Pádraig McCarthy: Catholic Synods in Ireland

The Catholic Church in Ireland has had little experience of a Synod in the past 100 years. Anyone under 70 is too young to have any memories of such an event: the Fourth Plenary Synod of Maynooth was held at the national seminary of St. Patrick’s College in Co. Kildare from 7th until 15th of August 1956. This was the fifth national synod held in Ireland in modern times. The last had been in 1927 which had brought Irish ecclesiastical law into conformity with the Code of Canon Law of 1917.

The exception to this is the Synod for the Diocese of Limerick, which was launched on Sunday 7th December 2014, and produced a Diocesan Plan:

The Diocese of Limerick has celebrated a Diocesan Synod, the first in 80 years. – Limerick Diocese

There is, however, a rich history of Catholic Synods in Ireland. Alison Forrestal, in “Catholic Synods in Ireland, 1600 – 1690” (Four Courts Press 1998), lists a total of 66: 11 National Synods, 26 Diocesan, 27 Provincial, and 2 Inter-Provincial. This was the period in Ireland following the Reformation launched by King Henry VIII when there was the Plantation of Ulster, the 1641 Rebellion, Oliver Cromwell, and leading to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690: a time of much turbulence.

David N Dumville has a 48-page booklet, “Councils and Synods of the Gaelic Early and Central Middle Ages” (1997), available at:


Edward Rogan has “Synods and catechesis in Ireland, c. 445-1962”, published by Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana (Rome, 1987), which I have not seen.

The website of the Catholic Bishops has a brief history:

Have there been synods in Ireland in the past? | Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Salvador Ryan has a longer survey of “A HISTORY OF SYNODS IN IRELAND” at

Microsoft Word – A History of Irish Synods – Newcastle West talk.docx (synod2016.com)

The current Synod in Rome October 4-29 may perhaps help us to re-discover the possible value of a synod, whether diocesan or national. Perhaps the centenary of the Maynooth Synod of 1927 – preferably not waiting until the centenary of the 1956 Synod!

As Pope Francis has made clear, a Synod is not like a parliament where there is a government and an opposition, operating on an adversarial model where a vote means winner takes all, and where the sessions of parliament often may not lead to either side listening to the other and the parties learning from one another. Rather, the model is of the participants discerning together what the Spirit is saying to the churches and seeking consensus on how we are called to be the People of God today, the living Body of Christ sent on Mission to our world. The documents produced by the Second Vatican council 1962-1965 would not have been possible without the participants themselves experiencing a renewal of faith.

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe OP offered six “meditations” at the retreat for participants in preparation for the Synod in Rome (in English). They are available at Vatican Media. I find them stimulating.

Fraterna Domus-Sacrofano. XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops-1st meditation, 1October 2023 – YouTube

Fraterna Domus-Sacrofano Part1.XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops-2nd meditation,1 Oct2023 – YouTube

Fraterna Domus.XVI Gen.Assembly of the Synod of Bishops-Morning Prayer and 3rd meditation,2 Oct.2023 – YouTube

Fraterna Domus Sacrofano XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops 4th meditation, 2 October 2023 – YouTube

Fraterna Domus.XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops Praise and 5th meditation, 03.10.2023 – YouTube

Fraterna Domus – Sacrofano. XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops 6 meditation, 3 Oct. 2023 – YouTube

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