Franciscans in Dublin

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XX

In Dublin the Franciscans were established by the munificence of their great patron, Henry III. Ralph le Porter granted a site of land in that part of the city where the street still retains the name of the founder of the Seraphic Order. In 1308 John le Decer proved a great benefactor to the friars, and erected a very beautiful chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, in which he was interred.

But the Convent of Multifarnham was the great glory of this century. It was erected, in 1236, by Lord Delemere; and from its retired situation, and the powerful protection of its noble patrons, escaped many of the calamities which befell other houses of the Order. The church and convent were built " in honour of God and St. Francis." The monastery itself was of unusual size, and had ample accommodation for a number of friars. Hence, in times of persecution, it was the usual refuge of the sick and infirm, who were driven from their less favoured homes. The church was remarkable for its beauty and the richness of its ornaments. Here were the tombs of its noble founders and patrons; and the south-eastern window was gorgeous with their heraldic devices. The convent was situated on Lake Derravaragh, and was endowed with many acres of rich land, through which flow the Inny and the Gaine. Such a position afforded opportunity for mills and agricultural labours, of which the friars were not slow to avail themselves.

The site, as we have remarked, was secluded, at some distance even from any village, and far from the more frequented roads. In process of time the family of the Nugents became lords of the manor, but they were not less friendly to the religious than the former proprietors. Indeed, so devoted were they to the Order, that, at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, Multifarnham would have shared the common fate, had they not again and again repurchased it from those to whom it had been sold by Henry. Even during the reign of Elizabeth it was protected by the same family. But the day of suffering was even then approaching. In the October of the year 1601, a detachment of English soldiers was sent from Dublin by Lord Mountjoy, to destroy the convent which had been so long spared. The friars were seized and imprisoned, the monastery pillaged; and the soldiers, disappointed in their hope of a rich booty, wreaked their vengeance by setting fire to the sacred pile.

The Convent of Kilcrea was another sequestered spot. It was founded in the fifteenth century, by the MacCarthys, under the invocation of St. Brigid. The richness and magnificence of the church, its graceful bell-tower, carved windows, and marble ornaments, showed both the generosity and the taste of the Lord Muskerry. Cormac was interred here in 1495; and many noble families, having made it their place of sepulture, protected the church for the sake of their ancestral tombs.

Nor was the Monastery of Timoleague less celebrated. The honour of its foundation is disputed, as well as the exact date; but as the tombs of the MacCarthys, the O'Donovans, O'Heas, and De Courcys, are in its choir, we may suppose that all had a share in the erection or adornment of this stately church. One of the De Courcy family, Edmund, Bishop of Ross, himself a Franciscan friar, rebuilt the bell-tower, which rises to a height of seventy feet, as well as the dormitory, infirmary, and library. At his death, in 1548, he bequeathed many valuable books, altar-plate, &c, to his brethren.