Members of the Capuchin order had key roles in the Irish revolution
By Niall Murray, Irish Examiner
The constant presence of Capuchin friars at key moments of Ireland’s revolution a century ago is being placed under a historic microscope.
From the infamous 1915 funeral of fabled Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa to the bloody 1922 street-fighting of the Civil War, members of the Capuchin Franciscan order were regularly seen amid the famous faces of Irish history.
Their participation in the events and close associations with many figures will be examined at University College Cork tomorrow.
“Members of the Capuchin order in Ireland were closely associated in their pastoral ministry with practically every significant stage of the struggle for independence,” said Gabriel Doherty of UCC’s School of History.
He helped organise the event, run in association with Capuchin Franciscan Friary in Rochestown, and Douglas-Rochestown’s Catholic parish assembly. The conference tomorrow morning will be followed by a 3pm Mass at the friary in honour of the order’s deceased members.
Mr Doherty will speak about Catholic theology and the hunger strike — a key weapon used in the political and propaganda war by republican prisoners. It began as early as late 1917 when Irish Volunteers prisoners in Cork, Dublin, and elsewhere won their release, or concessions as political prisoners, by refusing to take food.
During Cork Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney’s fateful hunger strike in 1920, Fr Dominic O’Connor who was chaplain to MacSwiney’s Cork No 1 Brigade, became a public figure. He kept constant vigil with MacSwiney’s family by his bedside, and is seen in many photos of his funeral.
Another Capuchin friar, Fr Augustine Hayden, performed the ceremony 100 years ago today at the marriage of MacSwiney, then a prominent Cork Irish Volunteers officer, to Muriel Murphy. The wedding on June 9, 1917, took place though Irish in the English village of Bromyard, where MacSwiney had been deported by the British military for the previous three months because of his ongoing separatist activities.
As reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, a silver dish ring given to the couple as a wedding gift has gone on permanent display at Independence Museum Kilmurry, in Co Cork.
Fr Augustine was one of many Capuchins who ministered to wounded and dying fighters and civilians during the Easter Rising. He gave spiritual assistance to Con Colbert, one of 14 men executed in Dublin after the rebellion in May 1916.
At the September 1917 funeral of Kerry-born Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood leader Thomas Ashe, Fr Augustine was also present. Ashe died after being force-fed while on hunger strike at Mountjoy.
The Capuchin is seen in a famous crowd photo behind the Volunteers who fired a volley of gunshots over the grave, moments before Michael Collins stepped forward to make a short oration that marked his public emergence as a key revolutionary leader.
In the same Glasnevin Cemetery two years earlier, two Capuchins stood yards from Patrick Pearse as he delivered his famous “the fools, the fools, the fools” speech at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa. Fr Albert Bibby is seen with his head bowed in a photograph of the August 1915 scene where the Irish Volunteers demonstrated their strength eight months before the Rising, with Fr Aloysius Travers from Cork behind him.
The friars’ participation in such events were well documented at the time, making the Capuchin Archives in Dublin a valuable source for many scholars of the period. The order’s archivist Brian Kirby will talk about their role in the revolutionary decade at the UCC conference.
The same Four Courts area where the Capuchins gave most help during the 1916 Rising was also where anti-Treaty IRA forces began the military campaign in the Civil War in June 1922. Fr Augustine was among those who acted as intermediaries with the National Army.
The Capuchins’ monastery in Rochestown was also in the heart of a battle zone when the National Army fought their way into rebel-held Cork City in August 1922, after a surprise sea landing at Passage West.
The grounds of the Rochestown monastery are also where Fr Albert and Fr Dominic were buried in 1958, following the repatriation of their remains from the US through arrangements by the Old IRA. The reasons behind their exile and their return for burial in Cork will be detailed by UCC historian John Borgonovo.
Many of the famous images of the order’s members during the period have appeared in its Capuchin Annual. It has recently been digitised and uploaded to the order’s website. Trinity College Dublin art historian Ruth Sheehy will speak about Richard King’s illustrations for the Capuchin Annual between 1940 and 1972.
The free public conference takes place at UCC’s Boole 4 from 9.20am to 1pm tomorrow. More details available by emailing: [email protected]