Bermingham (Mac Fheorais), William (d. 1312), archbishop of Tuam, was second son of Meiler de Bermingham, lord of Athenry. Though details of his early ecclesiastical career are exiguous, he did receive the church of Knockraffen (Knockgraffon parish, Co. Tipperary) in Cashel when he was 11, that of Moydrisce in Killaloe before he was 23, and, after the council of Lyons in 1274, the benefices of Castleconnor in Killala and Tyrnachton in Tuam. No doubt through family influence, he also secured the rectorship of Athenry.
His election to the archbishopric of Tuam occurred in the autumn of 1288 and he received papal confirmation in Rome on 2 May 1289. Irregularities concerning the plurality of benefices that he had held without papal dispensation, and the fact that he was only in minor orders, were dealt with by papal decree on 18 May; he was to be ordained as a priest and on returning to Ireland was to be consecrated as archbishop by the bishops of Killala and Clonfert. On 29 September the justiciar of Ireland was ordered to restore his temporalities.
His tenure as archbishop of Tuam was a stormy one, and his virtual immunity from the practical influence of the justiciar (and in particular the royal courts) led to friction both with the administration and his suffragans. Initially he appeared willing to work with the English government. However, he failed to convince the clergy of his province to grant the king a tax on their benefices in 1291; his letter of regret to Edward I, though subtly worded, refused to surrender an inch on the question of ecclesiastical liberty. In 1297 he began a long and bitter quarrel with the Dominicans of Athenry, a foundation that had been liberally endowed by his family. The casus belli was his mandate to his archdeacon, Philip le Blund, to hold a visitation at the abbey. The friars, claiming exemption, refused to attend, and (according to court testimony) denounced and insulted le Blund – and, by extension, Bermingham.
The archbishop, unwilling to see his authority openly disregarded, laid the abbey and the friars under interdict, confirmed the archdeacon's sentence of excommunication, and issued instructions that no one should supply them with food, water, or shelter. The Dominicans immediately appealed to the chancellor in Dublin, who demanded that the interdict be lifted but was met with a refusal. The friars then sued the archbishop, but the justiciar displayed an unwillingness to adjudicate against Bermingham and elicited a compromise from both parties, ensuring negotiations. Eventually, the interdict was removed, though litigation continued intermittently till 1309.
The archbishop also came into conflict with the crown in 1300 over the nature and extent of his archiepiscopal franchises. In 1303 the dean of Annaghdown laid a long list of complaints before the pope in Rome, concerning Bermingham's misgovernment of his see. According to the accusations the archbishop had attempted to annex the bishopric of Annaghdown and unite it with Tuam; in order to prevent the appointment of the legitimate bishop-elect, he appointed him archdeacon of Tuam; he compelled the clergy of the bishopric to transfer their benefices to him; he stole the chest of the church of Annaghdown that had been deposited for safekeeping with the Franciscans, and destroyed all of the episcopal paraphernalia it contained. In 1297 he had refused to confirm the bishop of Elphin to his see but appointed, simoniacally, his own nominee who had never received papal confirmation; he regularly resorted to excommunication, kept the company of known murderers, and imprisoned and tortured a canon who had the temerity to refuse to let the archbishop's horse be stabled in the chapel of a priory.
Though much of this tirade was probably pure hyperbole, the allegations regarding Annaghdown must have been close to the truth, and a papal commission of three Irish bishops was appointed to examine the charges. In 1306 a Franciscan, Gilbert, was elected to Annaghdown despite the trenchant opposition of de Bermingham, who refused to confirm him as bishop. Early in 1307 he left Ireland to argue his case before the pope, who was unwilling to allow the two sees to be united; on his return in 1309 he found that the archbishop of Armagh had confirmed the election of Bishop Gilbert in his absence, and the justiciar had ensured the speedy return of his temporalities.
Bermingham died 1 January 1312 and was buried at the Dominican abbey at Athenry. He may have had an illegitimate son, William, who with his son Simon was among those murdered near Ardee in 1329 along with John de Bermingham (qv), earl of Louth.
Bermingham has been called ambitious, unscrupulous, and remorseless in his pursuit of wealth and power. Certainly his time as archbishop of Tuam was often characterised by tension with royal government and his own clergy, but it was not without its achievements – the choir of Tuam cathedral was part of an unfinished though very ambitious rebuilding programme undertaken throughout the province. His career should not be taken too far out of context; his archiepiscopal contemporaries were also well used to conflict with royal authority, nor were they without detractors among their own subordinates.