From Monastery to Parish Church

From Monastery to Parish Church in 12th Century

We have learned in previous articles that the Straid monastery, endowed with rich meadow land along a river teeming with fish, thrived for several centuries, even surviving the Viking era. However, in common with Continental Europe the 11th and 12th centuries were periods of great change in Irish society. The organisation and structure of the Church was undergoing radical reform, and at the same time political power was being concentrated among a small group of dynasties who had ambitions to control the whole of Ireland.  The diocesan structure was established in a series of Synods and it is no surprise that the great Irish dynasties like O Briain, Mac Lochlainn, Ó Conchúir, Ó Cearúil were intimately involved in these negotiations in their provinces. The external boundaries of the modern diocese of Derry relate to the expansion of Cineál Eoghain and all within the kingdom created and held by Mac Lochlainn for about a century and a half. Had the Reform happened at a different time the boundaries of Derry would be significantly different. Fr. Ciaran Devlin’s The Making of Medieval Derry.

Following on from the creation of the diocese came the formation of the parish units and the monastery at Straid had to adapt to these new territorial boundaries.  Two white standing stones, one still in the playground of Clonmany N.S., marked the entrance to the extensive monastery lands, which now became Church or Bishop’s land in the parish of Clonmany.  The Morrison (Ó Muirgheasáin) family, the former hereditary erenaghs in the monastic system, became the lay administrators of the Bishop’s interests. They were obliged to maintain the church, sustain the clergy, pay the tithes to the bishop, receive him hospitably on visitation and welcome travellers etc. A small rectangular structure, built of local stone bonded by mortar, with steep gables and a thatched roof, similar to other medieval churches in the Irish countryside, was erected at Staid on the present site.   The Morrison family enjoyed a long association with the Church down to the 17th century. Some members were ordained for the Derry diocese and served as priests in Clonmany and in other Inishowen parishes.

This Catholic Church flourished for centuries in Straid  until the rebellion of Cahir O Doherty in 1608. In 1609 Donagh Ó Muirgheasáin informed the Inquisition, held in Lifford about the ancestral role of his family and their entitlements to Church land as descendants of servants of Colmcille and keepers of the Miosach. After the Plantation George Montgomery, the new Protestant Bishop of Derry, took possession of the Church lands and took over the old church which became part of the Establishment. This old church served the small Protestant community until 1772 when the present enlarged building was erected with financial help from Frederick Hervey, Earl Bishop of Derry (1730-1803).

Changing fortunes for the Catholic faithful of Clonmany meant that as they refused to attend the Protestant services they had no place of worship except the Scáthlán at Gaddyduff and the Mass Rocks on the mountain sides where priests and mendicant Friars said Mass during Penal times.