Some Thoughts on the Parish of Lorrha

On the occasion of the Celebration of the 'Gathering 2013' at Lorrha, June 19, 2013


On the occasion of the launch of the 'Gathering 2013' here, I have put a few thoughts together on the Parish of Lorrha and Dorrha. It's a partial glimpse into the distant past of this ancient place

When I was growing up in this parish it was always known as Lorrha. Then about 1980 – I'm not very sure when – it began to be known as Lorrha & Dorrha for G.A.A. purposes. It may have become the practice in the Centenary Year of 1984, when a banner was produced by the club for the parade of G.A.A. clubs around Liberty Square in Thurles before the county convention. I do know that when the first County G.A.A. Directory was produced in 1989 the club was named Lorrha and Dorrha.

Maybe I was partly responsible myself since I named the club history, published in 1984, Lothra agus Doire 1884-1984 Iomáint agus Peil!

Of course there is a nice balance in the Lorrha and Dorrha name. So many G.A.A. clubs have two names in their titles, though not so much in North Tipperary with the exception of Borris-Ileigh, which incorporates the two ancient parishes in the title of the club. There are many more such clubs in Mid Tipperary where you find Holycross-Ballycahill, Boherlahan-Dualla, Loughmore-Castleiney, Moycarkey-Borris, etc

I hadn't realised that this parish was called Lorrha and Dorrha until I read The Parish Churches of North Tipperary by Willie Hayes and Joseph Kennedy, which appeared in 2007. The authors named this place the Catholic Parish of Lorrha and Dorrha.

Yet, the same authors tell us that the parish includes the three medieval parishes of Lorrha, Dorrha and Bonachum. Lorrha means low-lying or hollow places, Dorrha means oak woodlands and Bonachum means the bottom of the valley. The names tell us a lot about the topgraphy of the area. While we associate Lorrha with St. Ruadhan, St. Brecan is given as the founder of the monastery in Dorrha. Pallas church may have been the ecclesiastical centre of Dorrha.

While the name Ruadhan is occasionally used as a Christian name – and I have a son of that name – I haven't heard anyone with the name of Brecan. Maybe if we knew a bit more about the saint, his name might come into use.

Dorrha and Bonachum were already united into one parish as early as the 16th century and they in turn were amalgamated with Lorrha parish in the early 1700s to form the united parish of Lorrha.

This brings me back to the beginning when I said that I grew up with Lorrha as the name and only later did the parish and the club come to be named Lorrha and Dorrha. I suggest that if we persist with the latter we should really be calling the place, Lorrha, Dorrha and Bonachum!

And when we're on the subject, what about Lougheen? The Lougheen section of the parish of Birr and Carrig should definitely be in Lorrha. How it came to be part of the parish of Birr-Carrig I don't for the life of me know. We are told it was a separate medieval parish and became amalgamated with Birr parish towards the end of the 17th century.

The reason I question its attachment to Birr is because a river, the Little Brosna, is the boundary between Lougheen and Birr. Rivers form distinct boundaries between territories and jurisdictions and were even more important for this purpose in the past. The river in this area also acts as the boundary between the counties of Tipperary and Offaly. How, therefore, did Lougheen, so distinctly cut off from Birr by the Little Brosna, became part of that parish, rather than the parish of Lorrha? Was there a row or a falling out of some sort? A look at the map will show you how naturally at home in the parish of Lorrha, Lougheen would be. Any Lougheen people present who could throw some light on the question?

Then there is the little matter of Lusmagh, the only part of the Diocese of Clonfert that is east of the Shannon. It was incorporated into the parish of Dorrha at some stage and appears so on some 6 inch Ordnance map, according to George Cunningham. St. Dimma has associations there, even though he's mainly associated with Roscrea and he was adopted by the people of Lorrha.

Anyone called Dimma around? On second thoughts it might be better if parents didn't call their sons by that name. The poor devil might get a terrible time at school or on the hurling field.

How many of you are aware that Dimma's well exists in the townsland of Graigue. As far as I know it is on Maher's farm. Eileen Duffy told me that she collected water from it for the late Father Martin Ryan on one occasion. Apparently it is much overgrown now though it is a place of some importance. At some stage St. Dimma, who failed to find a well in Lusmagh came to Graigue and found one there. There is a rock beside the well with the imprint of Dimma's hand on it

Dimma left a book named after him and it can be found in Trinity College, Dublin. It is an eighth century pocket Gospel Book, predating the Stowe Missal, originally from the Abbey of Roscrea, which was founded by St. Cronan. In addition to the four gospels it has an order for the Unction and Communion of the Sick. It has some illuminated initials as well as portraits of the Evangelists.

The experts tell us the work was written by different hands but each of the gospels is signed at the end by Dimma MacNathi. There is a story that he was commissioned by St. Cronan to write out in one day the whole of the text of the gospel book. We read how he set about the task, working incessantly for 40 days and nights until he had finished. Happily the sun did not set for all that period, so that the 40 days counted as but one day.

This Dimma has been traditionally identified with the Dimma who was later Bishop of Connor, who was mentioned by Pope John IV in a letter on Pelagianism in 640, so that would date him. The Book of Dimma would have at first been carried round in a leather satchel or hung up in its satchel inside the monastery cell or scriptorium. Later it was encased in a richly worked cumdach or reliquary case, which remains at Trinity.

The reliquary and manuscript of Dimma were preserved in the Abbey of Roscrea until the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century when they came into lay hands. Eventually they came into the possession of a Dr. Harrison of Nenagh, who sold them on to a Mr. Mason. He sold on to Sir William Betham and they were eventually purchased by Trinity College in 1842 for £200.

How did these Medieval parishes come into existence?

Prior to the twelfth century the provision of pastoral care in Ireland was at best patchy and disorganised, divided between a secular clergy which served churches predominantly owned by local chieftains and controlled by them, and a monastic clergy supplied by the many monasteries that were spread all over the land.

The old parochial divisions were based on monastic territories. The coarb, or successor of the founder of the monastery, became rector of the parish even though he may have been only a simple cleric or even a layman.

The medieval parish may also have originated in the tuath, the smallest political unit at the time, or may have been co-extensive with it.

With the reform movement in the 12th century a determined effort was made to set up an efficient parochial organisation in the country together with an effective, comprehensive pastoral ministry, supported by a tithe system.

The most significant consequence of the creation of a parish system in Tipperary was the widespread provision of resident priests supported by the payment of the tithe. Although monastic houses came to control the tithes of many parishes, the development of the vicarage system, under episcopal supervision, ensured that livings were provided for resident priests.
The old medieval parish system began to disappear after the Reformation. It was better preserved by the Church of Ireland than by the Catholic Church. Especially during Penal Times many of these medieval units were grouped together into bigger units, sometimes incorporating as many as six or seven medieval parishes. As we said earlier the Medieval parishes of the Lorrha area were amalgamated in the 16th and 17th centuries. This became necessary because of the shortage of clergy.

How did the medieval parishes support their priests or rectors?

A taxation system was imposed on the country during the period 1302-06 and under it every parish was given a taxation rating. While the wealthiest parish may have been assessed at 10 marks, the parish of Lorrha was assessed at 3 marks. Dorrha and Bonachum were assessed at 20s each, which I believe to have been less than 1 mark.

So the parishes were not wealthy and it makes one wonder how any of them could support a clergyman. When one realises that there were monasteries at Lorrha and Dorrha at the same time and the monks had to be supported, it must have been a difficult time for the layman who contributed to the support of his pastor.

So, on the occasion of the Gathering here today it may be of interest to learn that there was a very definite parish structure here long before the Dominicans and the Augustinians founded their monasteries, long before Lackeen or Redwood Castles were built, long before O'Sullivan Beare passed through our parish and long before Martin O'Meara and the rest of us were heard of.