by Ken MacDermotRoe

 Biatach, also, spelled biadhtach, is a gaelic word translated as farmer and provider. Alexander MacBain, An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, 2nd Edition 1911, reprinted 1982. Biatach is derived from the root word bia/biadh meaning food or to feed. It has a connotation of hospitality to those in need. Thus, the term biatach suggests one who feeds, nourishes, welcomes and supports.

In ancient times, the Irish would set aside lands whose produce would provide sustenance for the poor. Sometimes the endowment would include a "hospital" or guesthouse/hospice. This facility would be available to travelers, as well as, the poor.

The person charged with responsibility for the property set aside for the poor was the biatach. The position of biatach would have been hereditary. In this respect, the position was similar to that of the erenach, the lay steward of church lands.

In the Annals of the Four Masters, Cormac MacDermot Roe, who was killed in a battle in 1365, was described as Biatach General of Connaught. According to this entry, as Biatach General, Cormac was responsible for the welfare of the poor and homeless and for the provision of food and shelter to travelers. Annals of the Four Masters, Electronic Text Edition, M1365.6. One would assume from the title that Cormac was responsible, not only, for the conduct his family's charitable trust, but also, for the supervision of local biatachs throughout the Kingdom of Connaught.

The responsibilities of the Biatach General would appear to be somewhat similar to those of the many charitable religious institutions in Connaught. Prominent among these was Boyle Abbey established by the Cistercians in the late 12th century on land donated by the MacDermots. Dermot Roe, Cormac's father, was buried at Boyle Abbey in 1341.

As a result of their shared charitable responsibilities, there must have been close connection between the MacDermots Roe and the various orders administering the abbeys. It is not surprising that the MacDermots Roe were among the bishops and abbots of Roscommon.

Additionally, it would have been consistent with their responsibilities as Biatach General for the MacDermots Roe to have established charitable institutions. According to Aubrey Gwynn and R. Neville Haddock.

"The Dominican priory of the Holy Cross (at Cloonshanville, near Frenchpark, County Roscommon) was fd. almost certainly by MacDermot Roe (Rufus), a ms. giving the date 1385." Medieval Religious Houses, Ireland, London, 1970 at page 223.

I have found no other reference to the position of Biatach General anywhere else in Ireland. It may be that the position was unique to Connaught. It is not known how long the MacDermots Roe held the position. Presumably, it would have been extinguished when the Gaelic system of law and government was supplanted by the English around 1600.

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