Monday, January 3, 2011



In 1669 Hugh [Aod] mcMahon was born in Caveny, Monahan county.
His father was Colla Dub Mc Mahon of Darty and his mother Eileen O Reilly of Cavan.

Early in life he became interested in the priesthood and his family was not poor and therefore able to send him to the Irish College of Rome in 1684 when he was 24 years old.

But the Willimite wars of 1689 were disabling, altering Ireland politically and religiously and he remained on the continent for 6 years studing humanities at Brussels.

He was cannonized to the collegiate church of St Peter at Cassel, Ypres in Flanders where he reamined for 11 years.

At 45 years he was appointed Vicar general of Clogher dioceses in Ireland which he administered from his position in Flanders as provost for 5 years.

In April of 1706 he decided to leave his comfort and proceed to Clogher where it remained illegal for any catholic priest or bishop to be in Ireland.

In 1703 under Willaim Mary and Anne* only 3 bishops were than living in Ireland illegally;
avoiding capture and death by the mighty monarchy/parliament hand, one of these being Patrick O Donnelly bishop of Dromore known as the Bard of Armagh as he disquised his status as a prelate and a priest as a bard playing and singing with his harp at local fairs, villages prtotected throughout Ulster, where he was the only bishop, by the peasants and locals where he was.

He managed to mininster to them in return.

He was finally taken in September 1706 by the prodestant establishment and I belive drawn, quartered and hung.
This left one old archbishop in all of Ireland at large but still a archbishop of Cashel.
These losses led Dr Mahon to return to Ireland.

In 1703 the Registration Act had been passed by parliament and given the royal assent by Queen Anne.

The Act required all religious clerics to register with the court at the local quarter session.
Most of those registered now were 55 years of so .
The Act allowed only one priest per parish.

Ordination of a new priest was forbidden with the Williamite reign and the intent was to allow the catholic religion to expire when these old registered priests died leaving the Church of Ireland prodestant and Calvinist doctrine the only church in the land.

The Act also required 2 surieties in witness usually putting up a sum of money -50 pounds -to assure the registered priest would be on good behaviour.

The Irish Assendancy parliament at Dublin had enacted a law to rid the country of catholic prelates in 1697 called the Banishment Act to banish all bishops priests an ecclesiastic who were ordered to leave Ireland by May 1698.
400 priest were deported leaving only 3 illegal bishops.

By 1704 an Act to Prevent the Growth of Popery was made by the Irish Assendancy parliament.

During this period of penal persecution where no native was allowed to own any property, or hold any paid job or have any church affiliation, build a church or a chapel, Mass was frequently held on some local rock that was then called the Mass Rock ,Mass Altars field.

These were covered only by a lean-to shelter of straw,.

A building a chapel or any other building for religious would result in either death or deportation.

These little protected field altars or rock alters had such little protection from wind or rain and snow and the priest along with the congregation before him in open fields were drenched and frozen.
The parishioners brought with them to kneel on ,a truss of hay or straw , a sort of prayer rug, on which to kneel.
These trusses of hay were left on the ground.

These altars of the field were numerous about the countryside.
A diocese usually having about 50 of them and there were no chapels orchurches .
Neither were Mass houses to be found.

By 1850 innicially following the famine, there were in place in a diocese 150 years after the Penal Code ,some 30 to 50 churches and chapels about the land.

With the death of Anne in 1714 and the assention to the English throne in August 1714 by George I of Hanover the worse abuse of the penal law drew to a close and were unenforced by such priest hunters as Edward Tyrell and sheriff Mervyn Archdale and the Justices of Peace whose established authority prevailed over registered priests, clerics and school teachers in Fermanagh County who had not abjured, contrary to law.

By 1731 there were 892 Mass Houses in all Erin and only 48 Mass Rocks Priests were tolerated.

Where most of the land had been confiscated by the Scots colonists, the penal laws had left the natives with no ownership of property ,no civil post, no military office, no soldering post or guard positions, forbidden to have arms and were given no restitution for their loss.

The priests were than usually homeless, starving, barefoot , on the run, if not registered and had not taken the Abduration Act required to deny the jacobite claims of James 2 to the throne of England.

Dr mcMahon has recieved an estate of his uncle Arthur mcMahon, the provost of Cassel St Peters College in Ypres, Flanders who had bequethed Hugh his estate when he died in 1710.

With this the Dr was able to establish bursaries of 120 French livers per year for students from his diocese of Clogher and Killmore.

Preferance to the old aristocratic families related to the founder McMahan family, Maguire, O Neill and Reilly.

The Clogher Diocese incorporating County Louth, Monahan, Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

These selected students were than sent to the Irish Colleges at Antwerp, Paris, Louve and Rome.

* Queen Anne was the last of the Stuart line of monarchists.
She was the sister of Mary who married William of Orange and the girls were both daughters of James 2, the Jacobite who lost his bid to hold the English throne at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland.
Anne was prodestant and quite cruel in her admininstration of the catholic church and the native people now subjects to her will .
She was an autocrat like her later more germanic princess Victoria. Ireland has suffered dearly under all the English Queens.

Some writings of Bishop Dr Mc Mahon 1704


'great delight among both clergy and laity, so much so that the Scottish Calvinists, with whom the province is swarming, put very serious difficluties in my way, in fact a law passed by parliament forbade anyone, under pain of confiscation of all property and imprisonment, to harbor or entertain a bishop or any church dignitary, there was moreover, a reward of 100 pounds for anyone who reported such a prelate to the authorities.
The Calvinists, spurred on by this enticement, are scrutinizing everything.
Sometimes too , there is danger from Catholics, especally servants and maids who live in Prodistant houses- the result ,not indeed of malice, but rather the incautious talk.
For these reasons I had to go elsewhere till such time as the excitment had abaited somewhat and there was less danger in visiing the district commited to me.


'Although all Ireland is suffering, this province is worse off than the rest of the country because of the fact that from the neighboring country of Scotland ,Calvininsts are coming here daily in large groups of families, occupying the towns and villages, seizing the farms in the richer parts of the country and expelling the natives.
They are in a position to do this because they enjoy the favor of the government and they have the support of the prodistant residents,
-men who, under the title of confication, had in the time of Cromwell taken over the farms and property of the natives.
The result is that the Catholic natives are forced to build their huts in mountainous or marshy country.
Hence the faithful, who in times past contributed so generously to the support of their clergy, are now themselves in dire poverty and quite unable to help.
To make things worse Catholics are forbidden to own real property, to hold the office of magistrate or any civil or military office, they cannot serve even as guards or common soldiers, they are not allowed to carry arms or to keep arms in their homes.
Moreover, if any thing is stolen from a house or if any of the cattle in the country happen to meet with an injury, the Catholics are bound to make good the damage, provided that the man who suffers the damage- or pretends that he suffered-swore that he believes it was the work of Papists.
No cooberation is require,and till full compensation be made the parish priests is put in prison.
Indeed,Calvinists who have suffered no injury have been know to take this oath and exacted compensation; and when later the fraud was discovered no restition was made.'

'since the people of Ulster are living in dire poverty, the remuneration of their pastors is necessarily small and altogether insufficient.
At the moment they are in such dire poverty that they havent a penny to give a beggar; and in fact they themselves are in greater need than any beggar.
Indeed the sight of them would move one to compassion as the go around unkempt, ill-clad without companions, with no fixed abode, spending the night here and there in huts by the wayside and if any money comes their way they must use it to bribe the captain and his quards that by ingratiating themsleves thus they may exercise their ministy more freely ....the priests here have told me thay are in very low cicumstances.
Some have not eaten meat for four or five months on end.
It has happened too that the priests have gone late at night or in the early morning to attend sick calls at a distance and have returned towards nightfall without having had anything to eat.'


Prelates and regualar clergy have, for some years, been proscribed by act of parliament, but the ordinary secular clergy are allowed to exercise their ministry, provided they present themselves before a magistrate, sign a register and procure bailmen to guarantee that they will appear when summoned and that they will stir up no trouble for the authorities.
If they do this they are allowed to exercise their ministy within the confines of a particular parish.
It is understood of course that they are not to employ an assistant or a substitute and that when they die no one is to be appointed to succeed them- a difficult situation but not unbearable, at least for the time.
In this way the priests have been able to provide to some extent, for the spiritual needs of their flock.
However at the first rumor of rebellion or trouble, the parish priest is thrown into prison.
The sacraments of a matrimony and baptism cannot be administered unless the banns are first proclaimed in the Prodestant church and the ministers fee paid.
The stipend is exacted even from the very poor who , in consequence, have nothing left for their own pastor.
In spite of all this religion was being practiced, although without public ceremony.'


'From that time the open practice of religion either ceased entirely or was considerably curtailed according as the persecution varied in intensity.
During these years a person was afraid to trust his neighbor least, being compelled to swear, he might divulge the names of those present at Mass.
Moreover, spies were continually moving around posing as Catholics.
In fact during the viceregency of Warton, a number of these spies, supported by publc funds, went around the country.

Greater danger, of course threatened the priests, as the government persecuted them unceasingly and bitterly, with the result that priests have celebrated Mass with their faces veiled least they should be rcognized by those present.
At other times Mass was celebrated in a closed room with only a server present, the window being left open so that those outside might hear the voice of the priest witout knowing who it was, or at least without seeing him.
And here the great goodness of God, was made manifest, for the greater the serverity of the persecution, the greater the fevour of the people.
Over the countryside, people might be seen , on meeting, signalling to each other on their fingers the hour Mass was due to begin, in order that people might mentally follow the Mass which was celebrated at a distance.
I myself , have often celebrated Mass at night with only the man of the house and his wife present.
They were afraid to admit even thier children so fearful were they.
The penalty for anyone allowing Mass to be celbrated in his house is a fine of 30 pounds and imprisonment for a year.

These laws are in force and are enforced with varying degrees of severity according to the type of viceroy.
Where the is even a slight breathing space the exercise of religion is carried on, mostly at night and hurridly.
So that there is no time for teaching catechism or preaching.The proclimation of banns before marraige is omitted entirely least the magistrte might hear of it, with consequent danger to the priest concered.
Under the previous law the Abjuration Act of 1709, the magistrate had power to prosecute at will, which meant that one might escape by bribary.
But under the present regime [in 1714] magistrates are to be compelled under penalty of forfeiture of office and a fine, to force all papists to take the oath.
The royal assent has not yet been given to this bill and parliament has progrogued till August 10th and so we are twixt the hammer and the anvil, our only hope being that Divine Providence will bring about the dissolution of the parmliament.
Otherwise no escape is possible; enevitable extripation awaits all.'


'In the northern part of this diocese there is a very famous place known locally as St Patricks Purgatory.

It is situated in a small island in a lake. Every year thousands of men and women of all ages come from even the most distant parts of the countyry to this hill and to make a novena.
For the nine days they live on one meal per day; the meal consists of oaten bread and water.
They go bearefooted and sleep on the ground. Thrice in the day they go around the stations walking all the time on rough sharp stones and sometimes wading through water.
On the ninth day, after a general confessional and after recieiving holy communion before dawn, they decend into a cave where they remain without food or drink for 24 hours.
The time is spent in prayer. They come out on the same hour the following day and bathe three times in cold water.
Such is the proceedure for the pilgrimage.
Stories of ghoasts and spectres are frequently told in connection with the island, but these stories have no foundation.
During the three months of the plilgrimage season Masses are being celebrated continously from dawn till mid-day.
Confessions are heard and there is a sermon twice or three times a day. Such is the fervour of the pilgrims that the preacher is frequently interupted by sobs and outburst of weeping among the congreation.
Almighty God seems to bestow great graces on those who make the pilgrimage, even people hardened in sin have changed their way of life after making it.
Moreover, people come back again and again and I have found people who had made the pilgrimage fourteen times. the Plenary Indulgence ganted by Pope Clement to those visiing the island has been a great help.

An extrordinary feature of the pilgrimage is that none of the Prodestants in the locality ever interfere with the pilgrms, although people are forbidden by law of parliament to make it.
when I viited there disguised as a Dublin merchant- for prelates and non-registered pritsts usally find it necessay to adopt some disguise- The Church of Ireland minister of the district recieved me hopitably. The result is that while in the rest of the country practice of religion has practically ceased here the religion is practised freely and openly.
This people attribute this to the mercy of God and the prayers of St Patrick.
While I was there an English prodestant moved by curiosity and the fame of the place was so moved by the example of the penitents that he abjured heresy.
Many priests help on the island but the Franscisan fathers bear the brunt of the work.
There is one custom on the island of which I do not appove.
On the ninth day of pilgrimage, the pilgrims about to enter the cave hear Mass.
This Mass is always a requim Mass offered for the pilgrims now dead to the world and about to descend to burial.

I have tried to alter this, especially on Sunday and Holy Days to the Mass of the day; but I am told the custom is an immemorial one coming down from St Patrick himself.
Even the experts suport this view, but still I am not content. Accordingly I would like a ruling on the matter from Your Eminence and the Sacred Congregation.'

Judi Donnelly
copyright Dec 29 2010

source: History of the Diocese of Clogher, Henry Jefferies,Four Courts Press Ltd, 2005
chapter 7 ,the Early Penal Days: Clogher under the admininstration of Hugh Mac Mahon[1701-1715]

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