The arrival of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland -1649

Following the rebellion of 1641 and the assertion that was it conceived in the Friary of Multyfarnham, it was no surprise the friary would suffer in its aftermath and in particular, during the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland (1649 to 1653.)

Since 1641, the English parliament planned to re-conquer Ireland and had already sent an invasion force there in 1647. Cromwell’s invasion force of 1649 was much larger, landing at Ringsend in Dublin on August 15 of that year. The invasion force consisted of 12,000 soldiers and a number of forty-eight-pound siege guns.

Here, in Cromwell, was a man who never had the slightest doubts as to the methods he would adapt to bring Ireland under his rule. His policy was revealed in all its brutality when he took the fortified port towns of Drogheda and Wexford in order to secure logistical supplies from England. Following the town’s capture after the Siege of Drogheda in September 1649, his troops killed over two thousand people.

Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658)

Before the town of New Ross, Cromwell said he would never tolerate the Mass and before Kilkenny he declared that if the city were taken by storm, the clergy would know what to expect.

Father Francis O’Farrell, OFM

At a Chapter held in Kilconnell on August 17, 1650, F. Francis (Edward) O’Farrell, OFM was elected Guardian of Multyfarnham Friary in succession to Fr Fitzsimons. Francis was a native of Longford and a member of a distinguished family who ruled with a firm hand in that county through many generations. He received his priestly training and education at St Anthony’s College, Louvain, and was admitted to tonsure and minor orders on December 20, 1624.

On May 4 the following year, he received diaconate, and was ordained a priest on December 20, 1625. He was in Salzburg in 1632 and the following year we find him in the Irish College in Prague. It is probable that not long after his arrival in that city, he was appointed professor of theology.

He was certainly teaching theology in 1636 in the Cardinalitial College in the University of Prague. In a letter of July 22, 1636, Albert O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, proposed him to the Cardinal Protector of the Franciscan Order as a suitable candidate for the See of Ardagh. His election to the Provincial Definitory in September 1647 gave him an opportunity to make his voice heard and his counsels felt.

Ormond drew up a blacklist of Irish Franciscans in 1649, or, as he called it: “A list of certain seditious friars of the Order of St Francis who are endeavouring to turn away from the King the allegiance of his subjects, and who are disturbing the peace and tranquillity of the kingdom.” On that list appeared the name ofFr Francis Farrell, Definitor of Leinster.”

Such was the man who, in August 1650, was appointed Guardian of Multyfarnham. Sad to say, his period of office was destined to be a tragic one for the friary. Already the forces of the English Parliament were masters of the whole country. Organised opposition, rarely resolute, was petering out. The systematic persecution of religion was growing in intensity and spreading apace; priests and religious everywhere felt the heavy hand of the bigot.

In 1650 one member of the Multyfarnham community had a lucky escape from certain torture and death. When Sir Charles Coote was marching north after his failure to take Athlone, near Rathconnell, some of his horse men captured Bryan Geoghegan, a Franciscan Friar, and took him prisoner. “He was carried along to the North where, making his escape, he arrived at his proper friary at Multyfarnham.

Cromwellian forces arrived in Multyfarnham in 1651 and ransacked the friary, along with the adjoining buildings. They left behind a burnt-out ruin and scattered the friary fraternity at Multyfarnham. County Westmeath was at their mercy and the Cromwellians met with no resistance.

The troops of the Earl of Westmeath, to their lasting discredit, took advantage of the sorry plight of “poor country peasants and fugitive churchmen” to rob them of their few beasts and chattels, as they fled “through woods and bogs.

The friars and the people fled together; the former doing all in their power to assuage the heart-rending grief of the affrighted people, abused by the soldiery and robbed of their few belongings. Once again, the friars of Multyfarnham were homeless wanderers. Never again would those who had known the Friary in the great days of 1641-1649, and the preceding years, dwell under its roof.

Neither would the stripling friars, who, in later years, in the fearful security of some place of refuge, or in the dim light of a mud cabin, listen to their elder brethren repeat with wistful accents the time-suffused memories of great days within the friary’s storied walls. None of these young Franciscans, nor their successors for the span of almost two centuries would return to that hallowed abode.

To Fr. Francis O’Farrell, OFM belongs the pathetic honour of having been the last Guardian for 177 years to rule in the friary founded by the Delamere’s and maintained for almost four centuries by the generosity of a devout community.

Expulsion of the friars from the Abbey took place early in 1651. In a letter written from Waterford on June 23 of that year, Fr Anthony Nugent, OFM Cap., observed that as the Puritans have almost the whole of Ireland in their hands: “no ecclesiastic can appear anywhere in public, for either the expectation of a reward, nor earnest entreaty can induce the Puritans to tolerate any priest in the country.” He continued: “On this account I was compelled to abandon my brothers and Westmeath, where all the Franciscans of Multyfarnham were scattered, especially those who remained in their friary.

Fate of Abbey Buildings and Abbey Lands

The fate that overtook the friary buildings is summed up in the brief comment of a contemporary (c. 1656): “There are also at Multyfarnham a friary, formerly very large and spacious, having 80 friars in it, but now demolished and ruinous.” The friary had been sacked. Cromwellian troopers did a thorough job. The church with its furnishings, conventual buildings with their equipment – including the library – had been plundered and set on fire. The grey tower looked down on the grim desolation of blackened, roofless walls, here and there beaten flat to the ground. A new phase in the life of the friars at Multyfarnham had begun.

Years of Endurance

The years of the Commonwealth administration in Ireland were particularly difficult for the Catholic Church, especially for the Catholic clergy. An edict issued on January 6, 1652, reviving a statute of Elizabeth, allowed twenty-eight days for the departure of all priests from the kingdom. Any priest who remained in the country after that period was guilty of high treason and was to be hanged, cut down while alive, beheaded, quartered, disembowelled, and burned.

Every exercise of the Catholic religion was held and declared a capital offence. To ensure that the edict would not remain a dead letter, the government encouraged the spread of priest-hunters. A special fund called “priest-monies” was created, and rewards paid for every captured priest.

The extremely difficult conditions under which Franciscans then lived – and their lot was typical of that of other clergy, diocesan and regular – is graphically illustrated in a letter of Fr Francis O’Farrell, OFM, dated September 4, 1656.

Fr. O’Farrell, now Minister Provincial, was fully conversant with the facts he narrates. “The missionaries,” he wrote, “‘live upon bread and milk, never remaining more than twenty-four hours in the same locality, carrying like soldiers their lodging places with them from station to station; nor dare they light a fire, except at night, lest the smoke should betray them.

Though it may be futile to speculate as to where exactly the Multyfarnham community resided during the difficult years following their expulsion from the friary, it may be taken for granted that, true to the noble example set by their brethren of earlier generations, they remained in the neighbourhood of their old home.

On this point Father Brendan Jennings, OFM writes: “It is very probable that even under Cromwell, just as under Henry and Elizabeth, some of the friars remained hidden in the neighbourhood of Multyfarnham, ministering to the persecuted faithful.