Cavan Franciscan Friary

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Order: Franciscan (OFM; Ordo Fratrum Minorum)
Founded 1300 x 1330
Founded by Giolla Íosa Ruadh O’Reilly (Ó Raghallaigh) (d. 1330)

The Place


Cavan was founded by the king of Bréifne, Giolla Íosa Ruadh O’Reilly sometime during his lordship between 1300 and his death in 1330. The friary was located close to the O’Reilly stronghold at Tullymongan and was at the centre of the settlement close to a crossing over the river and to the town’s market place. The friary’s location is marked by an eighteenth-century tower in the graveyard at Abbey Street which appears to incorporate remains of the original medieval friary tower. The imprint of the medieval town can be followed in the area of Abbey Street, Bridge Street and Main Street (townlands of Tullymongan Upper and Lower).

The People


Giolla Íosa Ruadh O’Reilly succeeded his brother, Fergal O’Reilly to the kingship of Bréifne in 1293.  Coming to power in a politically volatile time in Bréifne, Giolla Íosa Ruadh made a number of political alliances through marriage and hostage taking from local rivals.  His thirteen sons were given English names and was summoned to support the crown during the Bruce campaigns in 1314-5. He was defeated in 1314 by the O’Conors at Drumlane, Co. Cavan and he retired to the Franciscan friary in Cavan, where he was buried in 1330.


The O’Reillys maintained their patronage of the friars and continued to be buried in the friary over the following centuries.  The friary was destroyed on a number of occasions during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1451, Friar Ua Mothláin having drunk too much wine on the feast of St Brendan, took a candle to his chamber and fell asleep. His chamber caught fire and as a result of the friar’s carelessness the friary was destroyed.


An image of Cavan town dated to 1591 depicts the friary with an external tower, church, entrance and precinct wall as well as the O’Reilly castle and a market cross and the layout of the streets around the friary. The friars lived in the friary until the late sixteenth century. A schoolhouse may have also been located in the friary’s precincts in the early seventeenth century. The friars were relocated to a wooden house of refuge nearby and were supported by the O’Reillys into the seventeenth century. The friary was rebuilt as a Protestant Church in the seventeenth century before being demolished in 1820 and dismantled for building materials.


Why visit?


A visit to the site and environs of Cavan Franciscan friary is different to visiting the more intact remains of other friaries throughout the country, but with the late sixteenth-century image of the town, which provides an image layout of the medieval settlement, the visitor can identify the various historical layers evident from the present streetscape. A walk around the small area bounded by Abbey Street, Bridge Street and part of Main Street brings the visitor to the heart of medieval Cavan town and to its few remains, although later buildings probably still incorporate bits and pieces of medieval stonework – so it is worth keeping a vigilant eye while walking!


What happened?


1300 x 1330:  Giolla Íosa Ruadh O’Reilly, king of Bréifne granted the Franciscans an endownment to build a friary in Cavan Town


1330:  Giolla Íosa Ruadh O’Reilly was buried in a Franciscan habit in the friary


1367: Cú Connacht, son of Giolla Íosa Ruadh O’Reilly, was buried in the friary, having taken the habit two years earlier


1405:  An indulgence was granted to penitents who gave alms to help with the repair of Cavan friary, which had suffered greatly in regional wars


1429:  The friary, along with the town, was burnt by the English of the Pale during a conflict between the O’Reillys and O’Rourkes


1449:  John O’Reilly, lord of Bréifne, was buried in the friary


1452:  The friary was burnt down by one of the members of the community, Friar Ua Mothláin, who was inebriated after drinking wine, took a candle to his bed chamber and fell asleep.  The chamber went on fire and the whole monastery burnt down


1468:  The friary and the O’Reilly castle nearby were burnt down by the forces of John Tiptoft (d.1470), earl of Worcester and chancellor of Ireland


1502:  Cavan friary became an Observant reformed house at the behest of John O’Reilly, lord of Bréifne


1504:  Turlough Maguire, prior of Lough Derg was buried in the friary after dying from a fall down a staircase in Athboy, Co. Meath on St. Patrick’s Day


1511:  Thomas MacBrady, bishop of Kilmore was buried in the friary


1516:  A large number of friars were drowned in an accident Lough Erne, including Nicholas Ó Catháin and John, son of Thomas Carrach Mag Craith


1575:  The friary and the rest of the town were burnt by Mary, daughter of Thomas, son of the Baron of Delvin and wife of Aodh Conallach O’Reilly.  The Annals of Bréifne recorded that she was insane and set fire to the town out of spite


1590:  An inquisition was held to determine how the lands of Cavan were to be confiscated and distributed.  At this point, the friary was being used as a courthouse


1592:  Edward Barret was granted the friary


1591 x 1593:  A map of Cavan town shows the friary church and tower, the O’Reilly castle and the market cross


1594: Lughaidh Ó Clérigh recorded that “the English were dwelling at that time in the fortresses in … the monastery of Monaghan, Clones in Oriel and the monastery of Cavan in Brefny…”


1595:  The friary was one of the only buildings to survive an attack by the Maguires and MacMahons against the English who were occupying the town.  The friary’s defences had been reinforced the year before


1609:  Theobald Bourke, baron Bourke of Castleconnell received the friary and its lands from James I


1616:  The friars built a new residence in Cavan Town and John Geoffrey was appointed guardian


1640: Patrick Hegarty, Prefect of the Franciscan Mission to Scotland complained that he had no missionaries working with him, naming a number of friars who had returned to their friaries in Ireland, including friar Patrick Brady to Cavan friary


1644:  While awaiting execution in the Tower of London for his role in the 1641 rebellion, Conor, son of Brian Roe Maguire left ten pounds in his will to Cavan friary for masses to be said for his soul.  He also left money to the friaries of Armagh, Monaghan and Lisgoole for the same purpose


1647:  Monsignor Massari, the secretary to the papal nuncio, Rinuccini, stayed in the friary in Cavan, noting that it was situated within a wood and was made from wood, roofed with wooden sods. This may have been a house of refuge outside the town used by the friars


1649:  Owen Roe O’Neill, soldier and brother of Hugh O’Neill (d.1616), second earl of Tyrone, is reputed to have been buried in the friary in Cavan but his grave was not marked


17th century: The friary was re-roofed and used as a church for Protestant services


1700:  A provincial chapter was held in Louvain, as it was too dangerous to do so in Ireland, and was attended by numerous representatives from the friars in Ulster, including Bernardine Gavan, guardian of Cavan friary


1714: Francis Reilly was elected guardian of Cavan friary in this year, and again in 1719, 1720 and 1727.  He died in 1735


1730:  Patrick MacKieran was elected guardian of Cavan friary, having previously served as guardian in 1700, 1724 and 1729.  He died in 1742


1766:  The provincial of the Franciscan Order, James MacDonnell, recorded the sorry state of the Franciscans in Ulster – 3 friars resided at Drogheda, 7 at Armagh and Dungannon.  The friaries of Dundalk, Dromore, Down, Carrickfergus, Bonamargy, Derry and Strabane were unoccupied, while the friars had left the friaries of Cavan, Donegal, Lisgoole and Monaghan and had no place in which to live


1820:  The church was in ruins and its materials were sold and used in new buildings on Main Street.  The tower was purchased by Martin Neill, the bell ringer of the old church, who sold it to Lady Farnham