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December 06, 2006

The White Abbey; the first 600 years!

An article from the Grey Abbey Conservation Project's new book CHURCH OF THE OAK, on the White Abbey from 1290-1890.
600 Years of the Carmelites in Kildare Town,
White Abbey, 1290 – 1890 A.D.
Mario Corrigan
The original White Abbey or St. Mary’s Priory, was founded according to most sources around 1290 A.D. by William de Vescy, Lord of Kildare. It was founded as a Carmelite Friary and became known as the White Abbey after the colour of the habits of the Carmelite Friars. There is very little documentary evidence relating to Kildare. William Feys a friar from Kildare a was accused in 1310 of breaking into a chest of valuables from ‘a stone house of the friars’ and stealing 15 marks of silver. Kildare was the friary most famously associated with David O’Buge, a native friar, who was Provincial of the Order between 1321 (possibly 1320) and 1324. He probably died sometime before 1327 and was buried at Kildare. A man of great learning he was described as ‘the light, mirror and splendour of the Irish nation.’ Another famous learned Carmelite, Ralph Kelly, who reputedly began his studies at Kildare, became the first Irish Procurator General of the Order. He was also appointed Archbishop of Cashel. He died in 1361. Supposedly some of the valuables from the Silken Thomas castle at Maynooth were deposited in the friary at Kildare before the capture of the castle in 1535.
It was surrendered by the Prior to the Crown during the reformation on 3 April 1539 and at that time consisted of a church and belfry, dormitory, hall, two chambers etc. Most of the buildings were burnt in May 1540 by the O’Connor’s of Offaly and when an extent was made in November of that year all that remained was the church and a messuage that the Friars used as a hall. They recommended that the church could be thrown down, its value being 20 shillings but that the messuage containing a garden and a small close, containing one acre could be retained for use by a farmer, its value being 20 pence. There were 4 acres of arable land and 1 acre of waste land valued at 4 shillings, in the possession of David MacThomas and another messuage rented for 2 shillings and customs – 1 weeding day, 1 reaping day and 1 hen worth 5 pence. The total of the extent was 8 shillings 1 pence. One source says it was granted to William Dickson but elsewhere it is stated that it was granted to David Sutton of Tully in 1543 although initially, at the time of the extent, it may have become the property of Gerald Sutton.
Apparently the Carmelites returned to Kildare around 1710 and a rectangular building is apparent from the early maps of Kildare in 1757 to 1817. However the Friary is shown as a ruin by Austin Cooper, the famous sketcher of Irish Antiquities, in 1790. This building was still in existence in 1847 but later demolished. There is a record of a Carmelite, Fr. William Duane, at Kildare making a will in April 1790 whereby he endowed his brothers and nephews with 1 shilling each and left his remaining goods to two other Carmelites Rev. Augustine Gormican and Rev. John Nilan, his executors. Fr. Farrell, a Carmelite friar, was killed at the Gibbet Rath on 29 May 1798, apparently trying to secure the safety of people gathered on the Curragh Plain. His grave has been kept for generations by the local people and is clearly marked. The Prior, Fr. Healy, was actually hanged near the gate of the White Abbey by the yeomen during the Rebellion but was cut down by his housekeeper and survived.
Fr. Patrick O’Farrell of White Abbey was Provincial of the Order in 1813. In his will of 1817 which showed him to be a man of some means he mentioned the freehold lease of lands at White Abbey he had obtained from Thomas Kelly Esq. Fr. O’Farrell was probably dead by 1818. Michael Hughes may have been the only Carmelite (Prior?) in Kildare in 1819 but because of differences with the Bishop Dr. Doyle it appears he may have been suspended and left the diocese for London shortly after, returning in 1827. However he was reaffirmed in 1823 as Prior at Kildare and apparently James McCormack and Malachy Monahan were friars. With the passing of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 the regular religious had to register and this was done by Fr. Hughes of White Abbey.
During the Tithe War of the 1830’s there appears to have been only one friar at Kildare while in 1840 the Prior was still Fr. Michael Hughes and Fr. Scally was a friar. There is a mention in this year that Fr. Hughes had built a new convent there by this time. While Fr. Hughes retained the deeds at White Abbey he was superseded by 1842 as Prior by Patrick Parr who was 38 years of age. Parr attended the Provincial Chapter of 1843 and was elected Superior of Kildare.  He was again elected as Prior at the Chapter of 1846 where a case of perjury was brought against Michael Hughes for information relating to the ownership of a field near White Abbey but the result was in his favour. John Carr, Licentiate from Louvain who was 15 years professed was elected prior at the Chapter of 1849. Parr was still at Kildare (16 years professed). Kildare had again only two Carmelite priests in 1850. It appears that Parr was back in charge in 1852 but had been transferred to Kinsale by the end of 1855.
            By 1868 at least there appears to have been a school at Kildare maintained by the Friars. (according to the Parochial School Returns of 1824 there was a school (at least 5 others) in existence in the Town from 1817 under the supervision of Denis Murphy the house being given free of rent by the convent of this town and this may refer to the White Abbey although it accommodated both boys and girls and in 1871 the Chapter makes reference to a school for boys). John Elias Bartley Prior of Kildare attended the Provincial Chapter of 1871 (being 17 years professed) as did Fr. John Eliseus Whitley aged 29 years (being professed 10). Bartley was re-elected as prior of Kildare. At this Chapter it seems there is reference to the school in Kildare having 300 boys. In 1872 one of the three priests at Kildare was moved to Dublin owing it seems to a shortage of priests but this was rectified and by June 1874 there were once again three Carmelites at Kildare. In December 1874 Fr. John B. Daly was teaching more than 50 pupils in the school in Kildare which differs considerably from the earlier reference. This school was apparently closed soon after the De La Salle Brothers opened their school in Kildare Town in 1884. John Elias Bartley was elected Provincial of the Order at the 1875 Chapter and Terence Dominic Sheridan was elected prior of Kildare. It was noted in the annual visitation of 1876 that Kildare was completely free of debt. Sheridan was re-elected at the Chapter of 1878 and again it was noted Kildare was free of debt.
Nicholas Albert Staples was elected Prior in 1881. By order of the local Government Board the White Abbey Graveyard was closed in 1882 on sanitary grounds amid much local disgruntlement. In November of that year some prosecutions were secured at the Kildare Petty Sessions against persons who had engaged in ‘illegal’ burials.
 Fr. Staples was re-elected prior at the Provincial Chapter of 1884 and on the 8 December of that year the work on the new Church at White Abbey was begun and the first stone, placed by Robert Cassidy of Monasterevin, was blessed in 1885. The dedication ceremony and official opening was held in 1889. The church was erected with the help of public subscriptions by Fr. Staples, at a cost of £3,500, the architect was William Hague F.R.I.A.I of Dublin and the builder John Harris of Monasterevin. Harris it appears went into liquidation and the work was completed under the supervision of Prior Staples who even went to America to raise funds. The last mass to be held in the old church was held in 1887, in which year Fr. Staples was once again elected prior of Kildare.
According to the Kildare Observer of 30 March 1889 the dedication ceremonies began at 11 o’clock on Monday 25 March and were presided over by Dr. Lynch, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin assisted by his Coadjutor, Rev. Dr. Comerford. At one point the article lists Fr. Staples in attendance later says he was unable to attend, being ‘far away upon the sea.’ Some of the work had yet to be done, such as the extension of the spire, but the beauty of the church was apparent to the large crowds who attended the ceremony. Built in the Gothic style it was cruciform in shape, the total length of the church described as 112 feet, the width of the nave 32 feet and that of the transepts 26 feet; the walls being 27 feet high. The walls were constructed of dark limestone in contrast to the fine grey granite used in the dressings while the internal ceilings were boarded in highly varnished pitch pine. Wicklow granite and local stone from Boston, Rathangan were used in the building of the church which eventually would have a tapering spire rising to 104 ft. The high altar and sanctuary floor etc. were of marble, the altar being a gift of Mr. Cassidy of Monasterevin and the altar rails a gift of Mrs. Kavanagh. The three beautiful windows were donated by Mr. Richard Bolger, Dublin, Mr. M. Lee, J. P., Kildare and Mr. William Staples, Naas – they were manufactured by Messrs William Martin, Son and Co. of St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Above the main door, the Rose Window is of special interest with its representation of the prophet Elijah who is regarded as the spiritual father of the Carmelites.
In celebration of the sixth centenary in 1890 the town was thronged with visitors by rail and road and many gathered at the railway station to greet arriving Carmelites from the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriars St., Dublin. A huge procession with banners made its way to the church where Fr. Moore an ex-Provincial of the Order preached a sermon on the devotion to Our Lady.
According to the An Tostal Programme of Kildare from 1953, ‘The Cemetery adjoining the Church has four ancient carvings in the wall. The first two are probably from the eleventh century and show the Gryphon, the animal symbolising Mercy. The other two are scenes from the Passion of Our Lord, the Ecce Homo and the Crucifixion. These carvings were once in the Grey Abbey, and were removed here for preservation.’ The Urban Archaeology Survey states however that by the 1970’s at least they had been removed to the internal north transept wall of the church. They are identified by the Survey as being mostly 16th century tomb panels some of which may resemble other fragments within Kildare Cathedral. At least three are said to have come from the Grey Abbey (the Survey probably relies here on the evidence of Rev. Denis Murphy in his article on Kildare in the Journal of the Kildare Archaeological Society).
[It must be acknowledged that while various sources were consulted the article relies heavily on the book on The Irish Carmelites by Peter O’Dwyer, published by the Carmelites , Dublin 1988.]

An article from the Grey Abbey Conservation Project's new book CHURCH OF THE OAK, on the White Abbey from 1290-1890.

Posted by mariocorrigan at December 6, 2006 01:01 AM