United Dioceses of Dublin & Glendalough


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As part of the Church of Ireland, the dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough were unified after the death of the last bishop of Glendalough, William Piro in 1214. The unification of the two dioceses was confirmed by Pope Honorius III in 1216. The diocese is made up of 95 parishes, many of which operate in unions. Other relevant information here.

Image shows The Round Tower in the Monastic City of Glendalough, the St Laurence O'Toole window in Christ Church Cathedral and a High Cross in St James's Churchyard in Castledermot.
Image shows The Round Tower in the Monastic City of Glendalough, the St Laurence O'Toole window in Christ Church Cathedral and a High Cross in St James's Churchyard in Castledermot.

Early Years (c.520) – Reformation (1536):

The early Irish church was primarily monastic and did not have dioceses in the modern sense. There were several monasteries in the Dublin and Wicklow area but Glendalough (Glenn Dá Loch, the glen of the two lakes), founded by St Kevin in the sixth century was one of the most important. As a diocesan structure began to take shape in the early Irish church, the area around Dublin was considered part of the diocese of Glendalough.

The city of Dublin was founded around 841 by the Vikings and it was the Hiberno–Norse king of Dublin, Sitriuc (the first Christian king of the city), who, visiting Rome in 1028, formally established the diocese of Dublin and its cathedral, Christ Church, under its first bishop, Dúnán or Donat. The early bishops of Dublin were trained as Benedictines in England, and from Bishop Gilla Pátraic to Bishop Gréine, each swore canonical obedience to the archbishop of Canterbury. The diocese of Dublin therefore remained separate from the Irish church until it was incorporated, along with Tuam in 1152, and elevated to an archbishopric alongside the already established Armagh and Cashel.

The second Dublin Archbishop, a former abbot of Glendalough and later the patron saint of Dublin, Laurence O’Toole, saw in the arrival of the Anglo–Normans, who filled the positions with loyal subjects of the crown as the Irish occupants expired. The dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough were unified after the death of the last bishop of Glendalough (as a separate diocese), William Piro in 1214. The unification of the two dioceses was confirmed by Pope Honorius III in 1216.

One of St Laurence O’Toole’s successors, Henry of London (archbishop from 1212–1228) raised the status of a collegiate church, St Patrick’s, outside the city walls to that of a cathedral, leaving Dublin with the unusual situation of having two medieval cathedrals in the one city. The situation became complicated and litigious resulting in difficulties in the appointment of archbishops which required the ratification of both cathedral chapters, seeing as each proposed their own candidate. A ‘composicio pacis’, or peace agreement was made in 1300 by which both were recognised as diocesan cathedrals, and this would last until the 1870s.

Reformation (1536) – Disestablishment (1871):

All pre–Reformation archbishops were English with the sole exception of the Anglo–Irishman, Walter Fitzsimons (1484–1511), who crowned Lambert Simnel, King Edward VI at Christ Church, a direct (and ultimately unsuccessful) challenge to King Henry VII of England. The event did little for the prospects of future Irish–born archbishops!

King Henry VIII’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and the Pope’s refusal to grant it resulted in breaking the link between the Church of England and the Papacy. By 1534, the English Parliament had declared Henry VIII head of the Church of England. Two years later, the Irish Parliament declared him head of the Church of Ireland. Initially the dispute was a jurisdictional one and while Henry desired independence from the Papacy, he was a theological conservative. His reign saw the socially and architecturally traumatic dissolution of the monasteries which was met with much resistance, not least from the chapters of the two Dublin cathedrals. Henry VIII’s successors, Edward VI (1547–1553) and Elizabeth I (1558–1603) were more reform–minded and their reigns marked the introduction of Protestantism. This was not consolidated until 1603–25, under James I, when the Counter–Reformation was gaining strength.

The reformation split the Irish church. The established Church of Ireland was protestant, state approved and supported. The Roman Catholic church was regarded with hostility and suspicion by the authorities but nevertheless supported by the majority of the people, particularly outside Dublin, where the crown’s authority was weakest. Each church maintained it was the authentic successor of the pre–Reformation Irish church. The plantations of Ulster in 1610 saw the introduction of Presbyterianism to Ireland. The fourth major Christian church in Ireland today, the Methodist church, dates from the first visit to Ireland by John Wesley in 1747.

The expansion of Dublin in the reign of Charles II (1660–1685) and into the early eighteenth century saw the subdivision of a number of parishes and the consequent building of new churches, particularly under Archbishop William King. Following the act of union in 1800, a Board of First Fruits was established which allowed the building of many new churches, often to the detriment of the medieval fabric. A metropolitan chapel of St Mary’s later to become the Pro–Cathedral was completed in 1825 as part of a rising tide of Roman Catholic empowerment further evidenced by Daniel O’Connell’s successful campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

In 1833, a Church Temporalities Act was passed to address the fact that the Church of Ireland, despite being a minority church, had an improbable 22 bishoprics, many with tiny congregations. The act confiscated much of the property of the church and amalgamated several dioceses to leave 2 archbishops and 10 bishops (reducing two archbishoprics, Cashel and Tuam, to bishoprics in the process). The act also united the diocese of Kildare on the death of its bishop, with that of Dublin and Glendalough. The deaneries of the two cathedrals were also amalgamated. Charles Lindsay was both bishop of Kildare and dean of Christ Church, a position which had been jointly held since 1681, and these changes took place on his death in 1846.

Disestablishment (1871) – Modern Times:

With the growth of democratic feeling in the mid to late nineteenth century the anomalous position of the Church of Ireland as the established state church in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country came increasingly into focus. The Tithe war (1831–6) highlighted the resentment of Roman Catholics and others at the injustice of being obliged to pay tithes to support a church of which they were not members.

Inevitably, the church moved towards disestablishment, which took place on 1 January 1871, and ended both state support for the Church of Ireland and parliamentary authority over it. The Church of Ireland therefore became responsible for its own governance, led by the General Synod, with its financial management carried out by a Representative Church Body. With disestablishment, the last remnant of tithes were abolished and the church’s representation in the House of Lords at Westminster also ceased.

In Dublin, the act also saw St Patrick’s Cathedral created as a national cathedral, while the archbishop of Dublin, Richard Chenevix Trench, took the position of dean of Christ Church (later relinquished again to an independent dean in 1887). The two cathedrals had major restorations carried out during the nineteenth–century, at Christ Church carried out by the architect, George Edmund Street, who also converted the old St Michael’s church into a hall for meetings of the new General Synod. The Church of Ireland was forced to revise its self–image as an established church, particularly in a newly independent Republic of Ireland, and kept a generally low profile during much of the twentieth century. Ecumenism, particularly after the second Vatican Council (1962–1965) resulted in a considerable thawing of the previously frosty relations between the Church of Ireland and other protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church. In 1977, Kildare diocese was removed from Dublin and Glendalough and united with Meath, and with urban decay in Dublin, the subsequent decades saw an increasing amalgamation and closure of city centre parishes, and a strengthening and growth in suburban parishes.

In the twenty–first century, the united dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough has enjoyed a reinvigoration with the roar of the Celtic Tiger swelling congregations and creating new cultural synergies with immigrants, complimented by warm ecumenical relations with other denominations and traditions, including the holding of an annual shared civic service alternately in St Mary’s Pro–Cathedral and Christ Church. If you would like to read more about the history of the dioceses, read on.


Further information on the history of the dioceses of Dublin & Glendalough:

James Kelly & Dáire Keogh (ed.), History of the Catholic diocese of Dublin (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000)

Kenneth Milne (ed.), Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin: a history (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 315–38.

Raymond Refaussé & Mary Clark, A catalogue of the maps of the estates of the archbishops of Dublin: 1654–1850 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000).

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