Multyfarnham Friary in the years 1669 to 1687

From 1669 to 1672 Fr Geanor governed the Province from Multyfarnham friary. Although the friary was located, in fact, at Knightswood, it was, in accordance with a general practice, always referred to in Provincial documents as the friary of Multyfarnham.

To this day there are still extant letters and documents signed and dated by Fr Geanor in his capacity as Provincial from Multyfarnham friary. One of the letters deals with a dispute between the friaries of Kilnalahan and Kilconnell about the territorial limits of the quest for each friary. Interestingly it shows that in the decade following the Restoration, the friars had re-established communities in or near their old friary houses.

Once again, they were engaged in preaching and in winning back the lapsed in their communities. As early as 1662 the Franciscan Provincial reported to Rome that he had under him in Ireland 105 fathers actively engaged in preaching and he mentioned that since Cromwell’s time they had 20,979 conversions.

Another document signed by Fr Geanor dated March 30, 1672, from Multyfarnham, furnishes evidence that in the years of tranquillity the Provincial was anxious about the scholastic training of his students. On the March 30, 1672, he issued two letters of obedience authorising Fr Anthony MacKeigue OFM and Brother Patrick Kelly OFM, cleric, to proceed to Prague to pursue their studies.

We do not know how much the friars were affected by the decree of October 27 1673, and the more stringent edict of April 27 1674, commanding all Catholic clergy to leave the country by a specified date. Yet, it is significant that Essex invoked the aid of troops in an effort to apprehend one Oliver Dease, Titular Vicar General of Meath, and one Reilly a friar often seen in the County of Westmeath in contempt of the Proclamation of April 1674.

Fr Francis Brennan was arrested in Mullingar early in 1674. On the other hand, Piers’ words suggested that the friars remained in Knightswood up to the issue in 1678 of the rigorous penal enactment. On October 16 1678, Ormond and his council issued a decree commanding all archbishops, bishops, and other exercising papal authority to depart the kingdom by the November 20. All convents, friaries and schools were forthwith closed, and special penalties enacted against receivers, relievers, and harbourers of such clergy.

Ormond was determined to enforce the decree in all its rigour. Sheriffs were instructed to put the Viceroy’s ‘commands in execution by diligent search for such clergy who have not departed the kingdom and committing them to safe custody. The Multyfarnham community had most likely to abandon their abode at Knightswood.

The friars, however, did not flee the country. As often before, they found safe refuge among a people whom Essex described years before as “very watchful about their priests.” Piers suggested that with the crisis over, the friars slipped back to their Friary.

The protestant Bishop, Anthony Dopping, writing in his parish visitation book stated a convent of twenty friars resided near Knightswood. Thus, in the closing year of the reign of Charles II, and the few years his brother, James II occupied the throne of England, the Multyfarnham community was in a flourishing condition, probably the most flourishing in the Irish Franciscan Province.

The reign of James II was brief (1685 to 1688) but witnessed a great revival of activity among the religious Orders. There was complete freedom of worship. The future seemed bright with the promise of better times ahead.

The Catholic Church in Ireland bestirred itself and set to work to undo the ravages of so many years of open persecution and of grudging, half-hearted toleration. A contemporary has testified to the renewed activity of the friars: “The religious, that is the Franciscans and Dominicans, appear everywhere in the regular habit and have begun to repair their ancient monasteries and friaries.”

In 1687 Fr Francis O’Neill, OFM, a former professor of philosophy and theology at the Franciscan college in Prague, and in the seminary of the same city, was elected Provincial. A man in the prime of his life he was 42 years of age and full of energy. He set to work at once to build anew the shattered fabric of regular life and discipline.

Novitiates were opened at the chief Franciscan centres, among them Multyfarnham friary, where Father James Tuite was appointed Novice Master. Provision was made for the scholastic training of students, and four new friaries were established, among them, Derry.