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All Hallows College

The collection relates to the Vincentian work done in All Hallows College (AHC) from 1892, when the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) took over the administration of the college, to 2016 when the Vincentians gave up the running of AHC. Contains financial, spiritual and architectural reports and considerations of the college as run by the Vincentians.

Irish Vincentian Province

Capuchin Papers relating to the Irish Revolution

The fonds consists of the correspondence and papers of Capuchin friars detailing their involvement with participants in the national struggle. The majority of the material dates from 1916-1925 and includes many records highlighting the roles played by Irish Capuchins in ministering to republican leaders and their relations. Of particular interest is a large collection of prison letters including the correspondence of some of the leading figures of the Irish Revolution. The fonds also contains a large collection of republican publicity material, newspapers and miscellaneous items of ephemera and artefacts mostly relating to the military and political campaign organised by nationalists for Irish independence. A smaller collection relating to the repatriation of the bodies of Fr. Albert Bibby OFM Cap. and Fr. Dominic O’Connor OFM Cap. from the United States to Ireland in 1958 is also extant.

Irish Capuchin Franciscans

Fr. Theobald Mathew: Research and Commemorative Papers

Fr. Theobald Mathew OSFC (1790-1856)

Theobald Mathew was born at Thomastown Castle near the village of Golden in County Tipperary on 10 October 1790. The Mathews were an old landed family with both Catholic and Protestant branches. Francis Mathew (1738-1806) was the owner of Thomastown Castle. He was created Viscount Landaff in 1793, and then Earl Landaff in 1797 (the title derived from the place in Wales from which the family had come to Ireland in the seventeenth century. The title was sometimes referred to as the Earldom of Llandaff since that is the more common Welsh spelling but it is Earl Landaff in the Peerage of Ireland. The Mathews of Thomastown held this title from 1797 to 1833). In the 1760s, Francis Mathew had adopted his orphaned cousin, James Mathew, Theobald’s father. On reaching adulthood, James was appointed the agent for the Mathew estate. Unlike many of the Mathews, James remained a Catholic throughout his life. His wife, Anne Whyte, was also a Catholic. They had twelve children, the fourth of whom was Theobald. The young Theobald Mathew had a privileged childhood, enjoying favoured treatment from his Protestant relation, Lady Elizabeth Mathew, the daughter of Francis Mathew. Lady Elizabeth knew and approved of Theobald’s priestly ambitions, and in 1800 she provided the money to pay for his education at St. Canice’s, a Catholic boarding school in Kilkenny. In September 1807, Theobald enrolled at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, for seminary training. However, his plans were upset when in his first year he was forced to leave Maynooth in order to avoid being expelled for holding what appears to have been a drunken party for his fellow students. He was subsequently accepted by the Capuchin Franciscan Order as a novice and he made his way to Church Street in Dublin to be trained. The Capuchins, in common with many of the religious orders in Ireland, were weak at this time and were thus extremely anxious for new recruits.

On 3 April 1813 Mathew was ordained a deacon. A year later he was ordained a priest by the Most Rev. Daniel Murray (1768-1852), later Archbishop of Dublin. After a brief sojourn in Kilkenny, Fr. Mathew moved back to Cork where he came under the influence of Fr. Daniel Donovan OSFC (d. 14 Jan. 1821) who was elected Provincial Minister of the Irish Capuchins in 1816. Fr. Mathew devoted a good deal of his time to practical charitable enterprises, establishing schools for poor and orphaned children. In these schools the children were taught household skills in addition to elementary subjects. In 1821, Fr. Donovan died and Fr. Mathew was elected his successor as Provincial Minister. He would continue to hold this position until 1851. In 1832, he broke ground for an elaborate, Gothic-style Capuchin church in Cork (subsequently called The Church of the Most Holy Trinity), on Charlotte Quay (later renamed Father Mathew Quay). Due to a lack of funds the church would remain unfinished in Fr. Mathew’s lifetime. It was not until 1890 that the spire and façade were added. Nevertheless, Fr. Mathew gained an excellent reputation in the local community for his tireless endeavours in support of the poor of Cork. He was also noted for his exceptional spirit of ecumenism. He was on friendly terms with a number of leading Protestants and Quakers in the city. Fr. Mathew joined the total abstinence movement in Cork in April 1838. The Cork Total Abstinence Society was established with the avowed aim of encouraging people to make one enduring act of will which would keep them sober for life. This act of will was enshrined in the pledge to abstain from the taking of intoxicating liquor.

From the very beginning Fr. Mathew’s endeavours in the cause of temperance gained striking success. Under his leadership, teetotalism drew a large number of adherents in Cork and spread throughout Munster and eventually throughout Ireland. The Society’s ranks quickly grew, and within three months, Fr. Mathew had enrolled 25,000 new members in Cork alone. In five months, the number had increased to 130,000. He travelled across Ireland, convincing thousands more to pledge teetotalism. In August 1842, he began traveling internationally, first to Scotland, then England. At its height, just before the outbreak of the famine in 1845, Fr. Mathew’s temperance movement had enrolled three million people, or more than half of the adult population of Ireland. By the mid-1840s he was frequently travelling to Britain with equally dramatic results. The leading nationalist politician, Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847), described the temperance movement as Fr. Mathew’s ‘mighty moral crusade’. In 1847, the priests of the diocese of Cork selected him to be their bishop. However, there was strong opposition from members of the hierarchy. It was held against him that the he had accepted a pension from the Government. One long-standing critic among the bishops described him as ‘the hired tool of a heretical government’. This reflected the long-standing determination of the Catholic Church in Ireland not to accept state funding and the interference that would come in its train. Fr. Mathew’s financial mismanagement (he was known to be bountiful and generous to the point of extravagance), liberal Catholicism and Protestant associations also told against him. The Pope acceded to the almost unanimous advice of the Irish hierarchy that Fr. Mathew should not be appointed to the bishopric. Nevertheless, his standing as a popular figure remained undiminished. In July 1849, he visited the United States where he was greeted with enthusiastic acclaim. In Washington, the Congress unanimously admitted to him to a seat on the floor of the House; he was the first non-American after the Marquis de Lafayette to be so honoured. Rallies and demonstrations were held across the country to honour Ireland’s renowned ‘Apostle of Temperance’.

Despite this personal adulation, it was clear that Fr. Mathew’s movement had reached its zenith. From the late 1840s the movement began to decline almost dramatically as it had risen. His health started to fail (he had suffered a stroke in 1848) and crippling debts began to accumulate, making it increasingly difficult to continue the temperance crusade. The onset of the famine, brought about by the failure of the potato crop in 1845, dealt a grievous blow to the movement; thousands of Fr. Mathew’s followers died or emigrated in those years. Many of those who remained in Ireland had to contend with more pressing concerns than the maintenance of their pledge to abstain from alcohol. In late 1853, despite declining health, Fr. Mathew ventured to Limerick where he administered the pledge in what was his last appearance at a public meeting. In October 1854, on medical advice, he travelled to Madeira but his health continued to deteriorate. In the absence of its charismatic leader the temperance movement continued to weaken. He suffered a severe stroke in late 1856 and died in Queenstown (later Cobh), County Cork, on 8 December 1856. He was 66 years old. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Cork, which he had established twenty-six years earlier.

Collection Content

The surviving original correspondence of Fr. Theobald Mathew OSFC held in the Irish Capuchin Archives has been catalogued and is listed elsewhere (IE CA FM-COR). The majority of the collection listed here is comprised of research material relating to Fr. Mathew’s life and temperance crusade. In the late nineteenth century, Ireland experienced temperance revivals which had the effect of renewing popular interest in the total abstinence campaign led by Fr. Mathew in the 1840s and 1850s. Widespread public interest in his legacy remained undiminished, and his life continued to be the subject of popular admiration. The collection includes published historical works, biographical research and other copy source material relating to the ‘Apostle of Temperance’. The collection comprises compilations of archival sources and research notes compiled by Fr. Stanislaus Kavanagh OFM Cap. (1876-1965), Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap. (1875-1953), and Fr. Nessan Shaw OFM Cap. (1915-1997), Capuchin friars who undertook extensive research into Fr. Mathew’s life and ministry.

The fonds also contains correspondence, publications, posters, circulars, newspaper cuttings and ephemera relating to various commemorations of Fr. Mathew from the nineteenth century onward. In 1864, John Francis Maguire MP (1815-1872), Fr. Mathew’s friend and first biographer, organised the erection of a statue of him on St. Patrick’s Street in Cork sculpted by John Henry Foley (1818-1874). As part of an exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876 to mark the centenary of American Independence, the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America erected a statue of Fr. Mathew in Fairmont Park. His statue stood alongside three Irish-American Catholics who had played a significant role in the American Revolution, Bishop John Carroll SJ, Charles Carroll and John Barry. In 1890, to mark the centenary of Fr. Mathew’s birth, a committee with a large Protestant membership came together to erect a statue in Dublin. There were generous donations from both England and Ireland and from Irish emigrant communities in North America. The statue, by the Irish-born artist Mary Redmond (1863-1930), was unveiled on Sackville (later O’Connell) Street in February 1893. The statue depicted Fr. Mathew in a Capuchin habit, an attire he never wore in life. In 1938, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of the foundation of the Cork Total Abstinence Society, the Most Rev. David Mathew (1902-1975), the Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, who was a great-grandnephew of Fr. Mathew, had a statute erected near his birthplace of Thomastown Castle. Similar nationwide commemorative events were held in 1956 to mark the centenary of Mathew's death. More low-key commemorations were held in 1988 (150th anniversary of the inauguration of the temperance campaign), 1990 (bi-centenary of Fr. Mathew’s death), and in 2006 (150th anniversary of his death). The collection includes correspondence, newspaper cuttings, publicity material, photographs and memorabilia concerning the organisation and celebration of these commemorative occasions.

The total abstinence movement in the Catholic Church in England was revived by Cardinal Henry Manning (1804-1892) who in 1872 founded the League of the Cross. In the same year the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America was established. In 1887, one of its leaders, Bishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, Minnesota (1838-1918), who, as a young man in his native Kilkenny had taken the pledge from Fr. Mathew, obtained approval from Pope Leo XIII for the organisation of a total abstinence movement. In Ireland, some Capuchin friars sought to renew the campaign against intemperance. In 1880, Fr. Albert Mitchell OSFC (1831-1893) established a sodality in Dublin under the title of the ‘Temperance Society of the Sacred Thirst of Our Lord Jesus Christ’. A meeting place for the sodality was secured with the opening of Father Mathew Centennial Memorial Hall on Church Street in January 1891. A hall for a similar temperance sodality and religious confraternity was opened by the Capuchins in Cork in 1907. Temperance activity received a major boost in 1905 when the Irish hierarchy invited the Capuchins to preach a National Crusade. The crusade initially garnered widespread public enthusiasm and by 1912 the Capuchins had administered over a million pledges throughout the country.

By this point the Capuchins were not alone in tackling the scourge of intemperance in Ireland. Fr. James Cullen SJ (1841-1921) founded the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (PTAA) in Dublin in December 1898. Although the PTAA looked to Fr. Mathew’s earlier temperance campaign for inspiration, Fr. Cullen’s movement displayed some marked differences. In his speeches, Fr. Cullen asserted that temperance among the Irish would pave the way for independence from Britain. The PTAA was not primarily directed at excessive drinkers but at devout Catholics, who were to make what was described as a heroic sacrifice to atone for the sins of intemperance. This movement was essentially devotional and firmly rooted within the Catholic Church. An essential component of the Association was devotion to the Sacred Heart with a focus on the spiritual element in the work of the PTAA. Many of the twentieth-century commemorations of Fr. Mathew were organised by the PTAA as part of the promotion of their cause. Fr. Cullen’s pioneers remained a vital force in Ireland until the 1980s, when they found themselves unable to adapt to the dramatic political, cultural, and religious changes taking hold in an increasingly secular Ireland. The collection comprises much material relating to the promotion of temperance issues by organisations such as the PTAA including newsletters, publications, publicity and commemorative material (much of which focused on Fr. Mathew’s legacy), and memorabilia. Finally, the subfonds includes a highly significant collection of artefacts such as original temperance society medals, pledge cards, prints, posters, photographs, temperance memorabilia, manuals, church plate, ephemera and other items and relics associated with Fr. Mathew and his temperance movement from the 1830s to the 1850s. These items were collected by various Capuchin friars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a view to exhibiting them for devotional and historical purposes.

Glass Plate Negative and Lantern Slide Collection

The collection comprises over 300 original glass plate negatives and lantern slides. Prior to the invention of cellulose nitrate film in 1903, photographic emulsions were made on glass supports. These glass supports are typically referred to as glass plate negatives. The term ‘glass plate negative’ refers to two separate formats: the collodion wet plate negative and the gelatin dry plate. Both formats consist of a light sensitive emulsion that is fixed to the glass plate base with a binder. This form of photographic process largely faded from the consumer market in the early years of the twentieth century, as more convenient and less fragile films were introduced. Despite the impracticalities of the medium, glass negative plates were generally considered superior to cellulose nitrate film for high-quality imaging because they were extremely stable and less likely to bend or distort.

The collection also includes several lantern slides. Lantern slides were constructed from a base piece of glass, with the emulsion (carrying the photo or print) on it, then a matte over that, and then a top piece of cover glass. They were then taped all the way around to keep the pieces together and to keep dust out. Occasionally, colour was added by hand, tinting the images (these lantern slides were created before the invention of colour film). The slides were then projected onto a screen using a bespoke lantern slide projector. Lantern glass slides were used by some public speakers until the mid-twentieth century, when they were eclipsed by more economical and practical 35mm colour slides popularised by Kodachrome. Finally, the collection also includes some original glass stereo plates. Stereo cameras used a single glass plate negative to capture images. Prints from these negatives were intended to be looked at with a special viewer called a stereoscope, which created a rudimentary three-dimensional image.

Provenance and Collection Content

Precise information on the provenance of the collection is lacking. The plates were retrieved from a worn leather suitcase bearing the initials ‘F.A.’ which almost certainly refers to Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap. (1875-1953). Although Fr. Angelus never considered himself an academic historian, he researched assiduously and transcribed many original documents relating to the history of the Irish Capuchins. His ‘Pages from the Story of the Irish Capuchins’ was published in 1915 to mark the tercentenary of the arrival of the first Capuchin friar in Ireland. It is highly likely that Fr. Angelus was responsible for assembling this glass plate photographic collection and that many of the lantern slides were created specifically for his use.

The image content of the glass plate collection is eclectic and varied. Only a relatively small number of the images are dated but it can be inferred that most of the photographs date to the first or second decade of the twentieth century. Many of the plates show images of scenes around the Capuchin Friary in Rochestown in County Cork. The Capuchins established a community in Rochestown, situated about five miles from Cork city, in 1873. The Irish friars had founded a Seraphic School in 1884 with the primary aim of training young religious. This school originally operated along the lines of a novitiate for students who aspired to join the Capuchin Franciscan Order. In 1887, this school was transferred from Kilkenny to Rochestown. The collection includes many images of novice friars and students attached to the Rochestown house. In addition to photographs of the friary itself, local landmarks, buildings, and scenic locations in the environs of Rochestown feature prominently in some of the images. Several photographs showing other Irish Capuchin houses and foundations such as the Church of St. Francis in Kilkenny are also extant in the collection. The collection also includes some rare images of the Reek Sunday pilgrimage to the summit of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo (CA-PH-1-49-55). The 764-metre-high mountain is traditionally climbed by pilgrims on the last Sunday in July. These images were likely assembled by Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap., who was known as the ‘Guardian of the Reek’ in honour of his long association with the pilgrimage. His association with Croagh Patrick lasted from 1906 to 1949, during which he climbed the mountain forty-two times missing only two years, in 1919 due to a railway strike, and in 1922 due to the Civil War.

A seemingly separate series of lantern slides relating to the life and career of Fr. Theobald Mathew OSFC (1790-1856), a famed nineteenth century temperance campaigner and Capuchin friar, were also deposited in the collection. It is very probable that these slides were used as illustrative aids by the Capuchins for public talks and auditorium lectures on Fr. Mathew’s campaign against intoxicating liquor. Temperance activity was revived in 1905 when the Irish Catholic hierarchy invited the Capuchins to preach a National Crusade. This revival initially elicited widespread public enthusiasm and by 1912 the Capuchins had administered over a million pledges throughout the country. The lanterns slides were, in all probability, used in this campaign. Finally, the collection also includes images of seventeenth century manuscripts and photographs of other original records pertaining to the lives and ministries of several early Irish Capuchins. These were probably acquired by Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap. and Fr. Stanislaus Kavanagh OFM Cap. (1876-1965), another prominent Irish Capuchin historian, for research purposes.

Healy, Angelus, 1875-1953, Capuchin priest

Hereford, UK

This collection contains material relating to the Vincentian community in the Parish of Our Lady’s Queen of the Universe, Hereford, United Kingdom. Items include: correspondence, Visitation Reports, House Council Minutes, Architects Reports, newspaper cuttings, printed articles, photographs.

Lanark, Scotland, UK

Admin History
The Vincentians initially came to Lanark in 1859, when the new Church of St Mary’s, Lanark, was opened. When the parish of Lanark was handed over to the Vincentians it comprised, Carstairs, Kirkfieldbank, New Lanark, Ponfeigh and Douglas. The first Superior was Matthew Kavanagh CM. The church built in the 1850’s was destroyed by fire on 13th April 1907 and a new building was later opened on the same site in 1910.

St Mary’s Hospital, Lanark, was run in connection with the Community.

In 2006 the decision was made for the Vincentians to withdraw from the Parish of St Mary’s, after almost 150 years service. A Farewell Mass was held on the 11th June 2006 at St Mary’s Church, Lanark.

Scope and Content
This collection contains material relating to the Vincentian community in the Parish of St Mary’s, Lanark, Scotland. Items include: Correspondence (1855-2006), Photographs (1950-1978), Copy Deeds (1870), Lanark Teinds (1883-1907), Visitation Reports (1976 & 1980), Annual Return of Income & Expenditure (1963, 1993 & 1998), Minutes (1888, 1963 & 1980), Inventory of Property (1961), Architects Drawings (1977), Publications (1910, 1959 & 1990), Statements of Accounts (1925-1990), Receipts & Vouchers (1868-1954) Ordnance Survey Map (1947).

Mission and Retreat Papers

The Mission and Retreat Apostolate

Since the foundation of the Order in the early sixteenth century preaching by the Capuchin Franciscan friars has played an important role in the life of the Catholic Church. It was also one of the foremost apostolates and evangelistic activities undertaken by the Irish Capuchins. The practice of preaching week-long special missions became widespread in Ireland after Catholic Emancipation (1829). The upsurge in devotional practices and the dramatic increase in Mass attendance in the late nineteenth century created a widespread demand for parish missions and retreats. Secular (diocesan) priests were not always plentiful so there was a general dependence upon religious orders for preaching and for parish mission work. The geographical extent of these missions ranged throughout the entire country. The content of the sermons preached during these missions centred on traditional themes such as vices and virtue and punishment and glory, embodying the Franciscan charism of self-denial, the performance of penance, and peace and goodwill to all. The form of the mission followed traditional patterns with sermons preached by the friars focusing on devotion and prayer. This was frequently adapted to local circumstances. The increasing demand for parish missions and retreats from both the laity and from religious congregations placed a severe demand on the Capuchins. It was difficult to maintain regular religious observance, staff churches and run lay sodalities when many friars and preachers were away on mission work. Despite these difficulties, the number of missions conducted by the Irish friars increased in the first decades of the twentieth century. In the years from 1910 to 1913 the Capuchins undertook 405 weeks of missions throughout Ireland. Fr. James O’Mahony OFM Cap. (1897-1962), Provincial Minister, referred to the importance of mission preaching in a circular letter to the friars dated 31 August 1943:

'A mission or retreat is a very serious and sacred thing in the eyes of the secular clergy and the people who … who expect us to be distinctive and other, bringing with us that Franciscan atmosphere … We, therefore, exhort the priest to compose their lives, when on missions and retreats, that they will give a true picture of Franciscan spirituality. Let them avoid everything that might shock the spiritual susceptibilities of the clergy and the people; let them observe such external properties as are demanded by the Gospel; and God will bless and reward them as true heirs to the apostolate of St. Francis of Assisi'.

The Temperance Crusade in the twentieth century

Mission work increased dramatically when the Capuchins accepted an invitation from the Irish Catholic hierarchy to preach a national temperance crusade in 1905. Inspired by the life of the famed temperance campaigner and Capuchin priest, Fr. Theobald Mathew OSFC (1790-1856), the Irish bishops entrusted the campaign to promote teetotalism throughout Ireland to the friars. The Capuchins dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the task. Twelve priests were selected to undertake the work and they preached dozens of temperance missions every year. The characteristics of the temperance crusade built upon the existing missionary work of the friars. Travelling from parish to parish, the priests would preach on temperance, give the pledge to refrain from alcohol for at least twelve months, and encourage the congregation to go to confession and receive communion. In order to perpetuate the fruits of their work, efforts were also made to establish temperance sodalities which would meet once a month in the local church. The crusade, which began in earnest in January 1906, was solidly supported by the bishops and clergy who facilitated the efforts of the Capuchin preachers. In 1906, 117 parishes in 23 of the 28 dioceses in the country were visited and a total of about 200,000 pledges were given. In 1912, Fr. Thomas Dowling OSFC (1874-1951), Provincial Minister, informed the General Minister of the Order that since 1905 the pledge had been given to 1,141,191 persons. 'The Father Mathew Record', a monthly magazine founded by Fr. Aloysius Travers OSFC (1870-1957) in 1908 to advance the cause of temperance, published glowing accounts of temperance demonstrations, missions and processions throughout the country. Fr. Aloysius was also responsible for founding the League of Young Irish Crusaders in 1909. Membership of this organisation was confined to persons under twenty years of age. It aimed to promote total abstinence and loyalty to the church and encourage the study of the Irish language and culture. In the first year of its existence, the League succeeded in enrolling almost 100,000 members.

The missionary zeal of the friars ensured that their temperance work extended to almost every part of the country. From Falcarragh in north Donegal to Bantry in west Cork, and from Achill Island off the western seaboard to the urban centres of Dublin and Belfast, the Capuchins worked tirelessly on the temperance mission. Despite the encouraging signs, it quickly became evident that the friars’ labours were not all that effective. At the end of a short mission, they would give the pledge to all comers and then move on to another parish the following week. Without any organizational support to follow-up, many of those who took the pledge soon fell away. It was clear that enthusiasm for temperance cooled when there was no permanent structure in place to continue the work. On returning to parishes that had previously been visited, the friars found only disappointing evidence of their missionary labours with no central register recording renewals of the pledge. It also appeared that many had rapidly discarded their temperance badges. Fr. Aloysius admitted in 1914 ‘that despite wonderful success attending our missionary zeal in every part of Ireland … the result in so far as it remains a permanent memorial of our work is not what it should be’. For a time, temperance societies and pledge-giving did flourish in locations where the Capuchins maintained a permanent foundation or residence. Many friars continued to work enthusiastically for the cause and priests on missions rarely neglected a sermon on the dangers of intemperance but there was to be no revival of a nationwide Capuchin-led total abstinence movement. By the early 1960s dramatic cultural and economic changes in Irish society resulted in a marked decline in popular enthusiasm for the temperance cause. Membership of total abstinence societies (such as the Sacred Thirst Sodalities, the League of Young Irish Crusaders and the Pioneers) collapsed. The steady decline in vocations also ensured that the Capuchins (in common with other religious orders) no longer had the personnel or resources to conduct the kind of extensive parish missions and retreats which were once a defining feature of their ministry in Ireland.

Collection Content

The collection includes records relating to parish missions and retreats preached by the Irish Capuchin Franciscan friars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The collection also includes material relating to temperance missions given by the friars in response to a call from the Irish Catholic hierarchy to undertake a nationwide total abstinence campaign in 1905. Record series include lists of missions or retreats given by the Capuchins, local mission accounts and commentaries, temperance and pledge-taking records, correspondence, publicity material, printed ephemera and newspaper reports on missions preached by the friars.

Mother Mary Martin Letters

Letters to and from Mother Mary Martin. They are from the early days of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and thus are mostly concerned with matters pertaining to the foundation of the order.

Mother Mary Martin (Auth rec)

Papers of Ard Mhuire Capuchin Friary, County Donegal

In March 1930 the Capuchin Franciscans purchased Ards House near Creeslough in County Donegal. The Order procured Ards House and its 100-acre demesne from the Irish Land Commission who had acquired the estate from its previous owners, the Stewart-Bam family. The Ards estate, situated on a sheltered inlet of Sheephaven Bay, had a long history. The picturesque and mostly forested estate, located about fourteen miles from Letterkenny, was acquired by the Wrays, Williamite settlers from Yorkshire, in about 1700. The original house at Ards was constructed by the Wray family in 1710. In the eighteenth century, William Wray was described as ‘a celebrated figure, eccentric and autocratic, though kind and generous’. As a consequence of his extravagance and accumulating debts, William Wray was forced to sell his estate at Ards for £13,250 to Alexander Stewart (1746-1831) in 1781. Stewart was a younger brother of Robert Stewart, First Marquess of Londonderry (1739-1821), and an uncle of the renowned statesman, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769-1822). Alexander Stewart served as High Sheriff of County Donegal from 1791-2, was a Member of Parliament from 1814-8, and was an owner of extensive properties at Ards, Doe Castle, Dunfanaghy, and in Letterkenny in County Donegal. He carried out extensive renovations to the Wray estate and towards the end of his life rebuilt Ards House into a two-storied Georgian mansion with an elaborate façade and expansive interior public rooms. The house was designed by John Hargrave (c.1788-1833) and was completed in about 1830. By the early twentieth century ownership of the Ards estate had passed to Lady Ena Dingwall Tasca Stewart (1885-1945) who inherited the property from her grandfather in 1904. In 1910, Lady Ena Stewart married Sir Pieter Canzius Blommestein Bam (1869-1928), a South African soldier, politician and businessman. From this point on, the property was known as the Stewart-Bam estate. Ards House and its 2,000-acre estate remained in the family’s possession until its acquisition by the Irish Land Commission in 1926.

The Commission assigned the northern portion of the estate to the Department of Lands for afforestation. This portion of the estate, covering over 1,200 acres, is now managed by Coillite, the state-run forestry body, as Ards Forest Park, which is an important tourist and public amenity in the locality. The remaining portion of the former Stewart-Bam estate was divided among tenants. Ards House and its demesne of over 100 acres was left unoccupied and gradually fell into disrepair. About this time, the Irish Capuchins were seeking a suitable location for a novitiate for the education of friars and students. In March 1930 the Capuchins purchased Ards House from the Irish Land Commission for £4,500. Extracts from the minute book of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Council provides some further detail:

'7 February 1930
It was decided that, the permission of the Bishop of Raphoe having been obtained for a foundation in his Diocese, to purchase Ards House and a portion of the demesne from the Irish Land Commission and to apply to Rome for sanction.
5 March 1930
It was decided that the purchase of Ards House in the Diocese of Raphoe for a canonical foundation be completed immediately and that provision be made for heating, lighting, and furnishing it and that Fr. Colman Griffin OFM Cap. be appointed Guardian of the new foundation, which will be known as Ard Mhuire Friary, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary'.

The first community in the newly established Ard Mhuire Friary consisted of the above-mentioned Fr. Colman Griffin OFM Cap., who was joined by Fr. Peter Kelleher OFM Cap. and Fr. Andrew Carew OFM Cap. Ards House, while solidly built (some of its stone walls were nearly three feet thick), was apparently not as commodious as exterior appearance would lead one to believe. It was also evident that the interior layout and facilities would require significant adaption to suit the needs of a religious community. An article on the history of Ard Mhuire provides the following details on the challenges facing the friars upon their arrival in Donegal:

'Fr. Colman, recalling their arrival, said they found the place under a mantle of snow (it was mid-March 1930). In every way, it was a rather dismal, depressing scene. Ards House had been vacant for a long time, the only occupiers being Paddy and Mrs O’Brien, who had shared the care-taking chores. In the intense cold, the absence of heating and lighting offered a cheerless prospect. The solitary concession was a fire in one room. They had brought bedding, but settling down in unaired, damp-ridden rooms posed a hazard to health. … First priority was an internal restructuring to comply with the needs of community life. What had been a room for dancing was converted into an oratory where Mass was celebrated. Gradually, the transformation took place, two massive mantle pieces which had to be removed were later erected in Glenveigh Castle. It was the same outside. The expansive grounds had been neglected for years, resembling a wilderness; roads and paths were blocked by fallen trees. … Progress was satisfactory enough to have the first novices brought to Ard Mhuire in January 1931. Bit by bit, the community, supported and encouraged by the local people, changed the former manor house into a friary that lacked none of the essentials'. (CA DL/6/22).

Ard Mhuire Friary quickly developed as focal point for the education of Capuchin friars for the priesthood as the Order’s novitiate and later as a house of theology. It was at Ard Mhuire where Capuchin clerical students spent their final four years of training before ordination. The entire course of their training took at least eight years from the completion of secondary school studies, with a year-long novitiate, three to four years of philosophy scholarship at university and a final four years of theological studies at Ard Mhuire. In the 1950s an increase in the number of vocations made it necessary to find more space at Ard Mhuire. It also became evident that the former Ards House would require extensive renovations. A serious fire in December 1944 had caused significant damage to the old mansion (see CA DL/3/10) and it was clear that the building would need substantial repair work. The condition of the old friary had by this point deteriorated considerably. The roof was developing cracks and the oldest part of the building, the elaborate façade, was physically crumbling. Three separate plans were drawn up for proposed alterations to the existing building, but all proved unsatisfactory. A decision was therefore made to build a new friary and house of studies along with a public church able to accommodate three hundred worshippers. Designs for the new buildings by the architect, James Rupert Boyd Barrett (c.1904-1976), were approved and the new friary and church were formerly opened on 13 November 1966. The old friary building was demolished shortly afterwards. The new buildings cost over £200,000 to complete. Money for the project was gathered through missions in the United States as well as subventions from the Order’s leadership in Rome. There were also several bequests and further donations. A collection in the diocese of Raphoe raised a total of £16,000. The new house of studies at Ard Mhuire provided accommodation for forty students, eight priests and six lay brothers. The new chapel was designed to meet the demands of the liturgical requirements of the Second Vatican Council with provision made for the con-celebration of Mass and an extensive sanctuary specifically designed for ordination ceremonies.

In September 1972 the Irish Capuchins decided to centralize theological studies and transfer their novices to Dublin. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, it was felt that the Ard Mhuire was too remote and that friars studying for new forms of ministry should live in locations which offered more scope for and access to different kinds of social and pastoral work. This change had obvious implications for the future of Ard Mhuire which would now have a vastly diminished community of friars. During the forty-one years in which theological studies continued in the Donegal friary, one hundred and ninety-two students were ordained to the priesthood. Many of these friars went on to minister in overseas missions, mainly in the United States and in Africa where the Irish Capuchins had established custodies. Concerns were expressed by the then Bishop of Raphoe, Anthony McFeely (1909-1986), that Ard Mhuire would be closed and that the Capuchins would leave Donegal. At the Capuchin Provincial Chapter in 1973, it was decided to explore alternative pastoral and social uses for the Ard Mhuire foundation. In the summer of 1974, Ards Friary opened as a retreat house for use by both religious and lay communities. More attention was also paid to the use of the friary’s grounds as a public amenity. The old walled gardens of the former estate and the adjoining forest walks had been open to the public since the Capuchins acquired Ards House in 1930 and from 1972 the friary itself was opened up for various uses including social events for local lay organisations, outreach and fundraising conferences, and functions for charitable and religious purposes. In 2002 a new reception area and coffee shop were added. At the end of 2006 changes were made in relation to the management of the conference and retreat centre which ensured a greater role for the clergy of the diocese of Raphoe. Extensive renovations were made to the centre from 2007 to 2013 with the costs borne by the local diocese. Today, Ard Mhuire serves as the retreat and conference centre of the diocese of Raphoe. Priests and religious from many congregations and dioceses continue to make use of the centre for retreats. Ards Friary also offers conferences amenities for lay organizations with an emphasis on facilitating periods of rest, relaxation, reflection, prayer and vacation.

Collection Content

The collection consists of records relating to the Capuchin Franciscan community in Donegal and in particular to the foundation known as Ard Mhuire Friary (or Ards Friary) located near Creeslough in the county. Most of the records post-date 1930 when the Capuchins acquired ownership of Ards House, the former Stewart-Bam mansion, which they re-named Ard Mhuire and transformed into a theological seminary. The fonds includes legal records relating to the acquisition of Ards House from the Irish Land Commission, financial and business records, and photographic records assembled by individual members of the Capuchin community residing at Ard Mhuire. The collection also contains records relating to physical alterations to the Ard Mhuire foundation including correspondence, architectural plans and financial records relating to the construction of a new friary and house of studies on the existing site in the 1960s. Other records in the collection relate to Ard Mhuire’s use (particularly from 1972 onward) as a retreat and conference centre in the diocese of Raphoe. The fonds also contains historical research, newspaper clippings, photographic records and ephemera compiled by various Capuchin friars relating to the history of the locality including material on the previous owners of Ards House in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of this historical research was amassed by Fr. David Kelleher OFM Cap. (1912-1995) who spent nearly sixty years of his ministry as a Capuchin friar at Ard Mhuire.

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