Gilbert (Gille, Gilla, Gilli) (d. 1145), first bishop of Limerick and papal legate at the synod of Ráith Bressail (1111), was possibly of Norse-Irish birth, as may be inferred from the forms of his name: Gilla as he himself wrote it in Latin, and Gilli as it appeared in his obituary in ‘Chronicum Scotorum’. He may once have been a monk at the Benedictine monastery at St Albans, given that when bishop of Limerick he dedicated chapels and a large cross in that monastery and a church in the adjoining town at the request of the abbot.
Gilbert became bishop of Limerick c.1106/7; he may perhaps have been from that city. Unlike bishops of other Norse towns in Ireland at the time, he was not consecrated by the archbishop of Canterbury; instead, he was probably consecrated in Ireland, most likely by Máel-Ísu Ua hAinmire (qv), bishop of Waterford, and Máel-Muire Ua Dúnáin (qv), papal legate and chief bishop of Ireland. Nevertheless, he corresponded with Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (c.1107), referring to the resolution of the primatial dispute between York and Canterbury and telling him of his recent consecration as bishop. Anselm sent him a return letter which referred to their first meeting – perhaps at the abbey of Bec in Normandy – and offered him congratulations on his election.
Not long after his consecration, Gilbert was asked by some of his fellow ecclesiastics in Ireland to ‘write the canonical custom of how the hours are to be said and how the observance of the whole ecclesiastical rite is to be accomplished’. The result was his treatise ‘De statu ecclesiae’. He attached a letter entitled ‘De usu ecclesiastico’, addressed to ‘the bishops and priests of the whole of Ireland’, in which he deplored the diversity of rites and called for unity of practice in conformity with Roman observance. In Bernard of Clairvaux's Life of St Malachy (qv), it is said that Gilbert was ‘the first to exercise the office of legate of the apostolic see throughout the whole of Ireland’; that distinction, however, probably belongs to Máel-Muire Ua Dúnáin, who was papal legate at the synod of Cashel (1101). In 1111 Gilbert presided as papal legate at the synod of Ráith Bressail, where his analysis of the problems confronting the Irish church and his proposed solutions were considered. The Annals of Inisfallen claim that the synod of Ráith Bressail enacted the best laws ever made in Ireland; there is little evidence, however, that Gilbert's scheme for the canonical and diocesan reorganisation of the church was implemented during his long span as papal legate.
It is recorded that Gilbert was present at the council of Westminster (1115). According to Eadmer's ‘Historia novorum’, he also made an appearance at Westminster abbey as suffragan bishop to Archbishop Ralph d'Escures at the consecration of Bernard, the queen's chaplain, as bishop of St Davids (19 September 1115). Queen Matilda attended the consecration; Gilbert is said by Matthew Paris to have been staying with the queen when called on by the abbot of St Albans to perform certain duties for him. The significance of this contact with the wife of King Henry I is not clear. After the death of Cellach (qv), bishop of Armagh, in 1129, Gilbert joined Máel-Ísu Ua hAinmire in persuading Malachy to accept the vacant see. They believed it was important that Armagh should be under the control of a reforming bishop; Gilbert's efforts in that regard show him actively pursuing the implementation of the decisions of the synod. In 1138 Gilbert resigned his see and legatine commission because of age and infirmity. His death at Bangor, Co. Down, in 1145 is recorded only in Chronicon Scotorum, without comment.