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HOW NAAS DOMINICANS CAME TO DROICHEAD NUA

Leinster Leader, May, 19th, 1962
 
 
 
 
HOW NAAS DOMINICANS CAME TO DROICHEAD NUA
 
The Naas Dominican Friary of St. Eustace was the twenty eighth house of that Order to be established in Ireland. Founded by the powerful Eustace family in 1356, it was named after their Patron Saint.
There is now no sign of the Friary, and even the site is uncertain. One writer thought that it was at Friary Lane, but this name could also be associated with the Priory of St. John the Baptist, an Augustinian house which stood close to the site of the present Labour Hall. It is more commonly believed that the Friary was about where the Hibernian Bank House now is, and the tradition of giving Benediction there during the Corpus Christi procession is said to be in remembrance of the old church. During the confiscations of monastic property in 1542, Naas Friary was found to be in possession of “a church and belfry, chapter house store, kitchen and cemetery, some cottages, a mill and about 20 acres of land”. From that date until 1641 there is little mention of the friars but it is certain that they did not leave the district. In 1641 the Prior was Fr. Peter O’Higgins. He was captured and brought before Sir William Parsons and Sir John Borlase and charged with “preaching against the English religion and seducing the people from their allegiance”. Though he pleaded innocent he was brought to Dublin and tortured. It was suggested to him that if he renounced his religion he would be set free, and Fr. O’Higgins asked for this promise in writing. He was sent to the scaffold, and when there, he held up the written promise for all to see and said “I was arrested for seducing the people from their allegiance to King Charles I, but to day I am condemned to die solely because I am a Catholic. Now I call God and man to witness that of my own free will I spurn this offer and for the Catholic faith I gladly lay down my life”. Fr. O’Higgins died for his belief and his cause of Beatification is with that of other Irish Martyrs in Rome. Another Fr. Peter Higgins from Naas was also executed in Dublin in 1641, but little else is known of this martyr.
The names of other Naas Priors of the 17th and 18th centuries are recorded. One of them, a Fr. Thomas Birmingham had the statue of St. Dominic carried in procession, and the Saint appeared to both the Irish and their enemies causing great terror to the latter. The priest was later exiled and died in Rome.
Another Prior of Naas was Fr. William Eustace, who was also Parish Priest of Naas, and in 1688, Fr. Patrick Marshall was Preacher General here. During those years the number of members in the community varied from two in 1661 to seven in 1695 and the house was represented at the Provisional Chapter held in Dublin in 1770.It is most unlikely that at any time during those years, except about 1641, that the friars ever occupied their friary, but lived in the houses of the people, or in seclusion in the country.
Early in the 18th century the Eustace family again came to the assistance of the Dominicans by giving them a home on their lands at Yeomanstown, Caragh. There, beside the Liffey they built a little chapel of which there is now only the faintest remains (due to the popular belief that stones from the chapel brought luck if incorporated into your own home), but the field is called ‘chapel field’. In a wood nearby they had their cottage and this place is still called Willis Grove, after one of the fathers who was killed there when his horse was frightened by pigeons.
An interesting tradition still alive is that an old man named Shanahan, who lived across the river from the chapel, used to attend Mass by kneeling on top of a hillock from which he could see the open-air altar. Until recent years when the ground was levelled, the supposed marks of the old man’s hands and knees were preserved on the ground and could be clearly seen.
About 1750, the friars decided to move back into Naas and a Community of six was appointed with Fr. Hugh Reynolds as Prior. Unfortunately a site could not be secured and some time afterwards Fr. Reynolds, who was also chaplain to several Catholic families, decided to move south. He settled beside the Liffey, close to the present town of Droichead Nua, and built a cottage. There he said Mass in the open. When he died in 1773, he was buried in Old Connell. The little house passed to Fr. John Daly, who had been appointed Prior of Naas in 1770.
The exact date of the official transfer of the Friary from Naas to Droichead Nua is not known but it is thought to have been in 1769-1777 and the new foundation was also dedicated to St. Eustace. With the building of the Cavalry Barracks in Droichead Nua in 1816 the town came into existence, and the Friary assumed greater importance. The foundation of a new church was laid and on Christmas morning 1819 Mass was first said there; the dwelling house had been enlarged through it was still thatched.
The relationship between the Eustace family and the Friary is remembered in the inclusion of the Stag’s Head, from the Eustace Crest, in the Crest of the Friary. In 1946, Col., and Mrs Mansfield of Barrettstown House, presented the church with a Monstrance. As this family had inter-married with the old Eustace family, a tradition of patronage extending over 600 years was maintained.
 
Cornelius Brosnan
 
  

Cornelius Brosnan gives an account, in the Leinster Leader of May 19th, 1962,  of how the Naas Dominicans came to Droichead Nua.


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