Hosted by Michael Tormey, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA


Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh: Archbishop of Ardagh, 1232-1237

by Michael Tormey, April, 1998 (updated June 28, 2006)

(Note that "O'Tormaigh" is the Gaelic spelling of O'Tormey" -- See the Origins of the Tormey Name.)

ral traditions hold Tormey history to have begun in Ireland during the Viking invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries, but Giolla-Iosa MacScealaigh O'Tormaigh, of the thirteenth century, is actually the earliest known Tormey to have been recorded in written historical texts.

O'Tormaigh lived during a dramatic period of political turmoil in Ireland (the island nation having recently been invaded and occupied by English forces aiming to forge a single "British Kingdom") and he played an active role in the struggle against unwelcome English control and influence.

For the period of 1232 until his death in 1237, O'Tormaigh served as one of two rival archbishops of the Catholic Diocese of Ardagh (Ardagh being in County Longford, east of Loch Ree), ultimately deposing his rival by force of arms. Rising up against outside influences that he saw as a threat to the integrity of the Irish Catholic Church, he was a key figure in what was a serious and, at times, violent schism in which two opposing lines (one supported by the English and one supported by the local Irish) claimed legitimate succession to the title of archbishop and fought for leadership of the diocese.

As information from the thirteenth century is limited and fragmented, little is known about Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh's early life or of his family. Being a Catholic priest, he would not have married or had children, so no one can claim to be descended from him (though many would be interested in claiming him as a collateral ancestor).  More than likely, he did have brothers and sisters, but connecting him to a particular family line seems a near impossible task now, some eight centuries later. To date, the only reference I have found to his family is an 1846 text that refers to Giolla-Iosa as a "son of the historian O'Tormaigh". (*1) I have found no further reference to reveal who exactly his historian father may have been. Perhaps future research will reveal additional clues that will help link Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh to other Tormeys, whether or not a continuous tree can be followed to modern times.

What little we do know about Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh centers around the role he played in the 10-year long schism at Ardagh.

(Note that schisms were actually quite common in the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. Most people are familiar with the more notable papal schisms -- there were periods when as many as three rival popes all claimed simultaneous papal authority -- but schisms and other disputes were just as common at the local bishop level. Many of these conflicts were a result of the often-times political nature of the church at the time. Others were instigated by secular rulers attempting to reign in the power of the church, which they frequently saw as a threat. With respect to the 10-year conflict at Ardagh, however, it is interesting to note that it was the only schism known to have occurred in the history of the Irish Catholic Church.)

The history books do not tell of the exact circumstances that led to the church conflict in Ardagh, but the historical setting allows some room for speculation. Consider the following...


The Setting

It was during the period of Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh's life that England was beginning to tighten its grip on Ireland. Following two years of invasions by his Norman and Welsh armies, King Henry II claimed Ireland as a part of his British Kingdom in 1171. (*2) The many decades (and centuries) that followed were marked by continuous struggles, as the native Irish rebelled against their British conquerors. Each subsequent uprising was matched by stronger and stronger controls, as land was confiscated and awarded to English, Norman and Scottish loyalists; and positions of authority were given to those who backed the British monarchy.

The Catholic Church in Ireland was not immune from such conflict. In fact, in an age when the church played more of a central role in people's lives, it was believed that there was no better way to influence and control new "subjects" in Ireland than by installing pro-British clerics.

Ironically, this was a view shared by the Catholic Church in Rome. Popes Adrian IV (English born) and Alexander III actually encouraged Henry II's invasion of Ireland, believing it would help them further church reforms in what they saw as an "archaic" nation. (*3)

During the period of Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh's appointment as Archbishop of Ardagh, King Henry III was the new monarch of the British Kingdom and Pope Gregory IX was the new papal head in Rome. Each continued the policies of control in Ireland that were begun by their predecessors.

Of particular interest in establishing the context of the period of the schism at Ardagh was the rule of Pope Gregory IX, who was a very aggressive and often controversial leader of the church. He was known for his quickness to anger and his impatience with any challenge or opposition. (It was he who founded the papal inquisition, and he was a strong supporter of the Crusades -- armed and violent campaigns to win Christian and Jewish holy lands from Muslim control. (*3) To the Irish, although Pope Gregory IX was the head of the church, he was clearly seen as an outsider, politically and culturally, and many resented his increasingly "foreign" administration in Ireland.

Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh's principal rival in the schism conflict was a Cistercian monk by the name of Jocelin -- a figure with strong ties to England and who was supported by the English crown. Jocelin was likewise supported by Pope Gregory IX, who intervened on his behalf by appointing papal judges to investigate and remedy the conflicts in Ardagh. In contrast to Jocelin, Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh was a local, secular priest (not affiliated with a specific religious order) who had support from both local parishioners and the bishops of neighboring dioceses.

Their country already besieged by British and Norman armies, it is assumed that O'Tormaigh and his supporters saw their struggle as a fight to preserve the "legitimacy" of the Irish Catholic Church as they knew it.


The Conflict

The schism in Ardagh began in the year 1227, when Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh's predecessor, Joseph MacTechedain, was elected in opposition to then archbishop M., Prior of Inishmore. (*5) (See the chart below.) The history books do not tell of the exact circumstances that led to MacTechedain's election or what the exact nature of his opposition was. The circumstances surrounding the subsequent appointment of O'Tormaigh, however, shed light on what appears to have been a much larger conflict than one that was just localized to the diocese of Ardagh.

Note, for example, that the two rival bishops of Jocelin and O'Tormaigh were appointed by two opposing archbishops from larger dioceses with more authority -- Jocelin was appointed by the Archbishop of Tuam (to the west, near Galway) and O'Tormaigh was appointed by the Archbishop of Armagh (located in what is now Northern Ireland). The record shows that the Archbishop of Armagh was strongly opposed to the appointment of Jocelin (though his reasons are not stated in historical documents); and it was he who consecrated O'Tormaigh in specific opposition immediately following Jocelin's confirmation by King Henry III. (*6)


An Outline of Succession

The line supported by Tuam

The line supported by Armagh
M., Prior of Inishmore
served 1224-1229
Joseph MacTechedain
served in opposition 1227-1230
Simon MacCraith MacSearraigh
served 1230-1230
No opposition appointee
Jocelin the Cistercian
served 1232-1237
Giolla-Iosa MacScealaigh O'Tormaigh
served in opposition 1233-1237


No doubt, Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh was selected by the Archbishop of Armagh due to his popularity as a local priest (as stated above, he was supported not only by local parishioners, but by neighboring bishops as well).

Launching a swift attack against Jocelin, the Archbishop of Armagh acted to have him excommunicated. He likewise forbade anyone from receiving Jocelin into their churches anywhere within the province, under similar penalty of excommunication. This same prohibition against Jocelin was enforced by the nearby bishop of Meath, whom Jocelin accused of inflicting "grave persecution" against him. (*7)

To the irritation of Jocelin, Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh, was quite successful at undermining much of Jocelin's authority. One interesting tactic that he employed was to actively dispose of property and assets of the diocese to nearby allies. To the bishop of Meath, for example, O'Tormaigh went so far as to transfer whole churches and territories -- removing any possibility of influence by Jocelin. (Note that had O'Tormaigh's legitimate authority not been recognized by parishioners and local priests, such transfers would surely have been impossible.)

Taking his fight to a physical level as well, O'Tormaigh is known to have risen up in arms to physically depose his English rival. Historian James MacNamee, in his History of the Diocese of Ardagh, outlines Jocelin's claims to Pope Gregory IX as follows:

[Jocelin] tells us that Giolla-Iosa attacked the episcopal residence with an armed band, burned the castrum [or fortification] of the church and destroyed its stone tower. Not content with this violence, he went further and attacked Bishop Jocelin himself as he was preparing to celebrate the divine office, and would presumably have killed him and his household had they not sought safety by flight. (*8)

Clearly, there were some powerful motives and convictions inspiring each opposing side in this intriguing schism at Ardagh.

To defend himself and his claim to the seat of archbishop of Ardagh, Jocelin left Ireland for Rome in 1235, to argue his case before Pope Gregory himself. In response, the Pope reversed the excommunication inflicted upon Jocelin and appointed three papal judges to investigate the case and report their findings back to him in Rome. (Unfortunately, common Irish historical records do not reveal what the results of their investigation were. Perhaps more in depth research of Vatican records would reveal more clues.)

As Jocelin prepared to return home to Ireland in 1237, he is noted to have died in Florence before his journey began. Coincidentally, Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh met his fate in the same year, 1237, though the cause of his death is unknown.

Following the deaths of both Jocelin and O'Tormaigh, a single, unopposed archbishop was appointed to succeed them, bringing to a close the 10-year long schism at Ardagh.


oals of Future Research

Being that Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh lived nearly 800 years ago, it seems unlikely that he could be successfully linked to a specific Tormey family tree today. Nonetheless, considering his high profile in thirteenth century Ireland, I can't help but believe that there are additional historical references that would outline his life and the conflict in Ardagh in greater detail. Any additional knowledge gained may help us better understand early Tormey/O'Tormaigh history and perhaps link Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh to other Tormeys of his day. If you have any additional information that would be helpful in further researching the life and times of Giolla-Iosa O'Tormaigh, please contact me.



(*1) The Annals of Ireland, Translated from the Original Irish of The Four Masters, Owen Connellan, Esq, (Irish Historiographer to their Late Majesties George IV and William IV, author of a Grammar of the Irish Language, Etc.,), with annotations by Philip MacDermott, Esq., M.D., and the translator., Dublin, 1846, page 59

(*2) "Ireland" Britannica Online. <>

(*3) "Ireland: History: EARLY IRELAND" Britannica Online.

(*4) "Gregory IX" Britannica Online. <>

(*5) History of the Diocese of Ardagh, James J. MacNamee, D.D., Dublin, 1954, page 194

(*6) History of the Diocese of Ardagh, James J. MacNamee, D.D., Dublin, 1954, page 191

(*7) History of the Diocese of Ardagh, James J. MacNamee, D.D., Dublin, 1954, page 192

(*8) History of the Diocese of Ardagh, James J. MacNamee, D.D., Dublin, 1954, page 191


Related Links of Interest...




Tormeys of Historical Note in Ireland


Over the past 400 years, various members of Tormey families have been recorded, primarily for their political activities against English rule of their homeland...

» Read more











Tormey Family History Website
Copyright © 1998-2009, Michael Tormey. All rights reserved