Respite and Revival at Multyfarnham

A period of relative calm ensued in the years between 1625 and the outbreak of rebellion in 1641 by Irish Catholics who wanted an end to anti-Catholic discrimination. Priests and religious performed their sacred functions without fear of State interference. There were spasmodic outbursts of persecution but in general, there was comparative freedom from interference.

This extended calm was welcomed by every Catholic priest and layperson. At once there was a vigorous resurgence of Catholic life, a marked renewal of Catholic activity all over the land. Churches reopened, and monasteries were rebuilt. Franciscan novices openly wore the habit of the Order. This revival of Catholic life also made itself felt at Multyfarnham Friary.

It was during this period that the Friary was completely restored. Novitiates were re-established, and in 1648 Multyfarnham Friary became, once again, a house of formation for young friars to study there.

Multyfarnham Friary flourished with great splendour as before the suppression. It became a vigorous centre of religious life and Catholic activity. Of the Friary itself, Sir Henry Piers has written: “Here as before 1641, they had their church not only in very good repair, but adorned with pictures, images, relics, etc.; here in the choir or chancel they had their organs and chorister’s; they had not only apartments sufficient for their own numbers but for the reception of many by horse and foot at any time; here they had all houses or offices fit to make preparation for entertainment of such as came at all times to visit, or otherwise to debate their concerns.”

Multyfarnham had entered on a new phase of full Franciscan life and activity.

In 1626 a Provincial Chapter was held in the Friary under the presidency of Fr Francis Coleman OFM. At this Chapter, Fr Francis Matthews OFM, who had ruled the Province as Vicar-Provincial, was elected Minister Provincial.

Father Matthews, author of the well-known compendium of Irish Franciscan history, was a zealous, industrious, and capable Provincial. He established schools at various friaries. Of these schools, some were intended as centres of the humanities, others, for philosophy, and others for theology.

A school of philosophy was set up at Multyfarnham and the Irish Franciscans availed themselves to the fullest of the opportunity now offered for a solid scholastic revival in the province. And Multyfarnham was to play a part in that fresh burgeoning of intellectual life.

Assembly at Multyfarnham

The geographical location of Multyfarnham Friary in the centre of Ireland made it a very convenient meeting place for the clergy and nobility of the midlands and places more remote, when they had occasion to come together to discuss matters of common interest.

The Viceroy in his memorandum dated October 14 1626 to London reported as follows: “On last Lady Day (September 8) there met at Multyfarnham the titular Archbishop of Cashel and the Bishop of Meath, with 150 friars, Jesuits, and priests, from all parts of Ireland. This assembly continued for several days and was joined by most of the gentlemen of Westmeath and Longford, they sent before them all sorts of provisions as ‘beeves, muttons, poultry, wheat, malt, pewter, linen and bedding.

Among the assembled was Sir Edmond Tuite. The Tuite’s had strong Franciscan connections. Two sons of Sir Edmund, Edward, and George were already friars, and two daughters, Ellen and Cecilia, were Poor Clare’s. A granddaughter of his, Mother Cecily Dillon was afterwards Abbess of the Poor Clare convent situated on the River Shannon at Bethlehem, on the Westmeath/Longford border.

Finally, the Viceroy concludes with a statement that affords striking proof of the fidelity of the people to the Catholic Church, and offers convincing testimony to the freedom of worship that prevailed in the country during the opening years of the reign of Charles I. On St. Francis day, October 4, 1626, nearly 2,000 people assembled for Mass at Multyfarnham Friary, and very few of the country gentry were absent.

The flourishing condition of the Friary at this period is further illustrated by a detail worth noting. About the year 1626, money was sent from Ireland to help pay the cost of running St Anthony’s in Louvain, in Belgium. Among the many contributors were six Franciscan communities, including Dublin and of these, Multyfarnham Friary headed the list with a donation of £26.10s