CLONFERT, a parish, and the seat of a diocese, in the barony of LONGFORD, county of GALWAY, and province of CONNAUGHT, 3 miles (N. N. E.) from Eyrecourt ; containing 5915 inhabitants. This place, in the Irish language Cluain-Fearth, signifying" a retired spot," owes its origin and early importance to St. Brendan, son of Finloga, who, in 558, founded here an abbey, which afterwards became the cathedral church of the see of Clonfert. In 744 this place was destroyed by fire, and four years after again suffered a similar calamity ; in 839 the Danes burned the abbey and killed the abbot, and, in 841, entirely reduced the place to ashes, Four years after it was again destroyed by fire, and in 949 the abbey was plundered ; in 1031 the town was plundered by O'Ruark, and in 1045 it was again destroyed by fire. In 1065 Hugh O'Ruark, King of Breifne, and Thady O'Kelly, King of Maine, plundered the abbey ; but on the day following they were defeated by Hugh O'Connor, King of Connaught, who overthrew their armies and sank or dispersed their fleet in the Shannon. The subsequent history of this place is little more than a repetition of similar disasters, notwithstanding which it continued to flourish as the head of the diocese. During the prelacy of Bishop John, the cathedral was enlarged and beautified ; the episcopal palace was rebuilt by Bishop Dawson ; and in the reign of Chas. II. the cathedral, which had suffered from violence and dilapidation, was wholly restored. The ancient monastery existed independently of thie bishoprick till the Reformation, when Hen, VIII., in the 35th of his reign, united it to the prelacy. The parish is situated on the road from Eyrecourt to Ballinasloe ; it is bounded on the east by the river Shannon, and is intersected by the Grand Canal, in cutting for which through the bog an ancient wooden causeway was discovered, that, soon after exposure to the air, crumbled to dust. It comprises 12,335 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, a very large portion of' which is bog ; the remainder is good arable and pasture or meadow land, of which last there are large tracts bordering on the river. There are two constabulary police stations in the parish, one at Clonfert and the other at Clonfert bridge. It also contains the village of Isker or Esker.
The DIOCESE of CLONFERT originated in the monastery founded by St. Brendan, who was its first abbot, and in whose time the church, previously famous for its seven altars, became a cathedral. St. Brendan, as are indeed many of his successors, is by various writers styled indifferently abbot or bishop, though some contend that St.Moena, whom St. Brendan, on his abdication, appointed his successor, and whom he survived, was the first to whom the latter title was given. St. Moena died in 571 ; and St. Brendan, who was the founder of many other abbeys, and is said to have presided over 3000 monks, died in 577, at Enachdune, whence his remains were removed to Clonfert and interred in the abbey. Of the successors of St. Moena, till after the arrival of the English in the reign of Hen. II., very little is recorded. The abbey was frequently plundered and burned by the Danes ; and in 845, Turgesius, at the head of a party of those ravagers, not only burned and destroyed the houses in the town, but reduced the churches and conventual buildings to ashes. After the death of Bishop Thomas O'Kelley, in 1263, the see remained vacant till 1266, when John, the pope's nuncio, and an Italian, was appointed bishop ; and on his translation to the archbishoprick of Benevento, in Italy, the temporalities were seized by the eseheator of the Crown, but were restored the same year to Robert, a monk of Christchureh, Canterbury, who was made bishop by the provision of Pope Clement IV. John was a great benefactor to the cathedral, and is supposed to have erected and embellished the west front, which has been erroneously referred to a much later period. Roland Linch, who succeeded to the see of Kilmacduagh in 1587, received the see of Clonfert, vacant by the death of Stephen Kerovan, to hold in commendam ; since which time the two dioceses have constantly remained united under one bishop. This bishop, however, greatly diminished the revenues of the united sees, by granting the possessions of Kilmacduagh at a nominal rent. Bishop Robert Dawson, who succeeded to the prelacy in 1627, repaired or rather rebuilt and beautified the episcopal palace of Clonfert. Bishop Wolley succeeded in 1664, and during his prelacy repaired the cathedral of Clonfert ; but after his death, in 1684, the episcopal revenues were seized into the hands of Jas. II. and paid over to the Roman Catholic prelates, and the see remained vacant till after the Revolution, when William Fitzgerald was advanced to the prelacy by letters patent of William and Mary, dated July 1st, 1691. From this time a regular succession of bishops has been invariably maintained in the see, which, with the united see of Kilmacduagh, continued to form one diocese, suffragan to the archbishop of Tuam, till December, 1833, when, on the death of the bishop of Killaloe, it was, under the provisions of the Church Temporalities act of the 3rd of Wm. IV., united to those of Killaloc and Kilfenora, and the estates of the diocese became vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It is one of the six dioceses that constitute the episcopal province of Tuam, and comprehends part of the county of Roscommon, a large portion of the county of Galway, and one parish on the east side of the Shannon, in King's county. It is 37 Irish miles in length and 32 in breadth, and comprises an estimated superficies of 250,000 acres, of which 17,500 are in Roscommon, 193,100 in Galway, and 4400 in King's county. The hands belonging to the see comprise 7794 statute acres, of which 3844 are profitable and the remainder unprofitable land ; and the gross amount of its annual revenue, on an average of three years ending with 1831, was £2385. 8. 9-. The chapter consists of a dean ; an archdeacon ; the eight prebendaries of Fenore, Annacalla, Kilconnell, Killaspicmoylan, Kilteskill, Droughta, Ballynoulter, and Kilquane ; and a sacrist. There are neither canons nor vicars choral, and no member of the chapter has either cure of souls or official residence. The income of the chapter, with the exception of that of the dean, arises entirely from portions of tithes in various parishes ; the dean's income is £457. 12. 7., arising from portions of tithes in 23 parishes, and lands adjoining the village of Kilconnell, containing 30a. 1r. 19p., let on lease at £20 per annum, with renewal fines of £10 every three years. There is no economy fund at the disposal of the chapter : the repairs of the cathedral consequently devolve upon the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who have recently granted £484. 15. for that purpose. The consistorial court of the united dioceses of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh is held at Loughrea ; its officers are a vicar-general, a registrar, and a proctor ; the registrar is also keeper of the records, consisting of copies of leases of the see lands from 1724 to the present time, wills, and deeds of administration. The total number of parishes in the diocese is 38, included in 11 unions, which are either rectories and vicarages, or vicarages of which the rectorial tithes are partly appropriate to the see or to members of the chapter. The total number of benefices, including dignities, is 22, of which one is in the gift of the Crown, 18 in the patronage of the Bishop, and 3 in that of the Marquess of Clanricarde ; the number of churches is 13, and of glebe-houses, 8. In the R. C. divisions this diocese is one of the seven suifragan to Tuam, and comprises 23 parochial unions or districts, containing 44 chapels served by 23 parish priests and 11 coadjutors or curates. The bishop's parish is Loughrea.
The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Clonfert, and the head of a union, including also Clontuskert and Kilmahinoge, in the patronage of the Bishop ; the rectory is appropriate to the see, the deanery, the prebends of Kilconnell, Kilteskill, Fenore, and Annacalla, and to the sacristy of Clonfert, The tithes of the parish amount to £309. 4., and of the benefice to £367. 10. The glebe lands of the union comprise 55- acres. The church, which is both capitular and parochial, is an ancient and spacious structure, to which a gift of £500 was made in 1793, and a like sum in 1813, by the late Board of First Fruits ; the service is performed in the chancel, which is too small for the accommodation of the parishioners ; the nave, which is very spacious, is therefore about to be adapted to their use, for which purpose, and for general repairs, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £484. 15. The episcopal palace is situated very near the church. The glebe-house was built in 1817, by aid of a gift of £400 and a loan of £400 from the late Board of First Fruits, There is also a church at Clontuskert, a neat and substantial edifice. In the R. C. divisions this parish is partly in the union or district of Kiltormer, but chiefly the head of a union, including also the parishes of Dononaughta and Meelick, and called also the union of Eyrecourt, in which are three chapels, situated respectively at Brackloon, in this parish (a large slated building), at Eyrecourt, in the parish of Dononaughta, and at Meelick. There are two free schools in which are about 80 boys and 70 girls ; and there are also five pay schools, in which are about 200 children, and a Sunday school. At Brackloon are the ruins of an old castle ; and between Clonfert and Laurencetown is a chahybeate spring, the water of which is efficacious in complaints of the liver.