Franciscans in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XX

Nor were their Franciscan brethren less popular. The Order of Friars Minor generally found a home near the Friars Preachers; and so close was the friendship between them, that it was usual, on the festivals of their respective founders, for the Franciscan to preach the panegyric of St. Dominic, and the Dominican to preach the panegyric of St. Francis. Youghal was the first place where a convent of this Order was erected. The founder, Maurice FitzGerald, was Lord Justice in the year 1229, and again in 1232. He was a patron of both Orders, and died in the Franciscan habit, on the 20th May, 1257. Indeed, some of the English and Irish chieftains were so devout to the two saints, that they appear to have had some difficulty in choosing which they would have for their special patron. In 1649 the famous Owen O'Neill was buried in a convent of the Order at Cavan. When dying he desired that he should be clothed in the Dominican habit, and buried in the Franciscan monastery.

Some curious particulars are related of the foundation at Youghal. The Earl was building a mansion for his family in the town, about the year 1231. While the workmen were engaged in laying the foundation, they begged some money, on the eve of a great feast, that they might drink to the health of their noble employer. FitzGerald willingly complied with their request, and desired his eldest son to be the bearer of his bounty. The young nobleman, however, less generous than his father, not only refused to give them the money, but had angry words with the workmen. It is not mentioned whether the affair came to a more serious collision; but the Earl, highly incensed with the conduct of his son, ordered the workmen to erect a monastery instead of a castle, and bestowed the house upon the Franciscan fathers. The following year he took their habit, and lived in the convent until his death. This house was completely destroyed during the persecutions in the reign of Elizabeth.

The Convent of Kilkenny was founded immediately after. Its benefactor was the Earl of Pembroke, who was buried in the church. Here was a remarkable spring, dedicated to St. Francis, at which many miraculous cures are said to have been wrought. The site occupied by this building was very extensive; its ruins only remain to tell how spacious and beautiful its abbey and church must have been. It was also remarkable for the learned men who there pursued their literary toil, among whom we may mention the celebrated annalist, Clynn. He was at first Guardian of the Convent of Carrick-on-Suir; but, about 1338, he retired to Kilkenny, where he compiled the greater part of his Annals. It is probable that he died about 1350. His history commences with the Christian era, and is carried down to the year 1349. At this time the country was all but depopulated by a fearful pestilence. The good and learned brother seems to have had some forebodings of his impending fate, for his last written words run thus:—"And, lest the writing should perish with the writer, and the work should fail with the workman, I leave behind me parchment for continuing it; if any man should have the good fortune to survive this calamity, or any one of the race of Adam should escape this pestilence, and live to continue what I have begun." This abbey was also one of the great literary schools of Ireland, and had its halls of philosophy and divinity, which were well attended for many years.