Monastic Ireland.

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Matthew (Muirges, Muirgheas, Matthaeus, Mauricius) O’Heney (Ua hEnna, O’HEanna)

Born: c. 1140   Died: 1206   

O’Heney Matthew (c. 1140 – 1206), archbishop of Cashel, entered as a very young man the Cistercian abbey of Holycross in north Tipperary, where he acquired a reputation as a deeply devout man and as a scholar. Undoubtedly, his scholastic brilliance helped him to rise rapidly through ecclesiastical ranks to the archbishopric. Yes despite his elevated position, little is known of his actions or attitudes – particularly towards the great changes that followed the English arrival in Ireland during the 1170s, although it would seem that he was generally cooperative to the newcomers, as he sometimes appears as a witness to ecclesiastical grants. The universal respect accorded to him was confirmed when he was appointed archbishop of Cashel a.1185, succeeding Domhnall (Donaldus) O’Hoolahan (Ua hUallacháin) (d. 1182). About 1190, he wrote to the pope, Clement III, on points of canon law. He was appointed papal legate in 1191/2 by either Clement or his successor, Celestine III, and presided over a general synod of the church in Dublin, attended by magnates from across the ethnic divide. At about this time, he negotiated a settlement between the archbishop of Dublin and the Cistercians of St. Mary’s abbey. In 1192/3 he was in England, when John, Lord of Ireland, granted him lands at Ludgershall, Wiltshire. In 1195 he, along with other Irish church prelates, brought the body of Hugh de Lacy (d.1186) for burial in Bective Abbey on the Boyne. Sometime after 1195, O’Heney retired in disgrace (for unclear reasons) to his home abbey of Holycross, devoting most of the remainder of his short days to contemplation and prayer; his appointment as papal legate lapsed in 1198, which may have been connected with the displeasure of Pope Innocent III at O’Heney’s refusal to consecrate the new bishop of Ardfert, and at his involvement in the dispute between the archbishop of Dublin and King John. However, O’Heney did not retire altogether from public life; in 1201 he helped to make peace between William de Burgh and the Munster Irish, and in 1205, he was functioning again as archbishop, although age had prevented him from journeying to seek the pope’s absolution in person. He died at Holycross in 1206. Giraldus Cambrensis records O’Heney’s shrewd riposte to the charge that Ireland had produced no martyrs: ‘now a people has come to the kingdom which knows how, and is accustomed to make martyrs. From now on Ireland will have its martyrs, just as other countries’.

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