Franciscans in Donegal

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XX

The history of the establishment of the Order at Donegal is amusing enough, and very characteristic of the customs of the age. In the year 1474 the Franciscans were holding a general chapter in their convent near Tuam. In the midst of their deliberations, however, they were unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival of the Lady Nuala O'Connor, daughter of the noble O'Connor Faly, and wife of the powerful chieftain, Hugh O'Donnell. She was attended by a brilliant escort, and came for no other purpose than to present her humble petition to the assembled fathers, for the establishment of their Order in the principality of Tir-Connell. After some deliberation, the Provincial informed her that her request could not be complied with at present, but that at a future period the friars would most willingly second her pious design.

The Lady Nuala, however, had a woman's will, and a spirit of religious fervour to animate it. "What!" she exclaimed, "have I made this long and painful journey only to meet with a refusal? Beware of God's wrath! for to Him I will appeal, that He may charge you with all the souls whom your delay may cause to perish." This was unanswerable. The Lady Nuala journeyed home with a goodly band of Franciscans in her train; and soon the establishment of the Monastery of Donegal, situated at the head of the bay, showed that the piety of the lady was generously seconded by her noble husband. Lady Nuala did not live to see the completion of her cherished design. Her mortal remains were interred under the high altar, and many and fervent were the prayers of the holy friars for the eternal repose of their benefactress.

The second wife of O'Donnell was not less devoted to the Order. This lady was a daughter of Connor O'Brien, King of Thomond. Her zeal in the good work was so great, that the monastery was soon completed, and the church dedicated in 1474. The ceremony was carried out with the utmost magnificence, and large benefactions bestowed on the religious. After the death of her husband, who had built a castle close to the monastery, and was buried within the sacred walls, the widowed princess retired to a small dwelling near the church, where she passed the remainder of her days in prayer and penance. Her son, Hugh Oge, followed the steps of his good father. So judicious and upright was his rule, that it was said, in his days, the people of Tir-Connell never closed their doors except to keep out the wind. In 1510 he set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. Here he spent two years, and was received everywhere as an independent prince, and treated with the greatest distinction. But neither the honours conferred on him, nor his knightly fame (for it is said he was never vanquished in the field or the lists), could satisfy the desires of his heart. After a brief enjoyment of his ancestral honours, he retired to the monastery which his father had erected, and found, with the poor children of St. Francis, that peace and contentment which the world cannot give.