Ancient Church Property

The title Aircinneach or “Erenach” originally meant an Archdeacon, who, according to ancient discipline, was the manager of the property of the church. By degrees, this office fell into the hands of laymen, who consequently assumed the title of Archdeacons! and, in the middle ages, several archdeacons are found in one and the same diocese, some called “majores,” others, “minores.” In the course of time, the Erenachs became exceedingly numerous in Ireland, and were universally laymen, except that they were tonsured: on which account they were ranked among the clerici or clerks. Each of these Erenachs used to pay, and was bound to do so, a certain subsidy, refections, and a yearly pension to the archbishop or bishop, in whose diocese the lands held by them were situated, in proportion to the quantity of land and the custom of the country. Ussher observes, that in the diocese of Derry and Raphoe the bishop got a third part, the other two-thirds being reserved for the repairs of churches, hospitality, and the Erenach’s maintenance. In fact, the Erenachs were the actual possessors of old church lands, out of which they paid certain contributions, either in money or kind, towards ecclesiastical purposes. There was another title in the church somewhat similar, but superior in rank to the Erenach, called the “Comharba” or “Coarb.” Some of the coarbs or comorbans in later times were laymen, and possessed lands belonging to episcopal sees, paying, however, certain mensal dues to bishops, who did not hold the lands in demesne. On the whole, it appears, that in ancient times in Ireland the coarbs and Erenachs were the managers of church lands (see Ussher and Lanigan).