The Archdiocese of Tuam stretches from the shores of Achill Island to the low lying fields of Athenry, making it the largest diocese in the country. Geographically split north/south by the two lakes, Loughs Mask and Corrib, Tuam has pastoral charge of the largest Gaeltacht area in the country and of six of Ireland’s island parishes. It also contains the major pilgrimage centres of Knock Shrine and Croagh Patrick. Established by the twelfth-century synods of Rathbreasail and Kells, it subsequently absorbed two other medieval dioceses: Annaghdown and Mayo.
Although not listed in Rathbreasail or Kells, Annaghdown diocese survived nonetheless for many centuries through monastic outreach from Annaghdown Abbey. Several ‘bishops of Annaghdown’, from 1189 to 1485, were systematically elected by its ‘Cathedral Chapter’ and, despite many counterclaims from Tuam, some were approved by Rome. In 1485, when the Wardenship of Galway was created, Annaghdown was formally united with Tuam by Papal decree, and some of its parishes, Claregalway, Moycullen and Shrule, were formally attached to the new wardenship.
The Diocese of Mayo, though recognised officially in the Synod of Kells, was suppressed in the thirteenth century. Bishops were appointed, however, as late as the sixteenth century. One of its bishops, Patrick O’Hely, who died in 1589, is numbered among the Irish martyr saints. The diocese was formally joined to Tuam by papal decree in 1631.
The absence of continuity in territory makes Tuam’s diocesan boundary unique. Moore parish and the Kilmeen portion of Leitrim parish, both situated within Clonfert diocese, have been part of Tuam since medieval times. Shrule parish, now part of Galway diocese, is nestled in the Tuam geographical area in the east of Lough Corrib. Originally, it belonged to the medieval Diocese of Cong. But in south Connemara, ‘extra-territorial’ enclaves alternate between Tuam and Galway in a patchwork pattern. This situation may be explained by a number of factors: Galway’s late emergence as a diocese in 1831; the unusual topography of islands, inlets and lakes; and the late population settlements on Connemara. Also, there was the influence on Annaghdown diocese, stretching across Lough Corrib. To rectify the situation, an exchange took place with Galway of one of those parishes, Killannin, for parts of Carraroe in 1890, but this created enormous disturbance and formed only a partial solution.
Tuam has its own quota of acclaimed saints: Jarlath of Tuam, Feichin of Cong, Macdara of Carna, Colman of Inisboffin, Fursey of Headford, Enda of Aran, Benin of Kilbannon and Cuana of Kilcoona, amongst others.
More details can be found at www.tuamarchdiocese.org