Transept window, Borrishoole
Image by Fergal of Claddagh
BORRISHOOLE ABBEY (Ambrose Coleman, O.P.)
THIS, abbey is situated on the north-east shore of Clew Bay, about two miles from Newport, in the county Mayo. It was found- ed, under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, by Richard Bourke, Lord Mac William Oughter, and head of the Bourkes of Turlough.
The founder gave the site in 1469 and embraced the religious state himself the same year. Shortly afterwards, the Dominicans took possession with the permission of the archbishop of Tuam, erected a temporary habitation and began cultivating the land. However, the foundation was irregular, as it was made without the sanction of the Holy See. Consequently a brief of foundation was obtained from Innocent VIII., dated February 19, 1496, which is given in full in the Hibernia Dominicana and from which we have drawn the above particulars. By this brief, the fathers obtained the usual permission to erect a church with a steeple and bell, and a convent with refectory, dormitory and all other necessary offices. The arch- bishop of Tuam, by the same brief, was empowered to grant them all absolution from the excommunication which they had unwittingly incurred by founding a convent without the approbation of the Holy See.
The abbey appears to have escaped formal dissolution in the sixteenth century, owing to its remote position, but in the time of James I., it was granted to John King, of Dublin. Its neighbour- hood was one of the scenes of the savage warfare carried on in 1580 by Sir Nicholas Maltby, during the Desmond war. It was probably at the time of his visit here that Sister Honor Burke, who lived for nearly a century with some other nuns, in a house which they had built near the old abbey, hid herself in the vaults of the church and had to remain there a week without food or drink. In 1653, on the occasion of the abbey being attacked and taken (See note 74), she with another sister fled to an island in the bay, to which the name of Island of Saints was given, whither they were followed by the English soldiers, stripped of their clothes and flung into a boat with such vio- lence that three of Honor Burke’s ribs were broken. She was after- wards carried by her maid to the abbey aud placed in front of the altar of the Blessed Virgin. The maid then went to look for the other sister, who was hiding in a wood, and found her dead. On retuning to the church she was surprised to find Honor Burke also dead in .a kneeling posture before the altar, with her head perfectly erect. This was indeed the triumph of a martyr!
In the abbey is a tomb with the following inscription : "Orate pro anima Davidis Oge Kelly qui me fieri fecit sibi et heredibus suis Anno Domini 1623 et ejus uxori Anabla Barret."
In the Lords’ Committee Returns of 1731, the following notice is taken of this community : " Another [friary] , in the parish of Burrishowle, whose number is said to be twenty, of whom five keep abroad in foreign parts and fifteen commonly disperse themselves about the country."
In 1756, there were five fathers here but only one in 1767. The last of the fathers connected with Borrishoole, Father Francis Burke, died between 1781 and 1785.
A great "pattern " used to be held here on St Dominic’s Day.
THE FRIARS OF BURRISHOOLE (John O’Heyne, O.P.)
In County Mayo there is a fine abbey near the sea on river, called Burrishoole, founded by the O’Malley, formerly the chieftain of that territory. This foundation must have been made during the chieftainship of Cathal O’Connor, commonly called 0f the Red Hand; he began his rule in 1188 and died in 1224; but I do not know the actual year of foundation. This abbey, situated in a most beautiful and commodious locality, was established and endowed with many possessions by that chieftain, whose successor at the present ay, alas! does not own a single acre of land. That indeed is a frivolous assertion of the anonymous French author, who says that the abbey was founded by the family of the Butlers, for not one of that family, from the coming of the English into Ireland in 1172, obtained or had any establishment or possessions in Connaught by the time of James I., who gave the Marques of Ormond some territorial rights over the hereditary states of the O’Kelly. Charles II., restored in 1660, also gave the present Duke of Ormond many possessions in Connaught. So that besides the Irish records, the common traditions, handed down among the people welling around in the said territory, show that the house was founded, erected and endowed by the O’Malley, now despoiled of all his possessions.
In this house grave and religious men lived but of whom I cannot give a list except of those living in my own time, of whom were: —
FATHER TEIGE O’HEYNE, whom I myself saw blind from old age. He was a very placid man, serving from his profession in the same convent, and he never went abroad. He did very necessary service under James I., Charles I., and Cromwell the tyrant, at which periods a deluge of persecution inundated this miserable kingdom. He was a remarkable catechist, and although he was not armed with scientific weapons, he was full of goodness; so that he acquired the fame of a good man and an exemplary religious. He died full of days and devoutly fortified by the last sacraments, in 1682.
The good FATHER WILLIAM BURKE studied brilliantly at Salamanca, and taught philosophy and theology with success in the college of Holy Cross, Louvain. Being made master of theology, he returned home, and from his landing began to preach, though timidly in the beginning. But the wise and shrewd man found that persevering labour conquers everything; for by careful practice he became in a short time an eloquent preacher in the Irish language. He was very gracious and as observant of our rule as the wretched condition of our country permitted. He was often prior of his own convent, and once of those of Galway and of Straide; he was provincial continuously for eight years, and full of years he gave his soul to God, after receiving the last sacraments, in 170 1.
FATHER DOMINIC MAC PHILPIN studied in Spain and on his return home exercised himself constantly in preaching, so that he became a worthy preacher-general. In whatever place, even the most remote, where the chapter was being held, he went there always on foot. He was often prior, was very devout and exemplary in all his ways, and his preaching was full of unction. Full of years he died in 1700, comforted with the last sacraments.
FATHER WALTER MAC GIBBON studied in Spain and was lector of philosophy and master of students in Holy Cross, Louvain. On his return, he preached assiduously and was prior at Urlar, Strade, and in his own convent of Burrishoole. He died an old man, in 1648, after piously receiving the last sacraments.
FATHER JOHN O’RYAN studied brilliantly at Burgos in Spain and was a distinguished poet, as he proved admirably when he was a student at Burgos. For at that time the remains of Ferdinand, Cardinal of Austria, were being transferred from Belgium to Spain, that they might be laid in the royal monastery of the Escurial, and in all the cities through which they passed, they were received with great pomp, and especially at Burgos which was full of schools and men versed in every kind of learning. The prior of our convent of Saint Paul deputed Father O’Ryan to compose some verses in praise of this great prince and gave him a dispensation from choir, from matins till dinner-time. He promised to do something, but slept profoundly all that night. The prior thinking that he had been studying, paid him a visit immediately after matins, and was roused to anger by his conduct, for he knew that clever men from all the Orders had earnestly set to work to sing the praises of the deceased prince in Latin and Spanish verse. O’Ryan however gave the prior his poem, a mere couplet, in the early morning, which, when it was read before the archbishop and his entire suite, was received with silent admiration. Here are the words; —
Austria gave me birth, Castile fostered me, Rome gave me the [cardinal’s] hat,
to the Belgians I was a ruler and rector,
This father was teaching at Louvain when our general, Father Turco, made his visitation, and he composed some spirited verses in praise of him which are .till preserved by us in the college. Returning home le conducted a large school for a long time, to the great benefit of the whole of the county Mayo. He lived an exemplary life and died esteemed and lamented by the people, about 1674.
FATHER PIERCE O’CANAVAN, called Cano by foreigners, studied partly in Spain and also in France. He taught philosophy at Grenoble and moral theology to secular students at M4con. He then went home and was chaplain to a cavalry regiment, with which he came to France and went with the same regiment to Italy, where at Rome he was made master of theology by our general; he died at length in the kingdom of Naples.
There are many others belonging to this house of whom I have no information and so I hope that their names are in the Book of Life.
Of the members of this community I know none living except FATHER RICHARD O’HEYNE, my fellow-student at Salamanca, who was and is still a man of a most vigorous intellect. At a public thesis he obtained the lectorship of theology, in the convent della Salute at Naples, in which city he taught theology for twenty years with great success and applause. He was affiliated there and is a worthy master of theology in that province.