The Carthusians in Ireland

W. H. Grattan Flood
The Irish Ecclesiastical Record
September 1907
4th Series, Vol. XXII, No. 477


JUST eighteen years ago, in his excellent History of the Charterhouse, Dom Lawrence Hendriks, monk of St. Hugh's Charterhouse, Sussex,[1] devoted one paragraph to the ‘Irish Charterhouse,’ as follows:—

The Irish Charterhouse is the next in chronological order. Its situation and its founder are both unknown. It seems to have been simply an unsuccessful attempt to establish the Order in Ireland. It is said to have lasted about forty years; but all that we know for certain is its suppression by order of the General Chapter of 1321. The monks were transferred to various houses.

Brief and unsatisfactory as this reference was, I determined to pursue my researches as to the founder, situation, and fortunes of this solitary house of the sons of St. Bruno in Ireland, but it was only within the past year that I pieced together the fragments collected from various authentic sources, for the purpose of this article.

Considering that the very existence of any house of the Carthusians has not been alluded to by any of our Irish historians, a sketch of Kinalehin Priory—for such is the name of the foundation—in the early years of the fourteenth century will doubtless prove of interest to many readers of the I. E. record.

Let me at once state that the Carthusian Priory of Kinalehin (Cenel-Fechen), was an ideal foundation, according to the teachings of St. Bruno, and was situated on the declivity of Sliabh Echtge (Slieve-Aughty) in South Connacht, in the diocese of Clonfert.

Sliabh Echtge is famed as the native place of Flann mac Lonain, ‘the Virgil of Ireland,’ who flourished in the tenth century.

In one of his poems he describes the travels of Ilbrechtach, the harper, over the mountains along with Mac Liag, the bard of Brian Boru; and the poem, beginning Aoibhionn aoibhinn Echtge ara, consists of one hundred and thirty-two lines.[2]

But, before going further, it may be well to say something of the founder of the Carthusians, and of the Order itself—an Order that has produced many saints like St. Hugh of Lincoln, Pope St. Urban II, and others, including the eighteeen Carthusian martyrs beatified by the late Pope.

St. Bruno was a native of Cologne, where he was born in 1038, but was sent to France at an early age, becoming a Canon of Rheims, in 1070, on which account he has often been claimed as a Frenchman.

In 1080 he felt impelled to adopt a life of solitude and silence, far from the turmoil of the world, and in 1083, got together six disciples who proceeded with him to Grenoble, where they were given a foundation by St. Hugh in the desert of Chartreuse.

Thus, in 1084, was begun the monastery of Chartreuse, a name which has been corruptly anglicized to ‘Charterhouse.’

St. Bruno founded a second monastery in the desert of Calabria, and there he died on October 6, 1101.

The Carthusian rule is very much akin to the old Irish monastic rule of St. Carthach of Lismore.

The Order is strictly contemplative—prayer, study, spritual reading and manual labour filling up the intervals of the canonical hours.

Practically, the Carthusian day begins with the singing of the Divine Office at midnight.

Their ‘office’ is longer than any now used in the Church, and the chant is slower and more severe than the Cistercian.

After a private office in their cells each monk retires to rest at 2.30 and is up again at 5.30.

Mass, meditation, spiritual reading, and portion of the office occupy the time from 5.30 to 10.

From 10 to 2.30 p.m. is given over to intellectual and manual work, except a half hour for dinner.

Vespers are sung at 2.45, and the monks retire to their cells at 6.30.

Such is the Carthusian day.

As is generally known, the Carthusian is a solitary, living in his cell all the time, save thrice daily (at Matins, Mass and Vespers), when he goes to the monastic church.

On certain greater feasts this solitude is mitigated, as he then sings all the canonical hours with his brethren in choir, and on these occasions, too, dinner and supper are served in the refectory. A weekly walk, or Spatiamentum, outside the enclosure has been permitted since 1265.

Witham, on the borders of Selwood Forest, was the first priory, or Charterhouse, established in England, founded by King Henry II, in 1178, of which St. Hugh of Lincoln was the third prior, in 1184.

The second English house was at Hinton, in Somersetshire, founded by Earl William de Longespee, in 1227.

Beauvale, in Nottinghamshire, was the third, in 1343, due to the munificence of Nicholas de Cantelope.

In chronological order the Carthusian annals place the Irish foundation as after that of Hinton, and its dissolution as some years before that of the establishment of Beauvale.

No other scrap of information is to be found in any of their writers, except that embodied in the paragraph at the commencement of this paper.

Hinton Priory, as has been stated, dates from 1227, and was endowed by Ella, Countess of Salisbury, widow of William de Longespee, in 1248. This Ella founded Lacock Abbey, of which she became abbess, and died there in 1263. Her husband was a Crusader, and it is remarkable that to this day the Carthusian monks continue to say special prayers daily for the restoration of the Holy Land to the Christians.

Now, William's brother, Stephen de Longespee, was married to Emmelina, Countess of Ulster, in 1244, whose son was Walter de Burgh. In right of his wife's dowry, this Stephen obtained, in 1249, a third part of five cantreds of land in Ireland. He was appointed Justicary of Ireland in 1258. Walter de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, died at Galway Castle, July 26, 1271, and was succeeded by his eldest son Richard, popularly known as the Red Earl, Lord of Connacht.

In 1280, Richard de Burgh was virtually ruler of Connacht, and on June 28, 1283, there was a grant given him and his wife, Margaret, of the land which Emmelina, late Countess of Ulster, held in Ulster.

It is therefore more than probable that Emmelina, Dowager Countess of Ulster, suggested to the Red Earl, to make a foundation for the Carthusian Order in Connacht.

Anyhow, in or about the year 1280, Richard de Burgo established a monastery for the Chartreuse brethren at Kinalehin, doubtless, colonized from Hinton.

King Edward I was favourably disposed towards the new foundation, and, on July 27, 1282, issued letters, dated from Rhuddlan, guaranteeing English protection ‘for the prior, monks, and lay brothers of the Carthusian Order, de Domo Dei, in Kinalehin.’

It is not a little remarkable that whilst Hinton Priory was named Locus Dei by the Carthusians, Kinalehin Priory is written Domus Dei, as appears from the Calendar of Patent Rolls.[3]

John de Alatri, Bishop of Clonfert, Papal Nuncio and Collector, was a munificent patron of the Kinalehin house from 1281 to 1295, in which latter year he was translated by Pope Boniface VIII to the Archbishopric of Benevento.

His successor, Robert, an English Benedictine monk of Canterbury, was consecrated at Rome by Gerard, Bishop of Sabina, in December, 1295.

It is evident from the State Papers that these two bishops of Clonfert were in the favour of the Holy See and of Edward I, and both were on intimate terms with the Red Earl.

The Carthusians had also a friend in Stephen de Fulburn, Archbishop of Tuam, who was Lord Justice of Ireland in 1286.

William Bermingham, his successor, was also a generous patron, to the detriment, as it would seem, of the English Dominicans of Athenry.

In 1300, Richard de Burgo founded the Carmelite Priory of Loughrea, which soon became one of the most important foundations of that Order in Ireland.

It was colonized from England, as were the other Irish Carmelite houses, which were all under the jurisdiction of the English province.

Not long afterwards the founder was summoned by King Edward I to take part in the Scottish campaign, and he set out for Scotland in the spring of the year 1301, remaining in that country for twelve months.

In 1305 he endowed twenty-four priests with lands to celebrate daily Mass (for his own soul and the souls of his ancestors) at Loughrea and Tipperbride (Ballintobber, Co. Roscommon), in a chapel to be newly built; and for this purpose he granted them the advowsons of the Churches of Loughrea, Portrush, Carrickfergus, Greencastle, Ballymoney, Dieucross, Loughguile and Tipperbride.

The church of Loughrea was then valued at £20 a year, and Tipperbride (Ballintober) at six marks annually.

The next entry we meet with concerning Kinalehin is in the ecclesiastical taxation made by order of Pope Boniface VIII, in 1302, which, however, was not completed till the year 1307, under Pope Clement V.

In this taxation, the Carthusian Priory of Kinalehin, written ‘Kenaloyn,’ is valued at £6 13s. 4d., the tenth being given as 13s. 4d.

It is stated to be in the deanery of ‘Dondery’—now Duniry—in which there were then five rectories, namely, those of Duniry, Lickmolassy, Kinalehin, Lickerrig, and Kilconickny—and six vicarages, viz., Duniry, Lickmolassy, Kinalehin, Kilcorban, Kilmalinoge and Drummackee.

The vicarage of Kinalehin is valued at £1 7s. 4d. yearly, and the tenth at 2s. 8¾d.—the sum total of the deanery of Duniry being given as £22 2s. 8d.

Richard de Burgo, Earl of Ulster, was almost at the pinacle of his power in 1307, and on June 15, 1308, he was appointed for a time as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

In November, 1307, Robert, Bishop of Clonfert, died, and a licence to elect was issued by Edward II on December, 7 of the same year.

The chapter elected Gregory O'Brogan Dean of Clonfert, to the vacant see, who received restitution of temporalities on March 22, 1308. A few months later, Edward de Burgo was provided by Pope Clement V as Provost of Tuam.

The Bruce invasion occasioned considerable unrest in the years 1315-1318, and though the fortunes of war seemed to favour Edward Bruce (who was joined by his brother Robert, in 1317), the victory of Faughart, near Dundalk, on October 14, 1318, established the English power more securely than before.

In Connacht, the death of Felim O'Connor at the battle of Athenry, led to a civil war, and in 1318, Turlough O'Connor had a rival in Cathal O'Connor.

The Red Earl, weary of war alarms, retired to the Abbey of Athassel, Co. Tipperary, leaving his vast estates to his grandson William.

The English in Thomond got a crushing defeat at Dysert O'Dea, on May 10, 1318.

No wonder that the Carthusian monks of Kinalehin felt insecure.

What with the retirement of the Red Earl, the constant attacks on Sir William de Burgo, and the internecine feuds of the Irish, the year 1320 found the brethren of the Domus Dei on the slope of Sliabh Echtge, in a pitiable plight.

The worthy Bishop of Clonfert died in 1319, and no election of a successor could be made for two years, ‘owing to the fighting in these parts,’ as stated in the brief appointing his successor, John (Archdeacon of Kilmacduagh), in 1322.

Accordingly, in 1321, the priory was suppressed by order of the General Chapter of the Grande Chartreuse, and in the same year the Carthusians left Kinalehin for ever.

Sir William de Burgo died in 1324, and the Red Earl died penitently with the Augustinian monks of Athassal, on July 29, 1326, being succeeded in his title and possessions by his grandson William, murdered in 1333.

It only remains to add that in 1371 the Franciscans were given the ruinous priory of Kinalehin by Pope Gregory XI, and the friary was built in 1372. It flourished till 1740.

Yet, though the Carthusians left Ireland in the fourteenth century, it was an Irish monk of that Order, Father John Tynbegh, Prior of the London Charterhouse, who gave the habit of St. Bruno to Blessed John Houghton in 1516, and may thus be regarded as a link with the Carthusian house of Kinalehin.



[1] I must express my obligation to Father John Baptist, of St. Hugh's Parkminister, Sussex, for a copy of this book, and for several interesting letters with extracts from Carthusian writers.

[2] See Dr. Hyde's Literary History of Ireland pp. 427-8. VOL. XXII.

[3] Pat., 10 Edw. I, m. 8.