The Clan McGrath Society


Miler Magrath / McGrath ( also Myler; in Irish, Maolmhuire Mac Craith): servant of Mary, son of grace) (1523 – 1622) was born in the confines of Termonmagrath, an area that stretched across the modern boundaries of Donegal, Tyrone and Fermanagh in south-west Ulster. Miler's father Donnacha Magrath as the local Chieftain and Coarb or Termoner of the holy island of Lough Derg. The Magrath's held this hereditary title since at least the 12th century. The Magrath's of Ulster are considered the descendents of the hereditary historians and poets of the O'Brien Clan and related to the High King Brian Boru. 

Miler was the eldest son of Donnacha and much against the tradition of the time, entered the Franciscan Order and became a Friar and Priest. He studied in Rome and it was there that he pursued his career, acquiring in 1565 the Roman Catholic bishopric of Down and Connor in Ulster. His mission was to return to Ireland in a period of huge religious upheaval under Queen Elizabeth I. On his journey to Ireland it is believed he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. In this period of captivity he satisfied the English authorities that his appointment as a Roman Catholic bishop would not preclude him from accepting the Act of Supremacy. Miler's clear intelligence and his knowledge of the Gaelic way of life and his fluency of the Gaelic language, English and Latin would be of benefit for the English administration in Ireland. Miler was released and returned to Ireland and made his way to his temporalities that were ruled over by his kinsman Shane 'The Proud' O'Neill, the Chief of the Clan O'Neill. Miler visited Shane in 1566 and forever held a sense of loyalty to Shane. It is said that Miler and Shane were fostered together and spent their childhood learning the arts of war and politics. The bond of fostership would last a lifetime and was a way of ensuring the bonds of Irish Clans would be strengthened. 

Miler was the model of a late medieval politician and he clearly assessed that the coming storm of Elizabethan rule in Ireland would have a profound affect on the Irish way of life, customs and religion. In 1567 Miler attended on the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney at Drogheda where he agreed to conform to the reformed faith and to hold his See of the Crown. In 1570 he was appointed Church of Ireland (Anglican) bishop of Clogher. The painting pictured above was completed in 1572 when Miler was bishop of Clogher. It is still in the possession of the Church of Ireland diocese of Clogher.. However, in 1569 John Merriman was appointed the Protestant Bishop of Down and Connor, and Magrath held on to the Catholic See, before he was finally deprived of Down and Connor by Rome in 1580 for heresy, by which time he had enjoyed the dual appointments as a Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland (Anglican) bishop for a period of nine years.


Following Miler's short tenure as Bishop of Clogher he was appointed in 1571 he was appointed Archbishop of Cashel and Emily. This took him away from his native Ulster to Co. Tipperary and the grand Cathedral Church of St. Patrick on the Rock of Cashel (pictured right).  Miler brought with him a band of 200 armed men, mostly Magrath, McMenamin and Monaghan kinsmen from Ulster. The descendents of these kinsmen still reside in Tipperary today. 

In the same year he imprisoned some Franciscan priests at Cashel. In a rage, the rebel crusader James Fitzmaurice-Fitzgerald threatened to burn to ashes everyone and everything connected with Miler if they were not released. The friars were immediately liberated by Edward Butler. In 1572 Miler brought charges against Butler's elder brother, Thomas Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde but they were given no credence. In 1575, as Miler went on his way to Dublin, he was attacked and badly injured by the kerne of a hostile Clan. Miler would henceforth patrol his temporalities in breastplate and with sword. He was known as a great swordsman and the most handsome man in Ireland, attributes not normally associated with a Bishop.

Until the end of the Desmond Rebellions in 1583, Miler remained in his province, while assisting the English government on the one hand and intriguing with the Catholic rebels on the other. In October 1582, he travelled to England bearing letters of strong recommendation, which cited his ability to provide valuable information on the rebels. Despite his allegiance to the authorities, Miler never arrested the new Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, Dr Kearney, who lived peacefully under his nose. However, Miler continued to court favour with the authorities, and in 1584 he did arrest the Catholic Bishop of Emly, Murrough Mac Brian, who died two years later in custody at Dublin Castle. This episode shows how Miler was a master of the political game of chess and balanced the interests of his family and kinsmen against the need to stay in close regard with the authorities in Dublin.  At about this time Miler's cousin, Dermot Creagh (Irish: Mac Craith), was the Catholic Bishop of Cork and Cloyne with Legatine authority in Munster, and they remained on mutual terms. Miler appears to have feared that his soul was in jeopardy, and with a view to repentance and reconciliation with Rome, took care that his cousin would not be captured, while at the same time feeding information to the Crown about his whereabouts.  


In 1599, during the Nine Years War, Miler was taken prisoner by Con, son of his kinsman Hugh 'The Great' O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone and Chief of the Clan O'Neill in Ulster (pictured left). The earl ordered Miler's release on the ground that only the Holy Father had authority to lay hands on his "friend and ally". Miler promised that he would return to Catholicism, except that he had to see to his children, and Con released him on conditions: a money payment, with O'Meara's son (related to Miler's wife) to act as surety in person.

Miler had no great love for Hugh O'Neill. Hugh had become Chief following the murder of Miler's foster brother Shane. Hugh had been brought up in the court at Dublin Castle in the customs of the English. He had been the authorities preferred candidate for the Chieftainship of the Clan O'Neill and it was the authorities who had orchestrated his succession. However Hugh rebelled against the Crown and having used his experience fighting with the English in previous rebellions against the Crown, was able to reinvigorate and inspire Irish resistance in Ulster. Forming an alliance with the O'Donnell's of Tyrconnell, O'Neill led a hugely effective campaign that saw many successes in battle, however the strength of the English forces and the late arrival of aid from Spain destroyed O'Neill's attempts to restore the Gaelic order in Ireland. He eventually fled with Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell in 1607 in what has become known as the Flight of the Earls thus ending Gaelic rule in Ireland. O'Neill died in Rome and still lies there. 

In 1600, Magrath went to London and convinced Robert Cecil of his loyalty, although appearing a turbulent person, and was granted a pension. While at court he accused Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley of treason, with the "most indecent and contumelious words", and Lee's cousin, Thomas Lee (a captain in the Irish service who was later hanged for his involvement with the coup attempt of the Earl of Essex), wrote to Cecil seeking the opportunity to meet the charges.

Miler returned to Ireland with the English-backed pretender to the earldom of Desmond. He claimed poverty owing to the war, but Cecil soon complained that he was allowing the Anglican Church of Ireland to lie like "an hogsty" and sought Sir George Carew to remonstrate with him over this neglect.


Under King James I, Miler's holding of four bishoprics and seventy spiritualities was criticised by Sir John Davies, then attorney-general of Ireland. In 1607 the archbishop of Dublin,Thomas Jones, criticised his spiritual administration, and Miler resigned Waterford and Lismore six months later. The estate of Lismore had been sold by him to Sir Walter Raleigh for a nominal price, although he kept the capitular seal of Cashel.

In 1608 a jury found that he had declared his kinsman, the now fugitive rebel leader and kinsman 'The Great' O'Neill, wronged over the Bann fishery (a property right relating to the ancient authority of English law in Ireland, which the Crown had successfully contested in a precedent-setting case), and had credited O'Neill with, "a better right to the crown of Ireland than any Irishman or Scottishman [ie. James I] whatsoever". Despite the sensitivity of the matter, the indictment was not proceeded with. In a further assertion of his tribal identity, Miler fought with the Bishop of Derry in 1609 over the possession of Termonmagrath, the lands of which were granted by title from the King in the following year to Miler's son, James.

Miler moved to Ulster (where he erected a castle, which still stands (pictured above), and had William Knight appointed his coadjutor at Cashel; Knight soon left the country after disgracing himself by drunken behaviour in public. It was reckoned that the revenues and manors of the See of Cashel were entirely wasted. The Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, had a poor opinion of Miler, describing him as "stout and wilful", but held back for fear of his influence amongst the Ulster Irish, and Stafford too spoke of his oppressions.

In 1612 the underground Irish Provincial of the Franciscan Order still held out hope of Miler's reconciliation with Rome; in 1617 it was thought he might exchange the Rock of Cashel for the Capitoline in Rome, where he had spent his youth. Miler's last known involvement in public life was on his attendance at parliament in Dublin in 1613. He died ten years later, in his 100th year, after 52 years as a bishop.


Miler has remained a figure of controversy in Irish history. On the Protestant side, he was blamed for financial corruptions which gave the Anglican religion in Ireland a black eye from which it has never recovered. He was scorned for being a drunkard. On the Catholic side, he was viewed as an apostate priest and a collaborator with a anti-Catholic regime.

Given the treachery through which he lived, and whatever one might say about his real allegiances, Miler possessed a knack for survival. The forbearance shown by his most bitter critics at Court, even when they were certain that he was obstructing the persecution of Catholics, is an indication of his great power and influence. As for being a drunkard, perhaps his longevity gives the lie to that charge.

Mile married a Roman Catholic, Amy, daughter of John O'Meara a Chief of Lisany, in County Tipperary; and had issue, Turlough, Redmond, Brian, Maurice, James, Mary, Cicely, Anne, and Eliza. Upon his wife's death he married again

Miler was buried in the Cathedral Church of St. Patrick on the Rock of Cashel, his tomb can still be viewed there today. Upon his tomb are carved in stone his coat of arms (pictured left and dating from 1622) bearing a Bishop's mitre as the crest.

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