St Johnston and Carrigans Donegal



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Church of Ireland in Taughboyne and its Celtic Roots

The Church of Ireland has three Churches or chapels in the St Johnston and Carrigans area. 

Craigadooish on the slopes of Binnion Hill has the Chapel of Ease dedicated to the memory of St Columba (521-597) who was born in Gartan.  Columba and his monks played a huge role in the conversion of Scotland to Christianity.  He didn’t leave a monastic rule for his monks but one claiming to be his work is in existence.  The rule insisted on fasting in private and on being ready and willing to die for the faith which it referred to as red martyrdom. Hymns for the souls in purgatory were to be sung standing and the monk was forbidden to eat unless he was hungry.


There is Killea Parish Church in Carrigans which commemorates St Fiach who founded a Church in Killea about 1300 years ago.  Killea means Fiach’s Church.  There was another St  Fiach who was bishop of Sletty who consulted St Bridgid for advice.  He founded his monastery in Laoghis and she was involved in helping him set it up.

Then there is Taughboyne Parish Church near Churchtown.

Columba and Fiach were figures in the Celtic Church.  In those days, saints were made by the community and no formal canonisation ceremony took place.  That is why we have so many local saints, Baithin, Fiach, Eunan etc.  The tendency in the Celtic Church was to name Churches not after saints but after their founders even before they died and in time as the Church got closer to its sister Church headquartered in Rome the title Saint was applied to the founder.  The Church calculated the time Easter would fall differently from the Roman Church and until the time of St Augustine of Canterbury the Church refused to baptise in the form used by the Catholic Church under Rome.  They fell away from the practice of anointing babies at baptism with chrism which was a tradition in St Patrick’s time and which was required by Rome’s Church law.  The tonsure took a different form from that decreed by Rome as well.  The Celtic bishops didn’t have proper dioceses and only one bishop was necessary for the consecration of a new bishop which was a serious difference with the papacy which had dioceses and insisted that a new bishop must be consecrated by three bishops to guarantee that the new bishop is a real bishop and to make it a bit more certain that the new bishop will uphold Church unity.  The Celtic Church preferred to run things its own way and gave a huge amount of independence to bishops and didn’t have a fixed liturgy, it varied from place to place and they usually used a large glass as a chalice. 

Just as the Celtic Church had major differences with Rome from the start so it had differences within itself. The Celtic Church practiced confession, but it was public not private and made to a priest who was called a soul friend and there was no obligation to confess.  A penance was prescribed but had to be carried out before absolution.  Uniformity didn’t come until 1110 when  the Church ceased to be a sister Church of the Roman communion and became Roman Catholic about the time the papacy began to be understood as a unifying force in the Church.  At the Reformation, many prelates in Britain and Ireland argued that the Anglican faith in its Protestant Church of Ireland form was not a new faith but just the revival of the ancient Celtic Catholic Church after discarding Roman Catholic ideas and Church laws which they believed were accretions and additions to the older Church system.  It is believed by some experts that the Celtic Church was influenced by Churches, specifically the unique form of Christianity in Edessa, and Christian teachers who hadn’t recognised the pope and some claim to find evidence of a direct link.   

The Church in Ireland became Roman Catholic and stayed in communion with Rome for many years.  Even during the Great Western Schism (1378-1415) when Pope Urban VI in Rome was claiming to be the true pope though half the Catholic Church thought the election was invalid and Pope Clement VII of Avignon in France was the true pope, Ireland followed the Roman Pontiff as the real pope.  Despite a promotional visit by Clement's emissary, Pedro de Luna, who later became Benedict XIII the successor of Clement VII Ireland stood by Pope Urban VI.  Scotland however was in schism at the time from Pope Urban VI and was under the authority of Clement VII. Both claimants to the papacy excommunicated each other and each others supporters and this led in many places to monasteries and dioceses having two rival abbots or bishops.  There were also battles fought in Church by priests over what Pope should be prayed for in the Mass.  This state of affairs caused such distress among the people, that it is unsurprising that the Reformation first broke out in Germany which had many states that owed allegiance to Clement VII.  At the time, canon lawyers and those who elected the popes couldn't agree on who the real pope was as the Cardinals who elected Urban VI who was nicknamed the "Mad Pope" all testified that they were forced to elect him by a violent Roman mob so the election was invalid.  Many argued that since the Cardinals went on to elect another pope instead of trying to depose Urban VI, on the ground of madness to avoid a schism that nobody wanted, that they sincerely believed they were right to attempt a new papal election and had really elected Urban VI invalidly.  St Catherine of Siena supported Urban VI and the famous miracle worker St Vincent Ferrer supported Clement VII and was a close friend of the cardinal who became Clement's successor Benedict XIII.  Today the Church officially regards Urban VI as the real pope and Clement and Benedict XIII as antipopes.  But if you agree that Urban VI was not a true pope then the Irish Church was separated from the Catholic Church.

Ireland wasn't really affected by the schism and it did not shake the faith of the Irish Church for it followed Urban VI from the start and had no reason to even think about Clement VII. Had Ireland seen the destruction of confidence in the Church caused by the scandal that many other countries did it is possible that the Reformation would have been more successful in Ireland. The Reformation in Ireland saw the formation of the Church of Ireland, known for years as the Established Church, but it was the Roman Catholic faith that most people in Ireland chose to follow.  The Reformation in Scotland saw most people in Scotland converting to the Reformed faith especially in its Presbyterian form as set up by John Knox and others.  The Scots came to Ireland and won converts and had a major role to play in the influence of the Reformation in Ireland.  It cannot be denied that when the Scottish Roman Catholic Church split with Rome and followed Clement VII as the true pope that this did a lot to pave the way for Scotland's transition into Protestantism.  The adverse effects of the Great Western Schism then did hit Ireland eventually but indirectly.

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