The head was the coarb (Ir.
The coarb of the chief spiritual foundation was called the high coarb (ard-chomarba).
The coarb might be a bishop or only an abbot, but in either case all the ecclesiastics in the family were subject to him; in this way it frequently happened that bishops, though their superior functions were recognized, were in subjection to abbots who were only priests, as in the case of St Columba, or even to a woman, as in the case of St Brigit.
The temporal chief had his steward who superintended the collection of his rents and tributes; in like manner the coarb of a religious sept had his airchinnech (Anglo-Irish erenach, herenach), whose office was generally, but not necessarily, hereditary.
After making a gift of his lands the chief either retired, leaving it in the hands of a coarb, or remained as the religious head himself.