When the Church in England broke communion with the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, the Church of England was established by the state as the established church. Later, by decree of the Irish Parliament, a similar new body became the State Church in the Kingdom of Ireland. It assumed possession of most Church property (and so retained a great repository of religious architecture and other items, though some were later destroyed).
The substantial majority of the population remained faithful to the Latin Rite of Roman Catholicism, despite the political and economic advantages of membership in the state church. They were obliged to find alternative premises and to conduct their services in secret. The English-speaking minority mostly adhered to the Church of Ireland or to Presbyterianism.
On the death of Archbishop Trench of Tuam in 1839, the Province of Tuam was united to the Province of Armagh which covers all of Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland, the counties of Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, Leitrim, Sligo, Roscommon (except for its very south), Longford, Mayo and the northern half of County Galway.
Over the centuries, numerous dioceses were merged, for the full list of bishops prior to this, please see here. The historic sees of Derry and Raphoe were united in 1834. It is for this reason that the united diocese has two cathedrals.
The diocese has an extensive library of historical manuscripts which have been collated by the University of Ulster and provide insight into the literary and theological thinking of the time.
“This collection is one of the most significant in Ireland. It is important that these texts are preserved so future generations can understand the history of the City. We are delighted to work with the University on this project and we commend their interest, expertise and support.” – The Rt. Rev. Ken Good, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe
See more about the library project here on its own website.
Bishops of the united diocese of Derry and Raphoe
James Mehaffey (born 29 March 1931) was Bishop of Derry and Raphoe at the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st.
Born on 29 March 1931 and educated at Trinity College, Dublin he was ordained in 1955. He began his career with curacies at St Patrick’s, Belfast and St John’s, Deptford after which he was a Minor Canon at Down Cathedral. He was Bishop’s Curate at St Christopher’s, Belfast. He then served as the incumbent at Kilkeel and Cregagh before his elevation to the Episcopate.
Rev Mehaffey was elected Bishop of Derry and Raphoe 27 June and consecrated 7 September 1980; he resigned 31 January 2002.
Robin Henry Alexander Eames, Baron Eames OM (born 27 April 1937) was the Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh from 1986 to 2006.
Turning his back on legal studies for ordination in the Church of Ireland, Eames embarked on a three-year course at the divinity school in Trinity College, Dublin in 1960.
In 1963 he was appointed curate assistant at Bangor Parish Church, becoming Rector of St Dorothea's in Belfast three years later. In the same year, 1966, he married Christine Daly. During his time in St Dorothea's, in the Braniel and Tullycarnet area of east Belfast, he developed a "coffee bar ministry" among young people but The Troubles interrupted. During this time he rescued a Catholic girl from a loyalist mob who had set her family home on fire.
He turned down the opportunity to become dean of Cork and in 1974 was appointed rector of St Mark's in Dundela in east Belfast, formerly C. S. Lewis's family church.
On 9 May 1975, at the age of 38, he was elected bishop of the cross-border diocese of Derry and Raphoe - having visited Derry only once. In a groundbreaking move, he invited his similarly young Catholic counterpart, Edward Daly, to his consecration on 9 June.
Bishop Eames was translated five years later, on 30 May 1980, to the diocese of Down and Dromore. He was elected to Down and Dromore on 23 April and that election confirmed 20 May 1980. In 1986, he became the 103rd Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
Cuthbert Irvine Peacocke TD (26 April 1903 – 6 April 1994) was the 8th Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, retiring in 1975.
He was born at St Mary’s Rectory, Dublin and was educated at Saint Columba's College, Dublin and Trinity College, Dublin before his ordaination in 1927. His first post was a curacy at Seapatrick, Banbridge. He was then Head of the Southern Mission before holding incumbencies at Derriaghy and Dundela. From 1950 to 1956 he was Archdeacon of Down and from then until 1969 Dean of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.
Rev Peacocke was elected Bishop of Derry and Raphoe on 16 October 1969 and consecrated 6 January 1970. He resigned 31 March 1975.
Charles John Tyndall DD (30 May 1900 – 3 April 1971) was the 13th Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh who was later translated to Derry and Raphoe.
Educated at The King's Hospital and Trinity College, Dublin and ordained in 1925, his first post was a curacy at Clontarf. He then held incumbencies at Enniscorthy and Drumcondra before being appointed Rural Dean of Fingal and then (his last post before elevation to the Episcopate in 1956) Archdeacon of Elphin and Ardagh. While at Kilmore, Rev Tyndall was elected Bishop of Derry and Raphoe on 14 October 1958 (his election was confirmed the same day); he resigned on 30 September 1969.
Robert McNeil Boyd MC (12 February 1890–1 July 1958) was the 11th Bishop of Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh from 1943 until 1945, when he was translated to Derry and Raphoe.
Educated at St Andrew’s College and Trinity College, Dublin and ordained in 1912, to the title of the assistant curacy of Fiddown. From 1915 to 1919 he was a Chaplain to the Forces during which he was awarded the Military Cross. He then held incumbencies at Ballingarry and Shinrone after which (1936 to 1945) he was Dean of St Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, a post he held until his ordination to the episcopate. Rev Boyd was elected Bishop of Derry and Raphoe on 18 March and confirmed on 20 March 1945.
His first wife died in 1955, remarrying in 1957.
Joseph Irvine Peacocke DD (28 November 1866–31 January 1962) was a long serving Derry and Raphoe bishop.
Born into an ecclesiastical family on 28 November 1866 and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he was ordained in 1891 and his first post was a curacy in Shankill, Belfast.
In 1894 he became Rector of Christ Church, Lisburn, he then held further incumbencies in Dublin and Bangor before his elevation to the Episcopate in 1916. He was elected to Derry and Raphoe on 15 March and consecrated 25 April 1916; he resigned 31 December 1944.
Born on 10 October 1840 and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he was ordained in 1863 and began his career as a curate at St Anne, Belfast. He was then appointed Rector of St James, Belfast where he remained until 1872. He was Rector of St Mark’s Armagh until 1886 when he became Dean of Armagh.
In 1896 he was elevated to the episcopate, being elected on 18 February and consecrated on 25 March.
An eminent author, he resigned his see on 31 January 1916 and died on 29 December 1923
William Alexander (13 April 1824 – 12 September 1911).
He was born in Derry on the 13 April 1824, the third child of the Revd Robert Alexander. He was educated at Tonbridge School and Brasenose College, Oxford.
After holding several livings in Ireland he became Dean of Emly in 1864. Three years later he was made bishop of Derry and Raphoe, to which see he was nominated on 27 July and consecrated on 6 October 1867. He was the last bishop of Ireland to sit in the Westminster House of Lords before the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871 by the Irish Church Act 1869. On 25 February 1896 he was translated to become the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
He gave the Bampton Lectures in 1876. An eloquent preacher and the author of numerous theological works, including Primary Convictions, he is best known as a master of dignified and animated verse. His poems were collected in 1887 under the title of St Augustine's Holiday and other Poems.
His wife, Cecil Frances Alexander, wrote some tracts in connection with the Oxford Movement. She is known as the author of hymns such as Once in Royal David's City, All Things Bright and Beautiful and many other well known hymns. They both lived in Milltown House, Strabane. The house is now used as a school, Strabane Grammar School.
William Higgin (1793–12 July 1867) was the 18th Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe from 1849 until 1843, when he was translated to Derry and Raphoe.
He was the 18th Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe from 1849 until 1843, when he was translated to Derry and Raphoe.
William Higgin was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating BA as 13th wrangler in 1813. He was the incumbent at Roscrea from 1828 to 1835 when he became Vicar general of Killaloe. In 1844 he became Dean of Limerick, his last post before elevation to the Episcopate.
Rev Higgin was nominated to Derry and Raphoe on 18 November 1853 and appointed there by letters patent dated 7 December 1853.
The Rt. Rev. and Hon. Richard Ponsonby (1772–1853).
He was born at Dublin in 1772, the third son of William Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly and Louisa Molesworth. He was educated at the University of Dublin, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1794, and Master of Arts in 1816.
During 1795, he was ordained deacon on 1 March and priest on 27 November, and was installed prebendary of Tipper in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin on 2 December. He succeeded by patent to the precentorship of St. Patrick's on 25 July 1806, and dean on 3 June 1817. Rev Ponsonby was elevated the episcopate when he was consecrated bishop of Killaloe and Kilfenora on 16 March 1828, and was translated to Derry on 21 September 1831. Under the Church Temporalities (Ireland) Act 1833, he became bishop of Derry and Raphoe on 5 September 1834 when the two dioceses were united. He was president of the Church Education Society, and died at the Episcopal palace in Derry on 27 October 1853.
He married, in 1804, his cousin Frances, second daughter of The Rt Hon. John Staples. She died on 15 December 1858, having had a son, William Brabazon, fourth and last Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly, who died on board his yacht, the Lufra, off Plymouth, on 10 September 1866. The couple also had four daughters, Harriet, Elizabeth, Frances and Emily.