Drumcree & Kilmore in Irish History

The Barony of Oneilland, in which the Parish of Drumcree is situated, is probably named from the Uí Nialláin, a ruling family who gave their name to the territory subject to them. The rise to power of the Uí Néill who pushed the Ulaidh to the north-east meant the formation of a confederation of the states called the Airgialla ‘those who give hostages’. They were vassals of the Uí Néíll. This is the picture before the Norman invasion. The centre of the eastern group in the federation was Armagh. To it, the Ui Nialláin family group and their neighbours, the Uí Breasail and Uí Echdach supplied many kings and monastic officials.

Saint Patrick set up an Episcopal church in Armagh. But in the next few centuries, monastic life so developed that the monasteries became the centres of ecclesiastical organisation. In Saint Patrick’s own time, many of his new converts were drawn to the ascetic religious life. He says in his confession:-

“the sons of the Scots and the daughters of the chieftains are seen to become monks and virgins of Christ.” By the sixth century, monasteries dotted the countryside. People entered the monasteries for a religious reason, to pray in God’s presence, to worship in the community. But their development also meant that they sometimes became centres for a kin group and fulfilled functions of farming, fosterage, education, learning, hospitality, even guarding their rights to the point of going to war like their aristocratic counterparts.  They superseded the diocesan Bishops. Bishops continued to ordain and perform other sacramental functions, but jurisdiction passed on to the abbots. Occasionally, the abbots were Bishops and sometimes they were laymen. However, it was the monastic church which looked after the pastoral care of the laity – baptising, preaching, saying Mass.

There was no monastery in Drumcree but the ruling family Uí Nialláin supplied Bishops and monastic officials to Armagh and to the neighbouring monastery of Kilmore. The monastery is even called Cill Mhér Uí Nialláin in the Annals of Ulster. A few headlines from the annals illustrate some of the monastic characteristics that have been mentioned. It was founded by Saint Mochta and there are indications that Saint Aidan was patron in its early life. The reference to Saint Aidan, however, may refer to Kilmore, Co. Monaghan. Other references in the annals call it Cell-mor-enir or –eimhir. The Abbot Comarpach died 750; Crunnmael bishop and abbot died 770; Flaitbertach, princeps, died 812; the erenagh was profaned and the vice-abbot, Dubhinnrecht was wounded by Leinstermen in 818; Bishop Dichuili died 871; battle of the plain of Cill-mor Ua-Nialláin in 1200; the place with its oratory was burned in 1150; Mael-Isu mac Gilla-Erain, erenagh of Cell mor Ua Nialláin and coarb designate of Patrick died 1200.