Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tuam

Archdiocese of Tuam
Archidioecesis Tuamensis
Ard-Deoise Thuama

Country Republic of Ireland
Territory Parts of counties Mayo, Galway and Roscommon
Ecclesiastical province Province of Tuam
Area 2,192 sq mi (5,680 km2)
- Total
- Catholics
(as of 2014)
143,411 (90.0%)
Denomination Roman Catholic
Rite Latin Rite
Established Archdiocese since 1152
Cathedral Cathedral of the Assumption, Tuam
Patron saint St Jarlath
Secular priests 103 (diocesan)
6 (Religious Orders)
Current leadership
Pope Francis
Metropolitan Archbishop Michael Neary,
Archbishop of Tuam

The Archdiocese of Tuam within the Ecclesiastical Province of Tuam

The Archdiocese of Tuam (Irish: Ard-Deoise Thuama) is a Roman Catholic archdiocese in western Ireland. The archdiocese is led by the Archbishop of Tuam, who serves as pastor of the mother church, the Cathedral of the Assumption and Metropolitan of the Metropolitan Province of Tuam. According to tradition, the "Diocese of Tuam" was established in the 6th century by St. Jarlath. The ecclesiastical province, which was roughly co-extensive with the secular province of Connacht, was created in 1152 by the Synod of Kells.

As of 2013 the incumbent Ordinary is Michael Neary.

Province and geographic remit

The Province of Tuam, is one of four ecclesiastical provinces that together form the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland; the other provinces are Armagh, Dublin and Cashel. The geographical remit of the province is confined to the Republic of Ireland alone. The suffragan sees of the Province are:

Stretching from Achill Island to Moore parish on the River Shannon, a distance of 193 km (120 mi), it is the largest 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 island parishes. It also contains the major pilgrimage centres of Knock Shrine and Croagh Patrick.

The absence of continuity in territory makes Tuam's diocesan boundary unique. The Kilmeen portion of Leitrim parish is surrounded by the Clonfert diocese. Moore parish is surrounded by the dioceses of Clonfert, Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and Elphin and includes an exclave of Clonfert. Both these parishes 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, 'extraterritorial' 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. A partial rectification took place in 1890 when Galway exchanged Killannin parish for parts of Carraroe. This disturbance only formed a partial solution.

The present Archdiocese contains parts of counties Mayo, Galway and Roscommon, including Achill Island, the Aran Islands and the towns of Athenry, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Clifden, Claremorris, Tuam and Westport.


The 56 parishes of Tuam archdiocese are organized into eight deaneries:


The See is maintained in the Roman Catholic Church, but was abandoned in the Church of Ireland. Following an Act of Parliament of 1833, the See of the established church was merged with that of the Diocese of Killala and Achonry.

Middle Ages

The pre-Reformation diocese at various moments absorbed other local episcopal sees deriving from Celtic monastic jurisdictions. The diocese of Annaghdown was created c. 1179. 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 1202. However, bishops of Mayo were continued to be appointed as late as the 16th 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.

Even after the Synod of Kells, a multiplicity of abbeys had pastoral care for the people in their surroundings. With the despoliation of the monasteries and the scarcity of priests during penal days, old churches were abandoned. When they were replaced, it was with miserable thatched shelters. House 'stations' were a necessary substitute for normal public worship.

Lordship of Ireland

Ireland's political scene and ecclesiastical was changed permanently by the coming of the Normans and the influence of the English Crown. With the English Reformation, church property was forfeited by the state and transferred to the official state religion - the Church of Ireland. Although only a winning over a minority of the people, despite the many political and economic advantages offered by conversion to the state religion, all subjects of the Crown were obliged, in their taxes to support the official state church. Additionally, the Penal Laws sought to curb or altogether extinguish the practice of the Roman Catholic religion amongst the majority population of the Archdiocese.

19th and 20th centuries

In 1825, Archbishop Kelly testified before a House of Commons Committee of enquiry that out of 107 places of worship in the diocese, only eighteen had slated roofs. The others, he said, were thatched and wretched, insufficient to contain the congregations, and in many instances the public prayers were celebrated in the open air. The chapels were also used as Sunday schools, and a great many were used on weekdays as the local school.

As persecution abated, and as priests became more plentiful, a new confidence grew and the small thatched buildings were superseded by more solid, ample structures. Only two of the existing churches in the diocese predate 1800 - the abbeys of Ballyhaunis and Ballintubber. But from 1820 onwards, a phenomenal rate of construction began. Twenty of the 135 existing churches were constructed in the Famine years, 1840-1850. The pattern of church replacement or reconstruction continued to modern times. Modern church architecture is rare in Tuam diocese, as most churches predate modern times. The four special chapels constructed at Knock Shrine, including the Basilica, since 1972 are, however, of special importance.

Age profile of priests in the Archdiocese of Tuam, 2016.

  Below 60 (33%)
  60-80 (47.57%)
  80+ (19.41%)

Population changes

In 1800 there were no more than one hundred priests in the archdiocese. The number grew steadily to 170 about 1968; despite the fact that the population dropped to less than 30% of what it was before the Famine. In 1986, the figure attending Mass in the archdiocese was approximately 75% of the whole Catholic population, or 89% of those obliged to attend Mass. This has decreased by approximately 10% in recent years. A major survey of the diocese carried out in 1996 found that the pattern of the population decline is still continuing; nowadays, however, that decline continues through out-migration to the eastern part of Ireland, but with the same deleterious effects on the west.

As of 2016, there were 103 priests in the archdiocese, with 69 over the age of 60 and 20 over the age of 80.[9]

Education in the diocese

In the 19th century, Tuam had a late start in primary education as Archbishop McHale had a great antipathy to the National School Education Acts. In nine rural areas were proselytism was a problem, he had the Third order of St. Francis of Assisi provide schools, but, on the whole, primary education was patchy. There was still much reliance on pay-schools and the efforts of local people, or on landlords, benign or otherwise. Religious-run schools were confined largely to the towns. In the 20th century, however, Tuam diocese, under Archbishop Walsh, was to the fore in the provision of secondary schools, especially in the twenty-year period before 1967, when the State made building grants and free post-primary education available. Two extra diocesan colleges were established as well as nine co-educational schools in small towns throughout the diocese, the latter managed by religious, usually in conjunction with priests of the diocese. As a result, a whole generation of pupils had the advantage of secondary education and avoided emigration as a result.

Places of pilgrimages

Knock Shrine pilgrimage

Knock Shrine is the largest pilgrimage centre in Ireland, attracting pilgrims from all over the world with almost one million pilgrims per annuum.

Croagh Patrick pilgrimage

Documentary evidence associating Croagh Patrick, or 'The reek', as it is affectionately known, with St Patrick's forty days of fasting there, goes back at least to the 7th-century account of Bishop Tirecha'n. The traditional pilgrimage is mentioned in several documents from 1300 and it is certain that the pilgrimage extends back at least one thousand years.

Ballintubber Abbey pilgrimage

Ballintubber Abbey, County Mayo, founded in 1216, is unique in that it is the oldest medieval parish church in Ireland still in use. In recent years, Tochar Phadraig, the twenty-two-mile walking pilgrimage along the traditional pilgrim route used by St Patrick from Ballintubber to Croagh Patrick, has been restored.

Local pilgrimages



Main article: Archbishop of Tuam

See also


  1. Parishes of Athenry Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  2. Parishes of Ballinrobe Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  3. Parishes of Castlebar Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  4. Parishes of Claremorris Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  5. Parishes of Clifden Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  6. Parishes of Dunmore Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  7. Parishes of Westport Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  8. Parishes of Tuam Deanery Archdiocese of Tuam, 2009-12-10
  9. "Does the Irish Catholic Church have a contingency to combat vocational decline?". The Irish News. Retrieved 2016-06-12.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

Coordinates: 53°30′54″N 8°50′51″W / 53.5149°N 8.8476°W / 53.5149; -8.8476

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