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The Irish Benedictines: A history

30 November, 1999

A collection of historical essays by professional historians, some of them themselves Benedictines, recording how Irish men and women have responded to the Rule of St Benedict over a period of 1400 years as a way to seek and find God.   242 pp. The Columba Press. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie. […]

A collection of historical essays by professional historians, some of them themselves Benedictines, recording how Irish men and women have responded to the Rule of St Benedict over a period of 1400 years as a way to seek and find God.

 

242 pp. The Columba Press. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie.

CONTENTS

Foreword – Christopher Dillon OSB
Preface
Contributors

  1. Tale of Two Rules: Benedict and Columbanus – Dáibhí Ó Cróinín
  2. Irish Benedictine Monasteries on the Continent – Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel
  3. Early Irish Monastic Arts and the ArchitectUre of the Benedictines in Ireland – Peter Harbison
  4. The Benedictines in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland – Colmán Ó Clabaigh OSB
  5. The Irish Benedictine Nuns: From Ypres to Kylemore – Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill
  6. The Post-Reformation English Benedictines and Ireland: Conflict and Dialogue – Aidan Bellenger OSB
  7. Abbot Columba Marmion – Placid Murray OSB
  8. The Origins and Early Days of Glenstal Abbey – Mark Tierney OSB
  9. Monastic Exiles in Ireland – William Fennelly OSB
  10. Glenstal Abbey 1930-2004 – Mark Tierney OSB
  11. Irish Benedictines in Africa – Andrew Nugent OSB
  12. They Make the Valley a Place of Springs: The Story of the Rostrevor Benedictines Mark – Ephrem M Nolan OSB
  13. Saint Benedict’s Priory, Cobh – M Angela Stephens OSB

Afterword – Celestine Cullen OSB
Index

 

Review

This book provides a com­prehensive survey of the ways in which Irish men and women have sought – ­and continue to seek – God by following the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Most of the chapters are based on papers delivered at a con­ference held in Glenstal Abbey in September 2002, marking the 75th anniversary of the foundation of that monastery. These were subsequently revised and a number of chapters added.

Many of the writers are professional historians. Others are themselves Benedictines, striving to follow in the same tradition as the men and women about whom they write. And some are both. They cover a wide range of disparate topics almost all for the first time.

The stories show Irish men and women who, listening with the ear of the heart, found wisdom and guidance in the Rule of Saint Benedict for well over a millennium from Dark Age Europe, through Reformation England and the war-torn continent and into modern Africa. They move out from Ireland and back and then out again.

Probably the best known is Blessed Columba Marmion, a Dubliner who became Abbot of Maredsous and was beatified in 2000.  Mark Tierney OSB narrates the history of Glenstal Abbey in two chapters – one on the origins and early years and another on the years 1930-2004. Andrew Nugent tells of the Irish Benedictine foundation in Nigeria.  But there are many other interesting stories – the Irish Dames of Ypres who came back to Kylemore, the post-Reformation English Benedictines and their interaction with Ireland, the monastic exiles from Europe at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries and the more recent foundations of women in Cobh (1993) and of men in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland (2000).

 

CONTRIBUTORS

Aidan Bellenger is Prior of Downside Abbey in Somerset, England. His pub­lications include The Exiled French Clergy in the British Isles after 1789, Princes of the Church: A History of the English Cardinals and The Mitre and the Crown: A History of the Archbishops of Canterbury.

Martin Browne is a monk of Glenstal Abbey. He currently works in the abbey school as a housemaster, a teacher of History and Irish, and school choirmaster.

Celestine Cullen was Abbot of Glenstal from 1980 until 1992, when he was elected Abbot President of the Benedictine Congregation of the Annunciation. He retired from office in 2004.

William Fennelly is a monk of Glenstal Abbey. He currently works in the abbey school as Dean of Boarding and a teacher of History and French.

Peter Harbison is an archaeologist and honorary academic editor with the Royal Irish Academy. His publications include Guide to the National Monuments of Ireland, The High Crosses of Ireland, The Golden Age of Irish Art, and Ireland’s Treasures.

Placid Murray is a monk and former Conventual Prior of Glenstal Abbey. From 1971-74 he was Chairman of the working committee which produced the English translation of the Divine Office. His publications and editions include John Henry Newman, Sermons 1824-1843, Volume 1, Newman the Oratorian and The Rule of Benedict: A Guide to Christian Living.

Mark-Ephrem M Nolan is Superior of the Olivetan Benedictine community in Rostrevor. Born in Belfast, he entered the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin in Normandy in 1979. He was a member of the Bec cella in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, later serving as novice master at Bec, before returning to Ireland in 1998 to lead the foundation now established at Holy Cross Monastery in Rostrevor.

Andrew Nugent is Prior of Glenstal Abbey and is a former novice master of St Benedict’s Priory, Ewu-Ishan, Nigeria. He is the author of The Four Courts Murder.

Colman Ó Clabaigh is a monk of Glenstal Abbey, where he is the monastery librarian. He is a research fellow of the Mícheál Ó C1éirigh Institute at University College, Dublin and author of The Franciscans in Ireland, 1400­1534.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín is a Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is the author of Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200. He is Director of the ‘Foundations of Irish Culture’ Project at NUIG.

Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel is a member of the Department of History at University College, Cork, and co-ordinator of the ‘Sources for Insular Studies’ and ‘Pilgrimage’ projects. She has published widely on the subject of Irish pilgrims on the continent.

Tim O’Neill is an historian and a scribe. He is the author of The Irish Hand and Merchants and Mariners in Medieval Ireland.

M. Angela Stephens is a nun of the Benedictine Congregation of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre. She is Superior of St Benedict’s Priory, Cobh.

Mark Tierney is a monk of Glenstal Abbey. His books include Murroe and Boher: A Parish History, Blessed Columba Marmion and Glenstal Abbey: An Historical Guide.

Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill is an historian and writer based in Clifden. Her publications include Beyond the Twelve Bens: A History ofClifden and District 1860-1923, Patient Endurance: The Great Famine in Connemara and History of Kylemore Castle and Abbey.

CHAPTER EIGHT

THE ORIGINS AND EARLY DAYS OF GLENSTAL ABBEY

BY MARK TIERNEY OSB

Glenstal Castle, in the parish of Murroe, Co Limerick, was built by the Barrington family in the 1830s. The architect, William Bardwell, designed it in the Norman-Revival style, with a gate-tower, keep, and impressive front façade (1).  The Barringtons had acquired the Carbery estate in 1831, which stretched from the Mulcair River at Barrington’s Bridge, to the Clare River on the Limerick-Tipperary Border. In 1870, the estate consisted of 9,485 acres (2).  This holding was considerably reduced, following a series of Land Acts, passed between 1881 and 1909. Thus, by the year 1925, when Sir Charles and Lady Barrington decided to leave Glenstal, they owned less than 1,000 acres, in and around the castle demesne. They were finding it more and more difficult to maintain the castle and estate, especially in the new Ireland, which emerged from the War of Independence (1919-21) and the Civil War (1922-23).

One of the main reasons why the Barringtons left Glenstal was the sad death of their only daughter, Winifred (‘Winnie’), who was killed in an unfortunate incident in May 1921. She was travelling in the company of a Black and Tan officer, Captain Biggs, when the car was ambushed by the local IRA unit near Newport, Co Tipperary. Winnie, who was in the front seat of the open car, was shot by mistake, and died that evening in Glenstal. The family was devastated. Lady Barrington, who was a Scot and a Unionist at heart, urged her husband to leave Ireland as soon as possible, and take up residence in England.

When eventually, in 1925, the time came to leave, Sir Charles made a mag­nificent gesture. He wrote to the Irish Free State government, offering Glenstal as a gift to the Irish nation, specifically suggesting that it might be a suitable residence for the Governor-General. Mr W T. Cosgrave, the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, and Mr Tim Healy, the Governor-General, visited Glenstal in July 1925, and ‘were astonished at its magnificence, which far exceeded our expectations’ (3). However, financial restraints forced them to turn down the offer. Mr Cosgrave wrote to Sir Charles, stating that ‘our present economic position would not warrant the Ministry in applying to the Dail to vote the necessary funds for the upkeep of Glenstal’ (4).

Soon after this, the Barringtons held an auction of the furniture and books in the castle, and let it be known that they were about to leave Ireland for good. The news soon spread to the village of Murroe, and caused much comment and dismay, as the Barringtons had been a major employer in the area for nearly a hundred years. It would be a local disaster, if the Glenstal demesne and castle were to be abandoned and become a ruin, like so many other Big Houses in Ireland. There thus began a local campaign to save Glenstal. It should be said that the Barringtons never intended abandoning the place, and kept a skeleton staff in the castle, in the hope that someone might come along to buy it.

By a strange coincidence, two eminent Catholic clergymen, both natives of Murroe, then stepped in, and showed an immediate interest in saving Glenstal. The first was Fr Richard Devane, Professor of Church History at St Patrick’s College, Thurles, and the second was Dr Harty, the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. Fr Devane had studied at the Irish College, Paris, spoke fluent French, and had recently visited the Abbey of Maredsous, in Belgium, where an Irishman, Dom Columba Marmion, had been abbot from 1909-23. He was interested in the history of Irish monasticism, and regret­ted that there were no Benedictine monks in Ireland in modern times. Archbishop Harty, a man of wide vision, had noticed how many Irish Catholic boys still went to boarding schools in England. He hoped one day to have, in his diocese, a school that would attract the kind of boy who might otherwise have gone to England. It was Fr Devane who took the initiative. He approached Dr Harty, suggesting that the latter might acquire Glenstal, and offer it to some Benedictine community, with a view to their establishing a boarding school, similar to the ones run by the Benedictines of Ampleforth and Downside, in England.

In August 1925, a third priest came into the picture, Msgr James Ryan, a wealthy Cashel priest, reputed to have a personal fortune of about £50,000 (5). He had retired as President of St Patrick’s College, Thurles, and was living at his home, The Hermitage, Cappagh, Thurles. He was well-known for his generosity, and had recently bought a property for the Pallotine Order in Thurles. He was also involved in the restoration of the Irish Franciscan House, St Anthony’s, in Louvain, Belgium, which had been seriously dam­aged during World War I. Archbishop Harty approached Msgr Ryan, and asked him if he would be prepared to buy Glenstal Castle, with a view to its becoming one day a Benedictine monastery. Dr Harty, at the prompting of Fr Devane, proposed that the monks of the Abbey of Maredsous, in Belgium, be approached, with a view to making a foundation in Glenstal. Msgr Ryan fell in with the idea. He is reputed to have replied to Dr Harty: ‘Maredsous! I know the place well. My friend, Cardinal Mercier (6) took me there years ago, to meet my old friend Abbot Columba Marmion (7). I’ll purchase Glenstal for the Benedictines.’ Msgr Ryan immediately got in touch with Sir Charles Barrington, and early in September 1925, Glenstal Castle was sold to him for the nominal sum of £2,000.

On 29 September 1925, Msgr Ryan wrote to Dom Celestine Golenvaux, the Abbot of Mared­sous, putting forward the proposal of Dr Harty, for a Benedictine foundation in Ireland, and offer­ing Glenstal Castle and demesne to the monks of Maredsous for this purpose (8). The Abbot of Maredsous replied to Msgr Ryan ­on 9 November 1925, saying that it was impossible to take up the offer, because one of his monks, Dom Aubert Merten,9 was at that very moment (1925) in Ireland, trying to make a foundation near Kylemore, Connemara (10). In fact, this Connemara venture never got off the ground, as Dom Aubert failed to get the necessary permission from the Archbishop of Tuam, in whose diocese Kylemore was situated. Fr Aubert also failed to get any of the monks of Maredsous to join him.

This delay in the negotiations had an unfortunate twist to it, for a whole year went by before there was any further contact between Msgr Ryan and the Abbot of Maredsous. During this time, Msgr Ryan became attached to his new acquisition. He took up temporary residence in the castle, and began to look upon himself as a kind of lord of the manor. He apparently decided that, even if he eventually handed over the property to the Benedictines, hewould retain for his own use all the hunting, fishing and shooting rights, as well as two of the larger rooms in the castle.

Early in October 1926, Msgr Ryan was in Louvain, in connec­tion with the restoration of St Anthony’s Franciscan Friary. While there, he took the opportunity to visit the Abbey of Mont César (Kaisersberg), where the abbots of the Belgian Benedictine Cong­regation were assembled for their second General Chapter. He was invited to address the abbots and took the occasion to repeat his pro­posal of the previous year, offering Glenstal Castle to the Benedictines as a free gift. At the same time, he made all kinds of promises of financial help for the Irish foundation, with special reference to a sum of £5,000 from an anonymous American donor. Dom Celestine Golenvaux, the abbot of Maredsous, who the previous year had turned down the offer was now so moved by the words of Msgr Ryan that he decided to go to Glenstal, as soon as possible, to see the place for himself. He was encouraged to do so by Dom Theodore Neve, the abbot of Saint André, who offered to accompany him to Ireland.

Abbot Celestine Golenvaux wrote a long letter to the prior of Maredsous, dated 19 November 1926, in which he spoke of his favourable impressions of Glenstal. 12 He had been received graciously by Dr Harty, who gave him every encouragement to proceed with a foundation. Furthermore, he visited Kylemore and met Dom Aubert Merten. The latter made it clear that he was not going to make his own independent foundation in Connemara, so that obstacle had now been cleared away. This letter may be considered as a turn­ing point in the foundation process of Glenstal, in that it implies the first positive ‘Yes’ to Msgr Ryan’s proposal.

The abbot of Maredous confirmed this in a letter to Msgr Ryan, dated 3 December 1926, in which he said clearly that he now thought it would be possible to make a foundation in Glenstal. The proposal had been discussed by the chapters of Maredsous, Mont César and Saint André, with a positive response from all three. The next step would be for Msgr Ryan to draw up an official document, laying out the conditions of his proposal. This legal document should be sent to Abbot Robert de Kerchove, of Mont César, President of the Belgian Congregation. The Abbot ofMaredsous ends his let­ter with the words:

Which of the Belgian monasteries will in fact undertake the foundation? It seems most likely that the monastery in question will be Maredsous. And to prove our continued interest, it is proposed to send two monks to Glenstal, next January (1927), to make a more detailed stUdy of the situation. We consider this actual visit by the two monks as a first taking of possession (13).

Throughout all these early negotiations, credit must be given to Dom Theodore Neve, the abbot of Saint André (Zevenkerken), who acted as an adviser and intermediary in several instances. He accompanied the abbot of Maredsous on the fact-finding mission to Glenstal in November, and on his return to Belgium, wrote to Archbishop Harty: ‘It seems to us all that this foundation is willed by God. Digitus Dei hic est (14).  He furthermore indicated that it would take about three months for all the deliberations to be com­pleted, and concluded by saying that towards September 1927 ‘the first classes of the secondary school and of the arts school (15) could begin’ (16).

On 8 December 1926, Archbishop Harty gave what amounted to his char­ter for the future foundation, in a letter addressed to Abbot Theodore Neve:

‘With special pleasure, I give the community of Maredsous permission to establish a Benedictine House at Glenstal in the diocese of Cashel. This permission extends to an arts and crafts school, which would be a great boon to ecclesiastical art in Ireland, and also a higher school of general studies, in which Irish subjects would hold a prominent place, and in which the pension of boys would be sufficiently high to make the school very select.’ He concluded with these words: ‘Although the archdiocese cannot assume any financial responsibility for the house, your fathers can be assured of a warm welcome from priests and people and of practical sympathy in their educational work. To me personally, it will be a most pleasing duty to welcome the Benedictines to the archdiocese of Cashel and to my native panis of Murroe.’ (17).

In mid-December 1926, Abbot Celestine Golenvaux wrote at length to Fr Richard Devane, in which he says that ‘the Glenstal enterprise is an invit­ation from God, and not to accept it would be an act of infideliry’ (18). The abbot of Maredsous goes on to make some realistic reflections, cautioning against an expectation of wonderful works undertaken at once by the Benedictine monks in Ireland. ‘It would be a grave mistake to found a monastery solely for its works (liturgical, educational, artistic etc ). Glenstal must first of all be a centre of interior life and prayer, and only then can one speak of expansion to exterior works’ (19).

The minor setback came at the end of December 1926, when the abbot of Maredsous wrote to Msgr Ryan, repeating what he had said in his letter of 3 December, and wondering if the latter had ever received this letter. He asks that Msgr Ryan send him an official document, offering Glenstal to the Benedictines: ‘I simply await a word on your part, in order to put into effect the project we all have at heart (20).  Msgr Ryan had, however, received the let­ter of 3 December, but had delayed his reply, which he finally wrote on 31 December. In this letter, Msgr Ryan gave two reasons for not writing earlier: firstly, he had not been well, and secondly, he had done some shopping round, looking for financial backing for the Glenstal venture, but had failed so far to get anything worth while. His wealthy American friend, whom he now named as the Marquis Maloney, had withdrawn his offer of help, while other well-wishers seem to have evaporated into thin air. There was only one positive note in Msgr Ryan’s letter, namely that Vincent Scully, of Mantlehill, Golden, Co Tipperary, had donated his valuable library to the Glenstal found­ation (21). At the same time, Msgr Ryan also made it clear that the Belgian monks could not expect him to pay for their travelling expenses in connec­tion with the foundation. He also warned about the large sums of money that would be required in establishing the monastery, with its two schools (22).

 

In the meantime, the Abbot of Maredsous, who was becoming somewhat disillusioned, if not impatient, wrote to Archbishop Harty on 1 January 1927, saying that ‘no progress could be made, until such time as Msgr Ryan expresses in writing his precise intention of handing over his estate of Glenstal for a monastic foundation’ (23). The abbot followed this with a some­what forceful letter to Msgr Ryan, dated 12 January 1927, reiterating his need for a precise, written proposal and agreement: ‘It is only when this first and absolutely indispensable formality is accomplished that a preliminary decision may be arrived at by the Chapter of Maredsous (24). He enclosed in this letter a draft agreement, as a basis for Msgr Ryan’s official offer of Glenstal to Maredsous.

At this delicate stage of the negotiations, there was need for more than patience on the side of those trying to help out. Fortunately, there was at hand someone who was able to smooth the waters, Fr Richard Devane. He wrote a most encoutaging letter to Abbot Theodore Neve on 18 January 1927, saying that ‘there is no need to be anxious about the future – everything will be alright… You need not be surprised at the Monsignor’s delay in replying to letters, because he is not a very efficient businessman. He does not answer letters promptly. I visited Glenstal recently. Msgr Ryan is making prepar­ations there for the advent of your priests and lay-brothers. He has placed in the library at Glenstal a considerable collection of books’ (25). Devane concluded the letter by giving the following advice:

As soon as the Monsignor invites your priests to Glenstal, they should come at once, because their presence there will induce Msgr Ryan to con­clude matters quickly. When your priests arrive at Thurles, I shall meet them and give them advice as to the manner of acting with Msgr Ryan (26).

From this letter of Fr Devane to Abbot Neve, one must draw the conclusion that these two men were acting in the background, providing an element of sanity and practicality in a complicated situation. Fr Devane found it easier to deal with Abbot Neve than with Abbot Golenvaux, as one can see from the concluding words of Devane to Neve: ‘I am writing to the Abbot of Maredsous, but I think there is no need to tell him all the details mentioned in this letter (27).

In the meantime, Msgr Ryan was not idle. He wrote a most helpful letter to the Abbot of Maredsous on 20 January 1927, apologising for the delay in writing, and concluded with these words: ‘You will, I hope, hear from me with your requirements (i.e. the official documents) in a few days. Having forwarded the necessary papers, I shall, as soon as feasible, go to Glenstal to make preparations for the reception of the two monks ( ie the prospectors) of whom you wrote’ (28). Indeed, Msgr Ryan sent the draft memorandum to the Abbot of Maredsous on 25 January 1927, concluding with these words: ‘I shall sign the memorandum when you let me have it. Please send me an extra copy or two, as I shall have to give one to Archbishop Harty’ (29). This memo­randum gives a detailed history of the negotiations up to that moment, as well as stating the propositions and conditions of Msgr Ryan in relation to the transferring of Glenstal to the Abbey of Maredsous (30).

At this moment of the story there enters a new personality, Dom Patrick Nolan, a monk of Maredsous, who had led a rather peripatetic life, having served much of his time in Erdingcon Abbey, Birmingham, England, and later in Mount Saint Benedict’s, Gorey, Co Wexford,. A difficult character, he had been a thorn in the side of Abbot Marmion. He had, in fact, also got into serious trouble with the Bishop of Ferns some years earlier, over the dis­posal of Edermine House (31). He read an account of the proposed Glenstal foundation in the Irish newspapers, and wrote to Abbot Golenvaux from Mount Saint Benedict’s on 29 January 1927: ‘Allow me, an Irishman, who has always prayed and worked for the establishment of the Benedictines in Ireland, to go and help in this new foundation (i.e. Glenstal) and fix my stability for it’ (32). However, Abbot Golenvaux turned down this offer from Fr Patrick Nolan, saying that he could not accept the latter as a member of the Glenstal community, because Msgr Ryan, who apparently knew all about Fr Nolan, had stipulated specifically that Nolan was persona non grata with him (33) On hearing of Patrick Nolan’s present intentions, Msgr Ryan added a codicil to the original Memorandum, in which he stated: ‘Be it understood and accepted as a condition of this donation (of Glenstal), that no member of the community or inmate of Mount Saint Benedict’s, Gorey, Monastery be admitted to the proposed community and monastery at Glenstal’ (34).

Everything was now in place for the arrival of the two prospectors: Dom Gregoire Fournier and Dom Odilon Golenvaux (35). They arrived in Glenstal early in March 1927, and were met by Fr Thomas O’Connor (36), another Murroe priest, who drove them everywhere and helped them in their work of assessing the Glenstal situation. They sent several reports to the Abbot of Maredsous, but it was the letter of 13 March 1927, signed by both prospec­tors, that turned the scales and sealed the whole issue of the foundation. They spoke of the ‘beauty of the place’, and offered very positive arguments for accepting Msgr Ryan’s offer. They also confirmed that it was Fr Richard Devane who first thought of having a Benedictine foundation in Glenstal (37).

A similar thought was expressed by the Abbot of Maredsous, in his letter of 31 March 1927, to Fr Devane: ‘Now that the foundation of Glenstal is about to be officially accepted by the Chapter of Maredsous, I feel obliged morally to turn to you. You deserve to be the first to know about our decision, because it is to you that we owe the whole initiative of the great project’ (38). The Abbot of Maredsous also assured Fr Devane that he would send ‘monks who were good religious, not angels, but men imbued with the true spirit of their vocation, animated by good will.’ He also promised to appoint ‘as Prior of the new foundation, a man who was a gifted administrator and experi­enced and prudent in financial matters’ (39).

On 14 April 1927, the chapter of Maredsous accepted the gift of Glenstal from Msgr Ryan (40). On 18 April Dom Gerard François was appointed super­ior of the new community, while other members chosen were Dom Odilon Golenvaux (who had to withdraw as he had been requested for the Greek College, Rome), Dom Orner Van Tours, Dom Mayeul Lang and Dom Winoc Mertens. A short time later, Dom David Maffei (41) and Dom Hubert Janssens were added to make up the six founding monks. On 8 May 1927, the blessing of the Foundation Cross, and its presentation to Dom Gerard François, took place in Maredsous. On 11 May 1927 Abbot Celestine Golenvaux, Dom Gerard François, Dom Winoc Mertens and Dom Odilon Golenvaux arrived by boat in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, where they were met by the Belgian Consul-General, M. Goor. On 13 May, accompanied by Msgr Ryan, who had come to Dublin to greet them, the party made their first stop at Thurles. There they were met by Fr Devane, and conducted to Archhbishop Harty’s house. Dr Harty entertained them to lunch and pre­sented them with a motor van (42). After lunch, among other matters for dis­cussion, the patron saint of Glenstal was raised by Dr Harty, who suggested Saint Benedict. However, Fr Gerard François pointed out that this was the name by which the Abbey of Maresous was known, and it would not be right for the foundation to have the same name as the mother-house. Finally, it was agreed that Glenstal should be given two names, Joseph and Columba, in memory of the Irish-born late Abbot of Maredsous, Dom Columba Marmion (43).

The first group of monks arrived by train on 13 May 1927. They were con­veyed to Glenstal by Michael Kennedy (44) and the post-master of Murroe. It took several months to settle in, as the castle was quite underfurnished. Glenstal was canonically erected on 18 December 1927. Abbot Celestine Golenvaux then confirmed Dom Gerard François as the prior, with Dom David Maffei as subprior and novice master. The regular monastic life at Glenstal can be said to have begun that same day, Sunday 18 December 1927.

It might seem from much of the correspondence at the time that the monks of Maredsous were taking up residence in an empty castle. It was, in fact, quite different. While all the valuable furniture and books had been auc­tioned in September 1925, a great amount of furniture and fittings remained. According to an inventory, drawn up by W B. Fitt & Co., on 14 July 1926, under the title ‘Valuation for transfer’, Msgr Ryan bought from Sir Charles Barrington, a range of household goods, at the cost of £150. Most items were less than £1 and consisted of chairs, tables, wardrobes, wash-stands, rugs, car­pets, etc for the interior of the house, and oil tank, grind stone, ladders, wheel-barrows, carpenter’s bench, tackling for horses, horse-drawn lawn mower, scythes, saws, shovels, spades, forks, rakes, etc for the yard and gar­dens (45). The monks had to buy beds, tableware, and other such items, but the castle was not left desolate. Besides, the Vincent Scully library had been installed in the magnificent library of the castle. The building had its own central heating, run on solid fuel. There was a magnificent kitchen, fully equipped with ovens and ranges.

Sir Charles Barrington wrote to Msgr Ryan on 29 July 1927: ‘I am greatly pleased with what you have written as regards the hopes and intentions of the Brothers with reference to my old home. I trust that they will get on well there and be successful and as happy as we were in that beautiful spot. I shall always regret the sale of the trophies of the chase which were sold from the hall, and the guns (i.e. six cannon) on the terrace (46). Sir Charles wrote some­time later to the prior of Glenstal: ‘If I had only known that your Order was coming, I would have presented all those hunting and shooting trophies to you. I left you the Irish Elk anyhow’ (47).

During these early days, Msgr Ryan kept in frequent touch with the monks. He visited Glenstal occasionally, occupying the two rooms which he had reserved for his own use in the castle. He also had the monks call to see him in Thurles. A typical invitation to the prior arrived in late August 1927, delivered by Msgr Ryan’s personal courier, Joe: ‘Are you free to dine here at 3 o’clock today? If so, please come – arrive – here at that hour. Owing to the day being fine, my horse will be engaged saving the hay and I cannot there­fore go for you. Will you walk as you did yesterday? We must make hay while the sun shines’ (48). In fact, one gets the impression that Msgr Ryan was over­doing his privileged position of donor, expecting the monks to jump to attention at his every whim. One such typical case related to the library, which Msgr Ryan considered as much his as the monks. Writing to Fr Prior on 14 May 1928, Msgr Ryan stated: ‘I hope to visit Glenstal tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon, with a friend, Dr Callanan (49). Please tell Fr Hubert, the Librarian, to place the Scully letters and documents (50) on the large table in the provisional sacristy. We shall return tomorrow evening’ (51). Someone has added a note on the margin of this letter, to the effect that ‘Dr Callanan has taken several documents on that day, and never sent them back’ (52).

Two other instances of evident interfering can be cited. On 29 February 1927, Msgr Ryan wrote to the Prior of Glenstal, ordering him to ‘prohibit Dom Winoc burning any more of the park lands…. When driving to Boher Station (with Fr Winoc) I called his attention to the fire burning the parts close to the thorn trees, which must be injured by the fire, as there was no one there to control it.’ (53)  Some months later, Msgr Ryan orders the prior to ‘tell Fitzgibbon to deposit his gun at the Murroe Guard Barracks till I meet him. While in your employment, he has no use for a fowling piece, as I have reserved to myself the shooting and fishing of Glenstal property. I trust there­fore you not allow anyone to shoot on the place till I visit it next week’ (54).

All this time, there was no move made by Msgr Ryan to hand over the Glenstal property to the monks. He spoke several times of his intention of making a legal transfer of Glenstal to the Benedictines, but as late as 19 August 1927 no steps had been taken to this effect. Finally, at the urging of Archbishop Harty, the deeds were handed over on 19 January 1928, and the Benedictine monks became the legal owners of Glenstal.

These early days of Glenstal Abbey were particularly difficult for the six monks from Maredsous, who found themselves in a very challenging situa­tion, in a strange land. They had to master the language, adjust to Irish and local customs, and cope with considerable financial restraints. Thanks to the prior, Dom Gerard, who succeeded in obtaining help from some of his wealthy friends in Belgium and Switzerland, they managed to keep debt at bay. They also received help and advice from well-wishers throughout Ireland, among whom must be mentioned Mr Stephen O’Mara, who financed the first Glenstal piggery. Fr Gerard planned to build a church or chapel as soon as possible, believing that the temporary chapel, inside the cas­tle, was quite inadequate. However, owing to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he was forced to wait until 1932 before he could realise this dream.

There was also the delicate question of dealing with Msgr James Ryan, who continued to retain, for his own use, some of the larger rooms in the cas­tle, as well as reserving to himself the hunting, shooting and fishing rights in the grounds. Time and diplomacy were to overcome these latter difficulties. It would be ungracious for the monks of Glenstal to find fault with Msgr Ryan. He was clearly very eccentric, but he was also a gentleman, and very proud of having established the Benedictine monks permanently in Ireland. At the end of the day, both parties had to accept the fact that without Msgr Ryan there might have been no Glenstal as we know it today.

I. Mark Tierney and John Cornforth, ‘Glenstal Castle, Co Limerick’ in t Ocrober 2, 1974, pp 934-37.
2. Return of owners of land in Ireland, (Dublin 1876), p 146. 
3. W T. Cosgrave to Sir Charles Barringtoon, 29 July 1925. Glenstal Abbey archives. Boxfile no 1: ‘Origins of Glensral Abbey’.
4. Ibid.
5. James Ryan was a member of the Scarteen Ryan clan. He had no brothers or sisters, and had inherited a fortune from his grandmother.
6. Cardinal Mercier was archbishop of Malines, Belgium.
7. Dom Columba Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous 1909-23.
8. Msgr Ryan to Abbot Celestine Golenyaux, 29 Sept 1925. Archives of Maredsous, Glenstal papers.
9. Dom Aubert Merten had come to Ireland in 1915, and was superior of the house (Edermine) in Co Wexford, where Abbot Marmion had established his younger monks dur­ing the war years. After the war, all the Belgian monks had returned to Maredsous, except Dom Aubert Merten. He accompanied the Irish Dames ofYpres to Kylemore, and remained in Ireland as their chaplain.
10. Dom Celestine Golenyaux to Msgr Ryan, 9 Noy 1925. Arch. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 2.
11. The use of the style ‘Dom’, was common among English and continental Benedictines, indicating that the monk was also a priest.
12. Celestine Golenvaux to the prior of Maredsous, 19 Nov 1926. Archiv. Mar., Glenstal papers, no 4.
13. Celestine Golenvaux to Msgr Ryan, 3 Dee 1926, Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papets, no 5. 14. ‘The finger of God is here.’
15. Both Msgr Ryan and Celestine Golenvaux were interested in establishing a school of arts and crafts in Glenstal.
16. Dom Theodore Neve to Dr Harry, 2 Dee 1926. Archiv.Mar. Glenstal papers, a copy.
17. Dr Harry to Dom T Neve, 8 Dec 1926. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, a copy, no 7.
18. Celestine Golenvaux to Richard Devane, 15 Dec 1926. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 9. 19. Ibid.
20. C Golenvaux to Msgr Ryan, 29 Dec 1926, Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 10.
21. Msgr Ryan to Celestine Golenvaux, 31 Dec 1926. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 11. The Scully library eventually came into the possession of the Glenstal monks, and formed the nucleus of the monastery library.
22. Ibid.
23. C Golenvaux to Dr Harty, 1 Jan 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 12.
24. C Golenvaux to Msgr Ryan, 12 Jan 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 13.
25. Richard Devane to Th. Neve, 18 Jan 1927, Archiv Mar. Glenstal papers, no 14.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid.
28. Msgr Ryan to Cel. Golenvaux, 20 Jan 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 15.
29. Msgr Ryan to Cel. Golenvux, 25 Jan 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 16.
30. ‘Memorandum of the negotiations between Msgr Ryan and the abbots of the Belgian Congregation’ 25 Jan 1927. Original in French. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, 17a and 17b.
31. Abbot Marmion had brought his junior monks to Ireland during the First World War. They settled in Edermine House, near Enniscorthy. Dom Patrick Nolan hoped to make an Irish foundation in Co Wexford, with money he had received from his parents. The local bishop refused permission.
32. Dom Patrick Nolan to C Golenvaux, 29 Jan 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 18
33. C Golenvaux to Patrick Nolan, 1 Feb 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 19.
34. Memorandum or Agreement between Msgr Ryan and the abbots of the Belgian Congregation. The codicil is added at the end of this document. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 22..
35. Dom Gregoire Fournier, was a man of considerable experience, in that he had spent sev­eral years in Jerusalem, as superior of the Dormition Abbey venture (1919-21), under Abbot Marmion. Dom Odilon Golenvaux was a brother of the Abbot of Maredsous.
36. Fr Thomas O’Connor and Fr Richard Devane were the rwo priests, natives of Murroe, who befriended the monks from Belgium, and helped in many ways. At this time, Fr O’Connor was inspector of schools in the archdiocese of Cashel.
37. The actual words used, regarding Fr Devane’s role, were: ‘celui qui a eu la pensée initiale de la fondation’. G Fournier and a Golenvaux to Cel. Golvenvaux, 13 March 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 42.
38. C Golenvaux to Fr Devane, 31 March 1927. Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers. It was Devane who had coined the phrase that they should try ‘to make Glenstal the Maredsous of Ireland’ .
39. Ibid. The prior in question was Dom Gerard François.
40. For a summary of the chapter meeting, relating to ‘The foundation in Ireland’ see Archiv. Mar. Glenstal papers, no 59.
41. A monk of Mont César Abbey, who was to be the novice master.
42. This motor van was to prove of inestimable value to the Glenstal community during the early years.
43. Abbot Marmion’s baptismal name was Joseph, his name in religion was Columba.
44. Fr Michael Kennedy was the curate of Murroe at the time.
45. Glenstal Archives, Boxfile I, ‘Goods at Glenstal Castle, 14 July 1926’.
46. Glenstal Archives, Boxfile I, Sir Charles Barrington to Msgr Ryan, 29 July 1927, a copy. 47. Glenstal Archives, Boxfile I, Sir Charles Barrington to D. Gerard Francois, 17 Oct. 1928. The two Irish Elk horns are still in the entrance hall in Glenstal.
48. Glenstal Archives, Boxfile I, Msgr Ryan to Dom Gerard François, 24 Aug 1927. Msgr Ryan asked the prior of Glenstal to walk from the Thurles railway station to the Hermitage, i.e. Ryan’s house, a distance of over a mile.
49. Dr Callanan was a medical doctor in Thurles. He was very interested in local history.
50. The Scully Library consisted of a large collection of books, as well valuable manuscript let­ters and documents.
51. Glenstal Archives, Boxfile I, Msgr Ryan to Dom Gerard François, 14 May 1928.
52. Ibid.
53. Glenstal Archives Boxfile I, Msgr Ryan to Dom Gerard François, 29 Feb 1928. Fr Winoc, the farmer, was trying to get rid of the ferns which covered rhe deer park, to have some grazing land for the cattle.
54. Glenstal Archives, Boxfile I, Msgr Ryan to Dom Gerard François, 19 Aug 1927.

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