Magrath, Meiler (DNB00)


MAGRATH, MEILER (1523?–1622), archbishop of Cashel, was probably born in co. Fermanagh. He had an hereditary connection with the church, or at least with church-lands, for his father, Donough Gillegrowmoe, was in possession of Termon Magrath and Termonamongan in cos. Tyrone, Donegal, and Fermanagh (letter to Walsingham, 7 July 1584, State Papers). Termon Magrath is interesting as containing St. Patrick's Purgatory. An old building believed to have been erected by Meiler is still standing in the parish of Templecrone, co. Donegal (Hill, p. 183). Magrath became a Franciscan friar, and spent much of his early life in Rome, whence he was sent on special missionary duty to Ireland. According to O'Sullevan, he went through England with the express purpose of showing the pope's letters and of accepting bribes for his adhesion to the Reformation; but this, though not incredible, is hardly probable. On 12 Oct. 1565 he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor by papal provision, but the temporalities were practically at the disposal of Shane O'Neill, whom he visited in August 1566 along with Archbishop Richard Creagh [q. v.] (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 44). In May 1567 Magrath went to the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, at Drogheda, and then, or soon afterwards, professed himself ready to conform and to hold his bishopric of the queen. In September 1570 he was appointed to Clogher and restored to the temporalities; but he could have made little of them in the then state of Ulster. In February 1571 he was made archbishop of Cashel and bishop of Emly, and no fresh appointment was made to Clogher until 1605. John Merriman became legal bishop of Down in 1569, but Magrath still held on under the pope. He was in England in 1570, and had a fever there. In July 1571 he imprisoned friars at Cashel for preaching against the queen, and they were forcibly, or perhaps collusively, liberated by Edward Butler. James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald [q .v.] informed Magrath that if they were not released he would burn everything and everybody connected with him to ashes. In 1572 Magrath brought accusations against Ormonde himself, but no one believed him. During the succeeding years, and to the end of the Desmond war, he was generally resident in his province, making himself useful to the government, and intriguing all the time with the rebels. He was not always successful in keeping in with both sides, for in 1575 he was attacked and badly wounded by a rebel kern on his way to Dublin. The papal patience was at last exhausted, and he was deprived of Down and Connor in March 1580 ‘for heresy and many other crimes’ (Brady, i. 265). He had thus been nine years a papal bishop and an Anglican archbishop at the same time.

In October 1582 Magrath went to England with a strong letter of recommendation from the Irish government, as having continually given most useful information about the rebels. He complained of poverty, saying his archbishopric was worth only 98l. The sees of Waterford and Lismore were given him in commendam—not without misgivings on Burghley's part—and he held them till 1589. In 1584 he found himself strong enough to arrest Murrough MacBrian, papal occupant of his see of Emly. MacBrian died in Dublin Castle two years later; nor is this the only service of the kind recorded of Magrath, though he was said secretly to favour recusants. In March 1589 he wrote strongly recommending the Kerry undertaker, Sir William Herbert (d. 1593) [q. v.] He lost the bishoprics of Waterford and Lismore in this year, but they were restored to him in 1592 on the death of Bishop Wetherhead. In 1591 Magrath went to England without leave from the Irish government, and in his absence many grave charges were made against him, the truth of which did not stop his preferment (Irish State Papers, October 1591). He offered his ministrations to O'Rourke on the scaffold at Tyburn, but they were contemptuously rejected. The archbishop's cousin, Dermod Magrath—or Creagh as he is generally called—was in Ireland from 1582 until after Queen Elizabeth's death: he was papal bishop of Cork, with legatine authority in Munster. Meiler kept on good terms with his kinsman, and sometimes expressed anxiety about his own soul. He sought credit from the government for giving information, but took good care that Creagh should not be captured (to his wife, 26 June 1592, State Papers; Brady, ii. 89). It was his habit to talk of repentance and of possible reconciliation with Rome. In 1599 he was taken prisoner by Tyrone's son Con, but the rebel earl peremptorily ordered the release of his archiepiscopal ‘friend and ally,’ no one but the pope having ‘authority to lay hands on his person, nor any other priest whatever.’ Magrath is said to have promised Hugh O'Neil, earl of Tyrone [q. v.], ‘to return from that way [i.e. protestantism], saving only that he could not but take order for his children first, seeing he got them.’ Con O'Neill released the archbishop upon conditions, including a money payment; the O'Meara's son, who was related to Mrs. Magrath, was one of the securities (Cal. of Carew MSS., 29 March, 3 April 1599). In 1600 Magrath was in London, and on the whole satisfied Cecil of his good faith, though appearing a turbulent person. His many requests were ordered to be granted as far as possible, and a pension to be paid him. He returned to Ireland with the unfortunate ‘Queen's Earl’ of Desmond. In the following year Cecil complained that he was said ‘very irreligiously to suffer his church to lie like an hogsty.’ He had lost much by the war, but was not so poor as he pretended, and the secretary besought Carew to expostulate with him respecting his neglect of episcopal duty, ‘even for the honour of Her Majesty and God's church, wherein he hath so supreme a calling’ (Cecil to Desmond, ib. 25 Jan. 1601).

Under James, as under Elizabeth, Magrath was serviceable to the government, but his shortcomings were too great to pass quite unpunished. On 20 Feb. 1604 Sir John Davies told Cecil that Magrath was ‘a notable example of pluralities,’ having ‘in his hands four bishoprics, Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, and Emly, and three score and ten spiritual livings.’ In 1607 Archbishop Thomas Jones of Dublin gave further details, adding that, as a rule, no provision was made for divine service in his dioceses, and that those parts scarcely knew whether there was a God. Six months later Magrath was half persuaded, half forced to resign Waterford and Lismore, where he had made shameful havoc with the connivance of nominal chapters. He alienated Lismore to Raleigh for a nominal price, and kept the capitular seal of Cashel in his own hands. He was induced to accept ‘Killala and Achonry in the remotest part of Connaught, which sees have been long void, as no one of worth would take them by reason of their small value.’ Several small grants were made at the same time, but Magrath complained in 1610 that he had not received actual possession of the two sees. In 1608 a jury found that he had declared Tyrone wronged about the Bann fishery, and had credited him with ‘a better right to the crown of Ireland than any Irishman or Scottishman whatsoever.’ He denied the charge and demanded a trial, but the indictment was not proceeded with. In 1609 he was at war with George Montgomery, bishop of Derry, Clogher, and Raphoe about the lands of Termon Magrath, which were granted to his son James in the next year. At this time he generally lived on his property in Ulster, improving his talent for intrigue, and in 1610 William Knight was appointed his coadjutor at Cashel. Knight did not stay long in Ireland, having disgraced himself by appearing drunk in public. Magrath was very fond of whisky himself. Arthur Chichester, lord Chichester [q. v.], reported that Magrath was stout and wilful, his coadjutor simple and weak, with a bad pulpit delivery, and that neither of them was likely to act for the good of the church (to Salisbury, 4 Feb. 1612, State Papers). In 1611 Killala and Achonry were fully granted as promised. In 1612 Chichester condemned Magrath's evil influence, but took no decided steps against him from fear of his intriguing nature and his influence among the Ulster Irish. In 1613 he attended parliament in Dublin, and he lived till December 1622. Ware says he died in his hundredth year, and he had held his bishopric for nearly fifty-two years. He was buried in his own cathedral at Cashel, and some curious Latin lines of his composition, which were printed by Harris, are still legible on his monument. Magrath was twice married; and by his first wife, Anne or Amy O'Meara of Lisany in Tipperary, who never became a protestant, he had several sons and daughters (Cotton, i. 12), whom he enriched with the spoils of the church. Some of the sons adhered to their mother's creed.

It has been maintained that Magrath returned to the church of Rome before his death, and Brennan professes to prove this conclusively. But the documents relied on only show that the Franciscan provincial had hopes of his conversion in 1612. Another Franciscan, Mooney, who wrote in 1617, says: ‘Magrath is still alive, extremely old and bedrid; cursed by the Protestants for wasting the revenues and manors of the ancient see of Cashel, and derided by the Catholics, who are well acquainted with the drunken habits of himself and his coadjutor Knight. Nevertheless there is some reason to believe that he will return to the church; and if I be not misinformed he would now gladly exchange the rock of Cashel for the Capitoline, where he spent his youth’ (Meehan, p. 81). He certainly kept on the best possible terms with his first wife's co-religionists, and let his papal rival, Kearney, live quietly in Cashel, though he might easily have arrested him. O'Sullevan says he did not try to proselytize, nor to hunt down priests. His simony, rapacity, and evil example did incalculable harm to Irish protestantism, and Strafford spoke truly of the ‘ugly oppressions of that wicked bishop Melerus.’

[Calendars of Irish State Papers, Eliz. and Jac. I; Calendar of Carew MSS.; Morrin's Patent Rolls, Eliz. vol. ii.; Cotton's Fasti Ecclesiæ Hibernicæ, vols. i. iii. iv.; Ware's Bishops, ed. Harris; Brady's Episcopal Succession, vol. i.; O'Sullevan's Hist. Catholicæ Hiberniæ; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors, vols. ii. iii.; Meehan's Franciscan Monasteries, ed. 1872; Brennan's Ecclesiastical Hist. of Ireland, ed. 1864; Cardinal Moran's Spicilegium Ossoriense, vol. i.; Hill's Plantation of Ulster; Strafford Letters, vol. i.]

R. B-l.