined to the southwest and northern of the country until 1518, with the exception of Enniscorthy and Wexford. It was almost the eve of the Reformation before many of the Conventual houses, nearer the English sphere of influence, adopted the Observant rule.
All this reforming generated considerable friction between conventual and observant. Some friction remained until the time of the Reformation, especially where Conventuals and Observants lived together.
The Observant movement was popular and necessary. Observant houses became overcrowded while Conventual Friaries became greatly depleted.
The movement was vigorous and expansive. The Friaries were zealous men and produced many excellent preachers. As proof of this Sixtus 1V issued to the Abbot of Derry on May 9, 1482 a papal mandate which stated: ‘On account of the rich fruits which the friaries of the Observance have brought to the people of Ireland by their exemplary lives, their preaching and other good works, and since the devotion of the faithful towards them daily increases so much that they are ready to build new houses for them in suitable places’, he has empowered the Irish Friars of the Observance to build or receive two houses in Ireland, with church and cemetery attached to each.
The Observants were the most active of all the old religious orders at the time of Henry V111’s attack on the Pope’s jurisdiction. George Browne, the Kings Archbishop of Dublin, met with active opposition from the Observants.
However, there is no evidence to show that the Irish Conventuals, any more than the Observants, Compromised at the time of the Reformation. Miler became a Conventual between 1535 and 1540 at either Monaghan or Downpatrick. Probably Monaghan, which had been founded in 1407. The place was sacked by the English soldiery in 1540 and finally burnt and destroyed in 1589.
There is no evidence to show that there was any particular laxity in either Monaghan or Downpatrick and it should not be considered as a reflection on these monasteries, where they followed the Conventual Rule. Whatever bad traits we find in Miler McGrath do not necessarily follow from his belonging to the Conventual friars.
It seems certain that he was sent to Rome for his studies. Ireland at this time had no universities in which masters and scholars could lecture and scholars study. However, there were non-university schools in the country where canon and civil law was studied while most of the larger religious establishments and theological facilities attached to them. For the Franciscans Galway and Armagh were the two most important seats of learning and seem to have been set aside for the common use of both Observants and Conventuals.
It was customary, however, for the Conventuals, to send their more talented pupils to England or the continent for studies in the various universities and they evidently produced more high-ranking academic scholars than the Observants. Miler, himself, as appears from his letters, was an educated man and he certainly did have a keen legal mind. There is absent however from his writings anything of a philosophical nature. His speculations are mainly concerned with the things of the world.
Wherever Miler was educated we know nothing of his scholastic wanderings. If he ministered on the continent we are not aware. He makes his first entrance into history on October 12, 1565 as Bishop of Down and Connor. He was 43 years old and had been consecrated at Rome ‘at the private charge of the Pope’.
The vacancy in the see of Down and Connor had occurred in 1562 with the death of Eugene Magennis. In the Consistory held in Rome in 1565 in which Miler was appointed he was described as a Conventual Franciscan. According to the Act of Appointment McGrath had reached the canonical age considered worthy of the office and vouched for his superiors. It was also stated that he came from Down. McGrath may have claimed Down as his place of origin when aiming at the vacant bishopric. It may also have been that Miller referred to Down as the place where he lived his Franciscan life.
McGrath was in Rome at the time of his appointment and his consecration evidently took place there, the expenses for his promotion being defrayed by Pope Pius 1V himself. It is not known why he was at Rome. One source states that Miler’s ‘attention or his unabated obsequiousness to certain high personages, both in Spain and the Netherlands, had, after some time, brought him into notice’. If that be the case he had already revealed those qualities of personality that were later to ingratiate him into the favour of Elizabeth. On the other hand, he must have been a personable man of talent to be so successful.
While Miller was in Rome he drew up a document in Latin setting forth proposals for the establishment of the Holy Inquisition in Ireland with the collaboration of Primate Creagh and Shane O’ Neill. The reason for this exceptional display of zeal is not apparent. One reason given is that it was probably due to some antipathy between Primate Creagh and himself 'McGrath may have thought Creagh too loyal to Elizabeth. This source further suggests that ‘McGrath, a foster-brother of Shane O’ Neill would seem to have been at that time fixed with rebellious instincts with the menacing hatred towards Protestants.’ His zeal may also have been an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Roman authorities. However, his extravagant scheme never seems to have been taken too seriously in Rome.
McGrath’s documents, though not adopted does show us that, at that time, nearly all the people of Ireland, at least in areas not occupied by the English, were still Catholic. He notes that in a few places there were not a few heretics who kept close together and ‘under a form of sound doctrine, yet by many tales and pretty conceits disseminated many diverse and profitless matters repugnant to the Catholic faith and the Christian religion, whereby they lead even good Catholics into various errors.’ McGrath was most anxious to be rid of those Protestants. This document is the only one we have from McGrath’s hands while he was still a Catholic bishop.
By the time McGrath reached Ulster Primate Creagh was away from the scene of conflict. Arrested in January 1565 near Drogheda he escaped at Easter and made his way to Louvain. From there he wrote to the Queen suggesting that she agree to his filling the See of Armagh in return for his civil loyalty to the throne. Like a great majority of English and Anglo-Irish Catholics Primate Creagh appears to have hoped and believed that the quarrel between the Holy See and the English crown would be healed by the passage of time.
In the meantime Creagh received an order from Rome directing him to return to Ireland and in the month of August 1566 Miler arranged and interview between the Primate and Shane O’ Neill. McGrath accompanied Creagh to this meeting and it is very probable that he acted as mediator between the opposing parties. O’ Neill, who received a letter from the Pope, signified his submission to the Primate and promised him protection.
This interview however, did not compose the differences between O’ Neill and the Primate and McGrath has been suspected of having sown dissension between them. Moreover, it was probably as a result of these machinations that Creagh found it expedient to retire into Connaght for a time. Here he was eventually betrayed to the English enemy by one O’ Shaughnessy on April 30, 1567.
Down and Connor diocese was in a devasted state when Miler was appointed. Things did not improve. He temporalities, which had been in a bad way, suffered more in the year that followed the conference between O’ Neill and the Primate as O’ Neill made use of Church lands to aid himself in his war against Lord Deputy Sidney and the combination of Northern chieftains which had formed against him after he was proclaimed traitor on August 3, 1566.
At enmity with the Primate and suffering the loss of his temporalities through O’ Neill, Miler, along with his patron, Con Maguire, chieftain of Fermanagh, visited the Lord Deputy at Drogheda, where they submitted on May 29, 1567. Maguire had already gone over to the English Government, a fact which enraged O'Neill. It is indeed possible that Maguire may have induced McGrath to submit since he was probably acquainted with the fate intended for O’ Neill.
McGrath had chosen a most opportune moment to submit and gain possession of his diocese. Shane was hemmed in on all sides in May 1567. All Miler's submission amounted to was an oath of allegiance. When Sidney wrote to the queen to know her pleasure, he spoke of McGrath as one ‘who humbleth himself and craveth mercy and restoration to his bishopric from her highness’. There is no question here of accepting the bishopric from the Queen but simply that he might be enable by Sidney’s help to occupy his See. There is no mention on an oath of supremacy, nor a surrender of any papal Bull of appointment.
In a letter the Queen welcomed the submission of McGrath: ‘We like the submission of the bishop of Down and think that he and others whom you shall not find meet to expel may be induced to submit themselves and to take their bishopric from us.’ Elizabeth was counselling lenient and politic methods in dealing with Catholic bishops.
McGrath continued as Catholic bishop of Down and Connor and there was no attempt on the part of Elizabeth to make him one of her bishops. He did not see any conflict between political submission to Elizabeth and religious obedience to the Holy See. However, his submission was not popular with the followers of Furlough O’ Neill, who had succeeded Shane. In 1568 with things getting hot for him, Miler was anxious to be translated to the diocese of Clogher, which was in the territory of his patron, Con Maguire. McGrath went to Rome towards the end of 1567 or early 1568 with a view to securing Clogher for himself. In this quest he had the support of Maguire. In his letter of support Maguire claimed that there were then two bishops, both claiming the see – ‘who upon their own authority had divided between themselves the administration of the diocese.’ He requested that both of them might be removed and Miler be substituted in their place.
Primate Creagh, still a prisoner in the Tower, heard of these developments and found means of conveying his sentiments to Rome. He begged the Holy Father to appoint a worthy bishop without delay to Clogher. He was equally earnest in condemning the past career of Miler McGrath and urged the Holy See not to entertain the idea of advancing him to the see of Clogher.
Already much frustrated the ambitious McGrath began to conspire to have Creagh convicted and deposed for heresy. He charged him in the Roman Curia with ‘treason to the Divine Majesty, of violating religion and of prevarication of the laws of the Church.’ Miler forged letters as if written by Creagh on matters of great import and ‘others of worthless counsels, very different from his mind and dignity.’ These McGrath brought before the Pope and the College of Cardinals for the purpose alleged.
On examination of the seals on the documents and the known character of the supposed writer, the forgery was revealed and McGrath was summoned to answer his calumny. He evidently panicked at this and be took himself to England where he deserted the Catholic faith. This happened about 1569. On arrival in England McGrath was put in prison and remained there until the following year.
During his imprisonment Miler wrote an obsequious letter to Lord Cecil pleading to be freed. In this letter he made solemn and prophetic protestations of loyalty. In spite of all his protestations he failed to secure his release.
In February 1570 McGrath’s case was under consideration and Lord Cecil was thinking of sending him back to Ireland. Shortly after this Elizabeth wrote to Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy, informing him of her intention of sending Primate Creagh and McGrath back to Ireland. She noted the difference between the two. Creagh still refused to acknowledge her supremacy in spiritual matters. McGrath’s crime was looked on not as grave as Creagh’s and he was to be treated differently since he had submitted himself for instruction. However neither was sent back to Ireland. Creagh was to continue until the end of his days in the Tower and McGrath remained in London at least until the Autumn of 1571.
During his continued imprisonment McGrath continued to petition to get back the see of Down and Connor, which had been given to Merriman. His anxiety to get back may have been due to the fact that he was still Catholic bishop of that diocese and was to remain so for another ten years. Perhaps he wanted to be Catholic and Protestant bishop simultaneously. Failing the possibility of getting Down and Connor he requested to be given some other benefice ‘in some safe place where her rule is observed, for I have no desire to live among the rebellious and vulgar Irishmen among whom I was born.’ One such place was Cork but McGrath was appointed neither to it or to Down and Connor.
By this time McGrath was destitute, having neither benefice nor any other source of income. Eventually on September 18, 1570 he was appointed as first Protestant bishop of Clogher, a diocese by no means prosperous. He was given £31-6-8 to pay his London expense. He was also sent by Queen and Privy Council to Primate Creagh to urge him to conform. McGrath’s efforts were futile and Creagh told him to go to hell.
It is not stated anywhere that McGrath ever took possession of Clogher. Even if he did he didn’t greatly benefit from his new appointment. The Northern chieftains had turned against him for his acceptance of the ‘reform’. It seems likely that McGrath remained in London and on February 3, 1571, he was appointed to the united sees of Cashel and Emly.
McGrath had submitted to the Queen and accepted the reform very much as a matter of expediency. The economic factor weighed much in his final decision. In many ways he was still a typical medieval benefice hunter and was probably prepared to intrigue to obtain preferement.
Miler was appointed to succeed James McCaghwell, the appointee of the Crown to Cashel in February 1567. The Papal nominee was Maurice MacGibbon who had been appointed on June 4, 1567. Neither man made much impact on the internal affairs of Cashel. McCaghwell’s reign was too short. He was arrested by MacGibbon’s men and lodged in prison. He died soon after his release. MacGibbon’s life was occupied with diplomatic affairs in Spain and Rome on behalf of the Munster insurgents.
In the 35 years since the Reformation there was little religious impact in the diocese. Its achievements were negligible. All or most of the Church officials were Protestant and all the Cathedral clergy were crown appointees. Little had been done to remedy abuses within the diocese. There was still much traffic in benefices and the local lord, the Earl of Ormond, retained much power over the church and appointments to benefices. The Reformation contributed greatly to the landed wealth of the Butlers and their friends.
So far the Reformation had meant little more than rejection of Papal authority. The general need of reform was not met with any religious revival and had little effect on the lives of the ordinary people, except to deprive them of their Catholic clergy. By the time Miler arrived in Cashel the Papacy had made its bid for the allegiance of the people and had gained a long lead on the reformers.
Munster was torn by war when McGrath arrived there in the summer of 1571 – a war between unifying absolutism and local authority. McGrath’s role was to bring the people into subjection to the Queen in matters spiritual and temporal, in co-operation with the President of Munster, Sir. John Perrot.
McGrath arrived at Cork in the Spring of 1571 with Perrot. Our first evidence of his activity within the diocese of Cashel appears in July when he arrested two Friars for preaching against the reform movement. Six days later McGrath received a threatening letter from James Fitzmaurice to have them released. A couple of days later Edward Butler came to McGrath’s house and took the friars away forcibly, while Miler was absent. By his action in imprisoning the friars the archbishop created a favourable impression with the Dublin authorities. On the other hand his action made him unpopular in Cashel. He felt his life was in danger and became anxious to be out of Cashel. When Merriman, bishop of Down and Connor, died in 1571. Miler tried to get transferred to the Northern diocese but failed. After his first diocesan visitation in 1571 Miler made one change in existing practice. While on visitation the bishop’s retinue had to receive refections from the incumbents of the parishes. Sometimes the retinue was a hundred or more and caused a severe strain on the incumbent’s resources. McGrath decided, with the consent of the clergy, to take money instead of the refections. Twenty years later we read that McGrath was then extorting four times the agreed amount from every incumbent. As a result of such extortions the clergy were driven out of the diocese and by this policy Miler kept their livings in his own hands ‘which maketh him so great a moneyed man as he is reported to be.’
The important person connected with these extortions was McGrath’s general official, Mathew Ryan, a layman. Another of this official’s tasks was the collection of excessive fees and other rewards that the Archbishop got from his diocese. Through this office Mathew was accused of amassing a great fortune to the value of £1,000. Together with Niall McGrath, Miler's brother, Mathew was for practical purposes, the archbishop’s most important henchman. He was labelled papist and a traitor by the archbishop's enemies. On the other hand he earned the hatred of his countrymen for his diligence against the papists.
McGrath had every opportunity to line his own pockets. He sold diocesan offices to the highest bidders. The officials he appointed to the four rural deaneries are described as his ‘caterpillars which continually useth extortion upon the poor clergy, that is most pitiful to hear of.’ McGrath would take £10 or £20 for their office depending on the value of the deanery. He used his officials cleverly to increase his own income. He also tried to monopolise many of the benefices within the diocese, in particular the lucrative ones. The mutual relations between the Archbishop and his chapter were strained. The type of person he appointed left a lot to be desired. When commissioners visited his diocese in 1591 five of the benefice holders were deprived, four for contumacy and pluralism, the other for defective orders and contumacy. One of these, Edmund Burke, was also illiterate. The same year 22 benefices were reported vacant and their fruits going to the Archbishop.
There is no evidence that McGrath made any positive effort to forward the Reformation in Cashel. He had no interest in the new doctrine but contented himself with its immoral advantages. These enabled him to marry in 1575. His wife was Amy O’ Meara, daughter of John O’ Meara of Lisiniskey, Toomevara. That place is between Ballymackey and Toomevara off the Nenagh-Roscrea road. McGrath presumably came in contact with her after procuring a grant of the Priory and Priory lands of Toomevara from Elizabeth. Amy was a Catholic and the nine children that resulted from the union were all reared as Catholics and they all did very well for themselves. Miler's ecclesiastical policy was moderated by her influence and she may have been the principal cause of his duplicity in religious matters
The mercenary character of McGrath is much in evidence in his administration of the temporalities of the diocese. There was a lot of land attached to the archbishopric and McGrath leased out much of it for his own ends. The income from it ought to have been used for the repair of churches and the payment of clergy. It was Miler’s avarice rather than his apostasy, which caused so much hostility to him.
Ten years passed before Rome took serious action against McGrath. On March 14, 1580 the Holy Office of the Inquisition took up the case of Miler and after discussion he was declared a heretic and solemnly condemned. He was proclaimed heretical by the Pope Gregory X111 and deprived of his see of Down and Connor. The customary invocation of the secular arm to punish him was advocated but needless to remark it was a useless clause since there was no Catholic potentate in a position to do so.
It is difficult to determine Miler’s reaction to his excommunication and deposition. His conduct in religion affairs subsequently became extremely dubious. Many newly appointed prelates made an attempt to win McGrath back. In 1582 he was given the added responsibility of the diocese of Waterford and Lismore by Elizabeth. Here there were very few Protestants and Miler did little to further the Reformation. His visitation in 1588 revealed that less than half the benefices had clerics in them. Shortly after the visitation he was removed from the see, apparently at the instigation of the undertakers. While he was there he continued his policy of alienation and leasing of ecclesiastical lands.
Miler tried to strike a balance between remaining of friendly terms with some of the counter-reformation clergy and retaining his allegiance to the Queen. He sometimes allowed these clergymen to operate in his diocese but when suspicion was aroused he reported them to Dublin Castle and was able to confirm his loyalty to the Queen. At one stage he kept two papal bishops in his house, Moloney of Kilmacduagh and O’ Brien of Emly ‘for winning the greater credit with the papists’ as his enemies alleged.
About 1583, however, O’ Brien was seized by the Archbishop and committed to the Castle prison, where he died some years later. Peter Power, who was appointed to Ferns by the Pope in April 1582, was likewise arrested by McGrath. He submitted, took the oath of supremacy, later repented his act, escaped and returned to Rome. When accused with consorting with the Catholic clergy he alleged that it was his policy to invite those to discuss religious matters with him in order to drive them from their errors and conform them to the state religion.
As the years went by the duplicity of the archbishop’s position with regard to religion increased. At times he seemed anti-catholic, considering he had imprisoned at least three Catholic prelates and several priests. However, there was no doubt in the minds of the Cathedral clergy and of his local enemies that in the matter of religion Miler was a double dealer. His conscience may have been at him when he made seemingly Catholic speeches. On the other hand he may have been hoodwinking the Catholics. He allowed his children to be reared as Catholics and they received the Sacrament of Confirmation from some of the Catholic prelates while they were at school in Waterford.
McGrath had a second role during this period: he was an agent of the Government. From the beginning he was associated with Sir. John Perrot’s Presidency and apparently was a member of the Council of Munster. From an early date the Archbishop sent periodic reports to the Lord Deputy of affairs in Munster and in Ireland in general.
In many ways Church and State affairs were geared by the Archbishop to minister to his own needs and thus he led a life more befitting a lay chieftain than ecclesiastic. As early as 1573 Miler started laying the foundations of large estates for his family and relatives. Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam wrote about him in 1591: ‘From time to time I have misliked his greedy mind to heap together large possessions and his contentious nature always bent to quarrel with such as were his neighbours.’ For his extortionate policy and high-handed activity he was hated by the poor while the rich had their own quarrels with him. He had a long-standing dispute with the Earl of Ormond.
McGrath spent 1592 in London answering charges against him and petitioning the Privy Council. He alleged that his income was no more than £98-4-0 per annum and it was insufficient to unable him to live decently.
While he was in England his enemies in Ireland decided to bring his misdemeanours to public notice. A burgess from Cashel, Edmond Fleming, was appointed to inquire into the whole course of the Archbishop’s life. The examination of witnesses took place on August 12 and the findings were forwarded to the Lord Deputy on August 21.
Many grave charges of treason, felony, simony and extortion were brought against him. The principle witnesses were members of his own chapter. The most serious charges centred around the Archbishop’s partiality towards the Catholic clergy, especially towards Dr. Creagh of Cork and Coyne. Other charges portrayed the Archbishop as a deceitful, racketeering individual, a high-handed adventurer, a local tyrant, feared by the poor and hated by all.
However, McGrath successfully defended himself before the Privy Council. His answers to the charges were made in a masterly fashion, each article being dealt with separately. He admitted in most cases that the accusations were not without some foundation but that the facts were wrongly interpreted or falsified with malicious intent.
McGrath had to extend his stay in London and the Queen availed of his service by commanding him to set down in writing a declaration of the state of Ireland ‘with means to increase the revenues and amend the government and withstand the Spanish practices.’ Miler’s report extends to 7,000 words and some of the points are interesting. He suggests the Shannon be made naviagible as far as Athlone for military and commercial reasons. He said there were too many bishops in the country, forty, with the result of too many begging letters from underpaid clerics, and they should be only 16. The memorandum pleased the Queen and towards the of the year she again appointed him to Waterford and Lismore. When Miler returned from London he brought with him letters of recommendations from the Queen and the Privy Council.
However, soon after his return there was a rapid deterioration in his relations with the lord Deputy. Patrick Kearney, a former clerk of the Archbishop, opened a new slander campaign with a series of charges sent to the Lord Deputy on February 13. In the next month a book of various slanderous charges against McGrath was sent to the Lord Deputy by Piers Comyn. The charges were sufficiently treasonable to undermine the archbishop’s position.
McGrath soon discovered about the plot and set about defending himself. Knowing how much the Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam hated him, Miler fled to London. There on June 8 he related his tale to Sir Robert Cecil. He blamed the papists for alienating his friends, servants, kinsmen and even the Lord Deputy himself ‘by most false and slanderous suggestions!’ He hourly expected danger ‘remaining safe neither in country or town, at home or abroad, in church on in chapter-house.’ He was driven to appeal thither ‘to the uncorrupted seat of Justice and sanctuary of all afflicted subjects – her majesty and her honourable Council.’ He asked that a commission be set up to examine his case and if he obtained this request he would return to his poor flock, live quietly among them and content himself with poor fortune.’
A commission was set up to examine the accusations and sat between July 7 and July 20, 1593. It failed to reach any conclusions.
It is a tribute to McGrath that he emerged from those years of plots and strifes without suffering much loss. All through he had the unswerving support of the Queen against otherwise overwhelming odds. McGrath found himself trying to please Catholics and Protestants, not out of any interest in either religion but to enable him to follow more readily his material interests.
During the Nine Years War McGrath’s policy was to please his Queen. He was in Ulster as a Government agent and was well-qualified. He possessed a thorough knowledge of the country and its people with an intimate knowledge of the ruling families and their internal strifes. He knew the language of the country as well as English and Latin. He had a great capacity for intrigue and legal skill. He was on good terms with the Ulster chiefs and the London authorities.
Later he worked in Munster doing his best to break up alliances among the Irish and winning their undying hatred. He remained a Government agent until the death of Elizabeth in 1601. McGrath had been her great favourite. Upon him she heaped benefice after benefice and took his part in his quarrels and other difficulties. To her he would refer in his troubles.
Family Fortunes and Quarrels
Despite all his service to the state the one principle, which guided all of Miler’s activities, was the material welfare of himself and his family. He made incessant demands on the state for services rendered. The fruit of all this was a large fortune for himself and his sons and a series of good marriages.
A regrant of the family lands of Termon McGrath was made to his father under the queen’s letter of August 9, 1593. This surrender was made so that the lands were regranted to him for life, with successive remainders to Miler and Miler’s sons. Miler had land in Toomevara and Aughnameal. With his son Brian bought land in Ballymackey and Kilmore at a time when the Irish were selling it off cheaply for fear of plantation. In this way Brian became one of the largest landowners in Ormond. Another son Terence acquired tracts of land in Emly and the Barony of Clanwilliam. Son Redmond acquired much land in the district around Cashel, in Thurlesbeg, Ballymore and Killough.
The archbishop’s grasping for land and wealth brought him into conflict with neighbours, most noticeably with O’ Dwyer of Kilnamanagh. Eventually this dispute was fixed up in a series of marriages. Redmond McGrath married O’ Dwyer’s daughter and Cecelia McGrath married Philip O’ Dwyer of Dundrum.
Because of his intensive secular pursuits the spiritual side of Miler’s program was left in abeyance. Reform was scarcely tried. Protestantism was an act of State and the State hadn’t been accepted in Ireland. The bishops who might have implemented it were mere place hunters and timeservers. The Reformation was their vested interest.
McGrath’s laxity in religious affairs was a byeword. By the end of Elizabeth’s reign the physical character of the Established Church within the dioceses of Cashel, Emly, Waterford and Lismore had steadily deteriorated. The Protestant Bishop of Cork called Waterford ‘the sink of all filthy superstition and idolatry.’ Catholics were allowed to practise their religion secretly provided the practice wasn’t bound up with treasonable action.
The accession of James I ushered in a widespread resurgence among the Catholics of Ireland. In Waterford the Mass was celebrated in public again.
Sir John Davies reported to the Government on the state of the Protestant church and clergy. He cited McGrath as the most notorious example of pluralism, having benefices and 4 bishoprics. Churches were in ruins and there was no divine service or dispensing of the sacraments.
To counteract this resurgence in Catholic activity there was a Royal Proclamation declaring there was to be no liberty of conscience and that people should attend the Protestant services.
In 1607, at 85 years, McGrath was still active and his main interest was personal wealth and family fortune. About this time he was in London and while absent a visitation of his four dioceses was inaugurated by the Lord Deputy and undertaken by the Archbishop of Dublin, accompanied by the bishops of Kildare and Ferns. The report substantiated the belief that ‘wherever the archbishop could do hurt to the church he hath not foreborne to do it.’
When Miler heard about the visitation and report he complained to the King and Privy Council that divers persons in Ireland plotted against him ‘to bring in question and in hazard of his life and of malice for his good service and for his profession.’
However, despite his plea the Lord Deputy and his Council were determined to reduce Miler’s jurisdiction. The result was that he was forced to resign Waterford and Lismore early in 1608 and received Killala and Achonry instead. Whether as a response or not in August Miler requested David Kearney the Catholic Archbishop, to solicit the pope to absolve him and receive him back to the Catholic Church.
Meantime it was decided to bring Miler to trial to answer for his misdeeds. Miler demanded a public trial and the Lord Deputy had second thoughts and the trial did not take place. Soon after this Miler returned to his former ways again.
Miler spent little time in Cashel. The administration of the diocese was left in the hands of one of his sons. In 1610 a co-adjuter, William Knight, was appointed but he brought no improvement in conditions in Cashel.
In 1611 an Inquisition into the behaviour of the Protestant bishops was set up under a Scottish bishop. The results were highly critical of McGrath. Miler may have feared deposition. He contacted Fr. Ultan, the provincial of the Franciscans, who was living in the Cashel diocese. Miler expressed his desire to return to the Catholic Church and expressed a readiness ‘to recant in the presence of the heretical church’ if the Pope so commanded him. We don’t know if the English authorities got wind of this or not but they decided to leave Miler alone.
Relations deteriorated between Miler and co-adjuter. Knight grew weary of the office and returned to England. One source gives the reason ‘for that Knight appeared drunk in public and thereby exposed himself to the scorn and derision of the people’. Another authority has it that Miler got him drunk in order to provide him with an opportunity to disgrace himself. Another commission examined the condition of the State Church in 1615 and visited Cashel in July. The commissioners learned that McGrath was non-resident. Thirty-three churches in the diocese were in bad repair or entirely in ruins. Numerous churches, rectories and vicarages were in the hands of the archbishop himself. The number of Vicars was only four. The number of preachers in the diocese was fifteen but only five were resident. Cashel had a public school and the headmaster, Flanagan, was getting £20 a year but he only idly performed his task.
All the fault for the failure of the Reformation in Cashel cannot be laid at the feet of McGrath – the Church was bad everywhere but perhaps a little worse in Cashel. Cashel had the added problem of the conversion of Ormond to Catholicism in 1605 after which the Catholic clergy were given free rein.
There isn’t much information on Miler after 1615, even though he was to live for seven more years. In the history of Catholic Ireland written in 1621 Philip O’ Sullivan Beare included a chapter on McGrath. According to it Miler was nearly worn out with age. He still continued to rule his diocese in some fashion.
In 1612 he indicated to Rome again that he intended to renounce 40 years on heresy. The pope believed him and stated that if he came to Rome he would receive a loving reception there. Miler didn’t go but he used this document as a defence if anyone tried to discipline him.
A year or so before his death he erected a monument to himself in the Cathedral of Cashel on the South side of the choir between the Episcopal throne and the choir. The effigy in the monument is not one of Miler. The figure is vested in full Roman vestments and not in the usual vestments of a Protestant bishop of the period. The figure is wearing a pallium an undoubted sign of a Catholic archbishop. At the foot of the effigy there is a dog on which the feet of the archbishop rest, which points to its medieval origin. Above the head is the archbishop’s coat of arms, similar to the McGrath family arms, which are carved on the side of the tomb. On the plate is to be read the epitaph:
The ode of Miler McGrath, archbishop of Cashel, to the passer-by.
There had come of old to Down as his first station,
The most holy Patrick, the glory of our Nation;
Succeeding him, would that I had been as holy;
So of Down, at first I was the prelate;
behind thy sceptre, England, I worshipped for fifty years,
and in the time of noisy wars, thy chiefs I pleased.
Here where I am laid, I am not.
I am where I am not.
Nor am I in both places, but I am in each.
It is the lord who judges me.
Let him who stands take care lest he fall.
On November 8, 1622 Miler made his last will and testament and six days later he died. He had reached the age of 100 years and had ruled the diocese of Cashel for 50 years and ten months.
There are numerous authorities who state, that Miler died a Catholic but there is no proof positive. One authority claims that he died openly a Protestant but secretly a Catholic. This is based on the last two lines of the epitaph.
One authority, O’ Sullivan Beare, claims that Miler married a second time but he is the only one to make the claim. The general belief is that he married Amy O’ Meara of Toomevara and had nine children, Turlough, Redmond, Brian, Marcus, James, Mary Cicely, Anne and Elis.
Many attempts were made after Miler’s death to retake the diocesan lands appropriated but most of this failed.
Miler was a irreligious man who confessed God with the lips but denied him in his acts. He was able to hoodwink those in authority and even Catholics as well. Avarice was his ruling passion, the driving force of the activities. It corrupted him and drove him to excesses in simony.
He turned his ecclesiastical office and sacred things to selfish ends. His idol was his own ends and his family’s interests. He and his family grew enormously rich. He was always restless, never satisfied. He had a passion for intrigue as can be seen from his endeavours to bring Primate Creagh into disgrace with the Roman Curia. There is evidence that while he was openly in the service of the Government, he was secretly in league with some of the Irish and Anglo-Irish Lords. He had a reputation for depth and cunning. He was elusive, quick witted and plausible. He did not lack the pen of a ready writer. His great and undoubted talents are unquestioned.
Turloughg of Ardvillane married Catherine Browne
Redmond of Ballymore, Clonoulty
Bryan (d. 1633) married Mary, daughter of Darby O'Dwyer
Mark of Cloughreedy, lived at Templebredin near Emly, (d. 1639)
Sarah married John Butler, illegitimate son of Thomas, 10th Earl of Ormond
Sarah married Mahon O'Heffernan of Lattin
Cecily married Philip O'Dwyer of Dundrum
Anne married James Butler of Kilmoyler.
Talk given to Old Cashel Society in late 1970's