In times of persecution mass was celebrated on the sites of the chapels of Clanvaraghan, and Aughlisnafin, at the Ballywillwill Demense and in the Friary of Drumnaquoile.
Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone was born in 1181-2, while his father, Pietro, was on a business trip buying cloth. He was renamed Francesco, or Francis, when his father returned to Assisi. The son of wealthy parents, Francis grew up with too much money to spend, and known as a great singer and companion for a night on the town, not particularly worried about his life despite his good education. As he approached his late teens, Assisi was suddenly thrown into turmoil. The citizens revolted and seized the castle, which dominated the town. Civil war began and some of the nobles fled to Perugia. War then broke out between Perugia and Assisi. Francis was captured when his city was defeated at the battle of Collestrada. A year in prison, followed by a period of ill health, gave the young man plenty of time to think. Still seeking worldly honour, he set out in 1205 to fight for the Pope against the German Emperor. But he only got as far as Spoleto, where the Lord appeared to him in a vision. Back in Assisi Francis wandered about like a lost soul, very often praying in the partially ruined chapel on San Damiano. Towards the end of the year the figure of Christ on the Cross came to life and said to Francis: `Go and rebuild my house, for it is falling down.’ Francis continued to live as a hermit and was disowned by his father. In the summer of 1206 he took the words he heard from the Cross literally. Francis began to physically rebuild three small chapels: San Damiano, San Pietro, and the Portiuncula. Then on the feast of St. Matthias, 24 February 1208, Francis heard the gospel of the Mass and thought that it had a special meaning for him: Christ ordering his disciples not to possess gold or silver, but to go and preach the Kingdom of God. Francis now realized the true meaning of the vision on the Cross of v2 cigs coupon. He stopped building and began to go around his neighbouring villages preaching. Almost against his wishes, the preacher began to attract companions, initially Bernard of Quintavelle, a merchant, Peter Catanii, a cannon of the cathedral and a lawyer, and Giles, a young man. The first two came on April 16th 1208, regarded as the foundation day of the St. Francis Order. Francis and his companions went on various preaching trips but returned to Portiuncula chapel below Assisi for the winter of 1208-9. By the spring of 1209 there were twelve companions and Francis brought them to Rome to receive verbal approval for their rule of life from Pope Innocent III. During 1209-10 lay people asked him to suggest an ideal way of life, which they could practise while still in the world – the origin of the Third Order. Finally, on Palm Sunday 1212, Francis received Clare into the religious life thus giving rise to the Second Order, or the Poor Clares. The First Order began to grown in Italy. In 1213 Francis accepted the gift of the mountain of La Versa near Florence as a place for prayer and retreat. At the general chapter of the Order held in 1217 a division in provinces was decided upon and missionaries were sent to the Orient, Germany, Hungary, France and Spain. Two years later Francis himself went to the Holy Land while sending missionaries to Morocco where they were martyred in January 1220. When Francis returned to Italy he found his Order in a state of confusion. He spent the winter of 1220-21 trying to expand the rule that had been verbally approved by Innocent III in 1209. This was presented to approximately three thousand friars who gathered for the chapter at Pentecost 1221. It was insufficient and the administrative problems were growing. St. Francis withdrew to Rieti Valley and composed his second rule, which received papal approval on 29th November 1223. This is still the basic document governing the Franciscan Order. In December 1223 Francis was at Greccio, where he built the first Christian crib. In the late summer of 1224, he was at La Versa, where he received the stigmata on 17th September. Now ill, he went on a few last preaching tours before returning to Assisi, where he died on 4th October 1226. He was canonized in Assisi on 16th July 1228 and arrangements were made to bury his body in the basilica then being built in his honour. Over seven hundred and seventy years ago, probably in the summer of 1226, a ship arrived in Ireland, at the mouth of the Blackwater, just off the port of Youghal in Co. Cork. Among the tired passengers was a group of men dressed in worn grey habits, but whose riches in spirit overshadowed their poverty. The harbingers of the Franciscan ideal had arrived in Ireland. Thus began the first cycle in the history of the followers of St. Francis of Assisi. The Franciscan Order spread with rapidity. By 1282 there were nearly 1600 Franciscan Monasteries, organised in 34 provinces. In addition to the care of the souls, in which field they accomplished wonders, the Franciscans made an important contribution to medieval philosophy and theology, among the great Franciscan names being those of Englishmen, Alexander of Hales (1245), and Roger Bacon, the Irish man Duns Scotus (1265-1308), and St. Bonaventure. The earliest Franciscan houses in Ireland were at Youghal, Kilkenny, Dublin, Multyfarnham, Cork, Drogheda, Waterford, and Downpatrick in 1240 on ground donated by Hugh De Lucy, Earl of Ulster. One of the most illustrious Franciscans of that era was Duns Scotus. There are various claims as to where he was actually born. Hugh MacCaughwell Titular Archbishop of Armagh and.St. Oliver Plunkett both claimed that he was born in Downpatrick. Duns Scotus was born in 1274, became a Franciscan Friar and was educated at Oxford. Following Oxford, he was commanded to Paris by the General of his order in 1304 where he took the degree of Doctor of divinity, and in 1307 was made Regent to the Divinity Schools there. The following year he was commanded to go to Cologne and teach there. In the year 1308 he died suddenly. Another notable Franciscan from Down was Cornelius Deveny who, at 80 years of age, was arrested, imprisoned for three years without trial, and was sentenced with Patrick O’Loughran. Both men were hanged, drawn, and quartered on St. George’s Hill on the banks of the Liffey, opposite Dublin Castle on 11th February 1612. Hugh MacCaughwell a great friend of Luke Wadding, Head Franciscan in Rome, represented the Irish cause to the Pope. Hugh MacCaughwell was born in Downpatrick, educated at Salamanca in Spain. He was afterwards in the Convent of that College and Divinity Professor. He was then in the Convent of Ara Coeli in Rome, and also as Definitor General of his Order, and was finally advanced by the Pope to the Primacy of Armagh. He died in the Convent of Ara Coeli on 22nd September 1626, and was buried in the Church of St. Isidore. Hugh MacCaughwell was recognized as a man of singular piety, learning and humility, as well as one of the greatest scholars of his time. Hugh MacCaughwell published many books, of which he also published books on Duns Scotus, and the Irish Language. Even in the life of St. Francis, division rose amongst his followers, chiefly, over the practice of poverty. Those who desired a more rigorous interpretation of the rule of St. Francis, began to be called “Observants”, those favouring a less rigorous interpretation were called “Conventuals”. By the year 1517 the “Observants” sub-divided into Friars Minors and Capuchins; thus making three orders of Franciscans; Friars Minor, Friars Minor Conventual, and Friars Minor Capuchin. It was the Friars Minor Conventuals who settled in Downpatrick. In 1569, the military under John Brerton, agent of the Crown, attacked Downpatrick and captured the Friary. When Brerton departed the Friars returned. In 1575 John Brerton made a surprise return, capturing three friars, John O’Lochran, Edmond Fitzsimons, and Donal O’Rourke. The three Friars were then tortured and hanged from the branches of an oak tree. The Church was then converted to the Court House, and the Friary was demolished. O’Laverty states in his book about the journey of the Friars from Downpatrick to Drumnaquoile near Drumaroad: -
In the townland of Drumnaquoil, in a field belonging to James Laverty, which adjoins the road that there forms the boundary between the townlands of Drumnaquoil and Dunturk, is the site of the friary of Drumnaquoil which was the “locus refugii” of the Franciscans of Down, the site of whose monastery is now occupied by the Protestant parish church of Downpatrick. I have been unable to find out the date at which the Franciscans located themselves there; but a legend told by the people accounts for the selection of that secluded spot. They saw that when the friars were at prayer in Rome, a vision of a lady in white warned them to build a friary where they could hear the sound of three bells ringing. The friars, wearied and footsore, sat down one day before the gate of Savage’s Castle, in Drumaroad, to rest themselves, for they had searched all Ireland through for the promised sign, when at last their hearts were gladdened by the long expected chimes surging across the valley from the lonely hillside of Drumnaquoil. Some would say, perhaps, it was less owing to the priest-hunters that the friars came to that mountain solitude, but the eyes of the Government were upon them there.
The following document, preserved in the Public Record Office, Dublin, states: -
To the Right Honourable the Lord’s Committee appointed to inquire into the present state of Popery in the Kingdom of Ireland. In obedience to your lordship’s order, bearing date the 6th day of the instant November, to me directed, as Sheriff of the County of Down, requiring me to return into your lordships an account of what reputed nunneries or friaries, and what number of fryars or nuns are reputed to be in the same respectively. I do therefore humbly certify unto your lordships that, after the strictest inquiries, I can find there is but one reputed fryary in the said County of Down, kept at a place called Drumnacoyle, in the said county, within eight miles of Rathfriland, in which there is commonly reputed to be nine fryars. And there is not in the said County of Down any reputed nunnery, nor any nuns. Dated at Kirkistowne, the nineteenth day of November, one thousand seven hundred and thirty-one. Wm. SAVAGE
The Sheriff was Savage of the Ards, a cousin of the Savages of Drumaroad, and was supposed to do much to protect the Friars of Drumnaquoile, despite his office of power. In 1739 another report was returned to the Lords committee of Down & Connor and states the following: -
My Lords, – I have received returns from 56 parishes, and have account of 45 priests, one monastery, with two friars in it, in the parish of Kilmegan, near the Mourne Mountains. There are about four schools, and five Mass houses, but they say Mass upon mountains and in private houses. One Armstrong takes upon him to be Bishop, and holds visitations, at which there appear great numbers, the itinerant preachers, I suppose, making part of them. There are several of those that have great concourse about them. I am told that they teach Boldly that there is no salvation but in their communion. Fr. Down & Connor
Fr Down & Connor was Francis Hutchinson, an Englishman, who in 1720 became the Protestant Bishop. It is probably to the Friary of Drumnaquoile that Primate Olives Plunkett in 1670, referred to in his report to the Propaganda on the state of the Diocese of Down & Connor, in which he states: -
There is also a convent of Franciscans, who are twelve in number, and amongst them Paul O’Byrn, Paul O’Neill, James O’Hiney are the most distinguished in point in preaching and producing fruit.
O’ Laverty refers in his book that the friars left Drumnaquoile about the year 1760, of which John McMullan, of Drumaroad, who died in 1839, aged nearly ninety years, was one of the last pupils who attended their school. O’Laverty says that there were only three friars in the establishment- Friar Burke, Friar O’Neill, and another whose name he could not discover. In 1670, Dr. Oliver Plunket visited the Down & Connor Diocese and wrote to a letter to Monsignor Baldeschi, secretary of Propaganda, which is dated November 1 st, 1670, the following is an extract from that letter: -
In the Diocese of Down there is a convent of Dominicans, but the friars live at the lodgings. There are five Dominicans, but only one is of great fame-viz., Clement O’Bryne (Burns), who is a good preacher; and produces much fruit.
A letter was written by Dr. Oliver Plunket, dated 25th September 1671, addressed to the Internunzio in Brussels. The following is an extract from that letter:
Near Down, at Villa Nova, the Dominicans have a convent of five friars, and the prior, Father Clement Byrne, is a learned preacher.
In 1730 and 1731, returns were made to Parliament by the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, and the protestant Bishops of Meath, Clogher, Raphoe, Derry, Dromore, Down & Connor, and Armagh. On the returns a report was drawn up and entitled
A report made by his Grace the Lord Primate, from the Lord’s committee, appointed to inquire into the present state of Popery in the Kingdom of Ireland, and to propose such heads of a Bill as they shall think most proper for explaining and amending the Acts to prevent the growth of Popery, and to secure the kingdom from any danger from the great number of Papists in the nation.
Father Anthony O’Neill was appointed guardian of the convent of Down on the 26th of August 1751, and again on the 26th February 1753. It also appears by tradition that the friars were withdrawn from Drumnaquoile by the superiors of their order. The unroofed walls of their chapel were taken down in the year 1800. When exactly the Franciscans left Drumnaquoile or died out is difficult to say. It is thought by some local historians that the Franciscans were commissioned to translate the `Imitation of Christ’ from Latin into Irish by Bishop of Anthony Garvey, who was Bishop of Dromore between 1747 – 1766. Bishop Theophilus MacCartan (Down & Connor), John Crawley – last Baron Crawley Ballykilbeg, Terence Lynch, schoolmaster of Loughinisland, and Dominic MacCartan Clanvaraghan House, each subscribed £5 towards the project. Air Lorg Criosta – The Imitation of Christ manuscript which is in St. Malacy’s College, Belfast, is dated 29th June 1762, which would indicate that the Friars were still in Drumnaquoile at that time, assuming that they did the translation. In a letter written by Major John Forde, Seaforde, dated 26th February, 1764, he states
A Friar -Popish Priest of the Foreign Convent at Drumnaquoile was yesterday apprehended and lodged in jail. In some papers found in his pocession there was a letter from French quarters, which when translated may suggest his connivance. A religious paper in Irish bearing among other Popish names that of John Crowley of Ballykilgeg, was also found.
The fact that a complete copy, wholly in Gaelic was found on the person of a Friar from Drumnaquoile, may possibly lead to the conclusion that either he or some member of the Franciscan community in Drumnaquoile was responsible for the translation. Scripts in those days were very much the property of their scribes, who guarded them like gold dust. Rev. Gerard Park states:
In the will of Cornelis Magennis of Newry, dated in 1769, and proved in 1770, the testator bequeathed a sum of £10 to the Friars of Drumnaquoile.
In a letter dated 7th October 1796 from Montalto Estates, Ballynahinch, Lord Moira states the following: -
The Catholics on all my estates in the County of Down are most industrious and engaged for the most part in Linen trade. ‘Their priests have my support in the respective parishes to lead and teach their people in all that is good for the moral of mankind. At Ballynahinch I subscribed in no small way to the building of a new Mass House of late and gave thereto a painting of the Crucifixion I brought with me from Flanders. On the estate of Mathew Forde near here, there has been established a Friary of Franciscans who are now reduced to one very old Priest. The late owner of that estate made it a condition that when the last Priest died, that had been in occupation there in the year 1754 the Friary should become no more. This I heard my Father say when I was a boy.
The above statements establish that the Franciscans carried out their mission work at Drumnaquoile right up until the end of Eighteenth century. Indeed the Franciscans set-up a school at Drumnaquoile, which was eventually handed over to lay teachers, of which one Priest was still in Drumnaquoile in 1796, having spent a lifetime serving the local chapel. The two teachers associated with Drumnaquoile School were John McMullan of Drumaroad, who died in 1839, aged nearly 90 years, and was one of the last pupils who attended the school. The other teacher with the school was Bernard McAvoy, who lived in the lower part of Drumnaquoile, and who rescued the slate stone, which had been part of the Mensa of the Altar of the Friars Church. Patrick Conlan. O.F.M., states in his book:
A residence was set-up in Dromore following the provincial chapter of 1637 to relieve pressure on the friars of Downpatrick. During the eighteenth century the friars continued to work in the area. They set-up a school in Drumnaquoile, which was eventually handed over to lay teachers. Only one priest was still alive in 1796, having spent a lifetime serving the local chapel. He died before 1800.
St. Oliver Plunkett in 1861 mentioned in a letter to Rome that there were twelve friars at Drumnaquoile, of whom he regarded as outstanding. James O’Sheil, who became Bishop of Down and Connor in 1717, had been a guardian of the house. Titular guardians of the community were appointed until 1822, though it had ceased to exist by that time. As a fitting and lasting memorial to the Franciscans of Drumnaquoile, Rev. Denis Cahill, P.P., of Drumaroad & Clanvaraghan, erected a cross at Drumnaquoile in 1951 to mark `the place of refugii’ occupied by the Franciscans of Downpatrick after their expulsion by Elizabethan soldiers and the execution of three members of their community in 1570. References: O’Laverty, Rev. James, Diocese of Down & Connor Ancient & Modern, pp73,74,75,76,80, London 1878 Conlan, Patrick, Franciscan Ireland, pp3,4,7,119 Co. Westmeath 1988 Park, Rev. Gerard, Drumaroad & Clonvaraghan, pp9-21, Drumaroad 1985 Macauley, Ambrose, Down & Connor – A Short History, p82, Strasbourg 2002