The Capuchin Friars in Friary Street

Paddy Neary

The first recorded reference to the Friars in Kilkenny is 1643, when they were granted accomodation in St John’s Abbey by the Corporation.
In 1678 they had a chapel and convent in St John’s Abbey, the community consisted of three.
In 1682 Fr. James Tobin procured a plot of “waste ground on the South side of Walkin Street within the City Walls” from the Duke and Duchess of Ormonde on which he built a Poor House. In his will, he mentions of building a stone house covered with slate containing sixty foot in length, designing the same for the reception of twelve poor distressed men and women, natives of this city, wherein I desire my own relations to be preferred. Having served its purpose for almost 200 hundred years, it was taken down in 1897, the site been handed over to the Capuchins for the erection of a college. It is recorded in 1756, the friars had a convent in Walkin Street close to the Poor House. Their very small chapel stood to the rear of the poor house and became known as the Poor House Chapel.
Fr. Tobin who died in 1699/1700, had family connections with Lyrath.
Tradition says one of the friars acting as a book vendor kept a stand in the Tholsel and he received the sick calls during the day. When evening came, he deposited his bookstall in the poor house and tended to his sick calls. Two of the friars associated with the poor house are interred in the old St John’s graveyard.
One was Fr Martin St John who died in 1780 aged 93 years, and Fr. McDonnell who died in 1782 aged 66 years.
Fr Forrestall, born at Bennetsbridge in 1758, ordained in 1784, served in St Canice’s from 1785 to 1799. He then served in Callan until 1820 then came to live in Kilkenny where he died in 1829 and interred in the old St John’s Graveyard. He was the last Franciscan in Kilkenny.
Hogan viewed the headstones in the 1850’s, but writing in 1884 stated they were not to be found. These headstones are to be seen to day along with more modern markings at the foot of the graves.
The next guardians were Frs. Thomas Murphy and William Berry who were educated on the continent. According to the customs of the times they brewed their own ale and baked their own bread. Fr. Murphy died in June 1817, aged 73 years.
Fr Berry died in October 1822 aged 80 years. Both these friars are interred in the present Friary chapel.
Mention is made in 1826 of Fr. John Mulligan as living in the Community and was the next guardian who in 1848 undertook the building of a new chapel. No one knows where he obtained the money for the project as it was built during the Famine. It was he who was responsible for the ringing of the bells in 1829 announcing Catholic Emancipation. The bells were named O’Connell in honour of the Liberator and Sheil, a local Catholic.
Fr Mulligan had a cross erected on the highest gable of the chapel which gave much offence to non-Catholics. One Sunday in the 1840s he had the high altar decorated with green boughs, flowers and candles. As 12 o’clock approached, four men carried a local merchant Tom Prince in an arm chair to the Altar where he read his recantation and was received into the church.
Tom Prince saved a man’s life in the 1798 rebellion, perhaps it was he who paid for the building of the chapel.
Fr. Mulligan died in 1853 after which there was no representative of the Order until 1855 when Fr. Edward Tommins was appointed guardian, he was the first friar to wear the Order’s habit in public since the Reformation. Many improvements to the Friary took place during his time, the section parallel with Friary Street was completed in 1874. Fr Tommins died in 1889 and is interred in the friary chapel.

The pillars, cornices and pediments surrounding the high Altar were taken from the old St Mary’s known as the Old Cathedral adjacent to Wellington place.
Another capuchin of note was Fr Theobald Matthew, the Apostle of Temperance. He joined the Kilkenny community soon after his ordination in 1814 and transferred to Cork in 1816.
Fr. Albert Bibby regarded as a Kilkenny native, was born in Bagenalstown (1877), came to live with his family in High Street, where they a had a drapery business. After his education at the local C.B.S. he joined the Capuchins, ordained a priest 1902, came to live in Kilkenny in 1904 before moving to Dublin, became very involved with the Republican movement in 1916.

The Order arose in 1528 when Matteo da Basscio, a Franciscan friar, sought to return to a more primitive way of life of solitude and penance as St. Francis had envisaged.
His superiors were not in agreement, so Friar Matteo and his followers were forced to flee and were given refuge by a group of monks known as the Camaldolese. In gratitude they adopted the hood (cappuccio) worn by that order, and the practice of wearing a beard which was the mark of a hermit in Italy.
In 1529 they had four houses and held their first chapter at which their particular rules were drawn up. Simplicity, poverty, austerity the simple things of life as near to St Francis’ ideals. They were to wear the brown habit with the distinctive pointed hood, girdled by the woolen cord with the three knots
The cappuccino coffee is named after the shade of brown used for their habit.

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