16th Century Religious Reform.
In 1531, King Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome over the Pope's refusal to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He then declared himself Head of the Church in England and "expected his subjects to take the Oath of Supremacy. Having declared himself King of Ireland in 1541, he wished to reform the church in this country also. In 1535 he began the dissolution of the monasteries in England and next undertook the suppression of the Irish monasteries. In 1542 he issued a commission to the Earl of Desmond to dissolve all religious houses within his jurisdiction. Mucross was dissolved immediately and Inisfallen, Killagha (De Bello Loco) and Clonmeen, near Banteer followed later.
The Council of Trent (1546-63) followed on. It was an attempt to reform the Catholic church from within and to clarify its teaching. It laid special emphasis on the provision of good bishops and the proper training of priests. The picture of the mid 16th Century is of a people poorly instructed and of low attendance at services.
In some cases priests held a number of benefices or retained them without timely ordination. This picture must be understood against the economic background of the time where the clerical income was meagre and there was a decline in the number of priests. The Franciscans were the mainstay of religious life in many rural areas until the arrival of the Jesuits and continental trained priests after the Council of Trent i.e. 1565 onwards.
There was a renewal of royal supremacy, especially under Edward and Elizabeth I, whose administration became the main agency in pursuing the Anglicisation of the newly constituted Kingdom of Ireland. England became a leading Protestant nation. Queen Elizabeth was excommunicated in 1570 and there was increasing opposition to the practice of the new religion.
Early in 1569 a convention was held in Western Duhallow, on the borders of North Cork. It was decided to secure military aid from Phillip II of Spain and the Pope, in the growing conflict with Elizabeth. James Fitzmaurice, Earl of Desmond, a man of the highest principle and religious integrity, was chosen as the envoy to carry their resolve to Spain and to the Pope. His expedition was more of a religious crusade than any other in Irish history. Whilst it is easy to be cynical about the religious motives of those who rose in rebellion at various times, it is generally acknowledged that James' primary aim was to restore ground lost by the Church as a consequence of the
Reformation. He interceded with the Pope and the King of Spain to assist in returning Ireland to Catholic rule. The Spanish and Italian forces that landed in Smerwick Harbour in 1580 were massacred at Dun an Oir. The Plantation of Munster followed upon the failure of that revolt. After a hasty survey, the London Government allotted 300,000 acres to 35 undertakers, mainly English gentlemen and servitors. Amongst these was Walter Raleigh, who was granted 4,000 acres near Youghal. Queen Elizabeth also attempted to replace the Irish system of land tenure (whereby the lands returned to clan ownership on the death of a chief) with the English system of inheritance by primogeniture. This policy was called "surrender and re-grant". McCarthy More, Lord of Loch Lein, who held lands in Magunihy, accepted this and was given the title Lord Clancarre.
Once Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church, religious affiliation assumed political significance. In the eyes of the authorities it was no longer possible to be loyal to the Crown and to the Catholic Church.
Catholics expected to fare better under James I but he continued with the policy of his predecessors and affirmed the tenets of the new religion. In 1604, he signed a decree banishing all priests from England and Ireland. During his reign we have the first indications of the takeover of the churches in Cullen and Drishane parishes and the appointment of Protestant vicars to their benefices.
In 1615, John Gerrot was appointed sequestrator. Tiege McDonagh Sheaghan was presented with the parish of Cullen in 1618 (Patent Roll of James I, August 18th, 1618).
In 1664, John Smith, Archdeacon, held it with Drishane and Dromtarriffe and similarly with Thomas Hynde in 1679 and Ezechiel Webbe, as above, in 1671.
Owing to the absence of Catholic Church records (virtually none exist until the mid 18th Century), we have little or no information on what was happening to Catholics in the Cullen area during the 17th Century. The majority of the people remained Catholic although church buildings were now officially Church of Ireland property. This raises an intriguing question as to whether the church in Cullen was burnt as part of the Cromwellian atrocities. After the Battle of Knockbrack, on July 26th 1651, parliamentary forces led by Lord Broghill defeated the forces of Lord Muskerry. One of Broghill's men razed old Dromtarriffe church and its 400 occupants were burned alive (cf. commemorative plaque in the old cemetery). The question is, whether the parliamentary forces continued with this atrocities by proceeding to burn the church in Cullen. Some writers