The Capuchin Friars and the Leaders of the Easter Rising

The heroes of the hour -- witnessing history as it unfolded. 

The Irish Order of the Capuchin Friars came to Ireland in 1615.  It was not until 1690, however, that their first friary was built.  Over time, they moved to Cork where they established the friary house (which still remains); then, back to Dublin where the first friary was established.  Cork is where most of the novitiates were educated.  They came to Dublin's Church Street in 1690, shortly after the Battle of the Boyne, where they opened a "mass house."

The "mass house" was enlarged in 1796, and the present Capuchin Franciscans Church there dates from 1881.  This is when they re-established themselves in the community.  They were always ready to minister to the Fenians / Republicans in addition to ministering to the poor of the City.

Interestingly, the altar and reredos (the altarpiece depicting religious iconography, gilded niches, and statues) was designed and constructed by James Pearse, the father of Patrick and Willie Pearse.

From its re-established inception in 1881, there was always a strong link between the emerging nationalism and other Irish movements.  The shared affinity for cultural resurgence that existed between the members of Capuchin Friars and with the Irish movements deeply influenced the men who were drawn to Capuchin religious life.  Most of them were fluent speakers of the Irish language, with Father Albert Bibby, Father Augustine Hayden, and Father Edwin Fitzgibbon being at the forefront in fostering the native language through Conradh na Gaelige.

Even before any of the Providence were reconstituted, Father Albert Mitchel -- himself an ardent nationalist -- always made a point of wearing Irish-made garments.  He had a real sense of knowing, understanding, and working with the poor in the community.  It has been said that he was at his happiest while doing this work.  They set up and preached the "Buy Irish Campaign" long before De Valera sought to give the same message in 1932.  

All of this would suggest that the friars were only too happy to promote the cultural aspirations of any or all of those who were drawn into any Irish cultural or rebel movement.

It comes as no surprise, then, that they were on hand when the 1916 Easter Rising started.  Father Matthew Feis was scheduled to be the priest during Easter week in 1916.  He was on-hand in the Father Matthew Hall when a young boy was shot on the Easter Monday afternoon.  He, with all of the other friars, came running when they heard the explosions and gunfire.  They were only too happy to be of assistance in these circumstances.  The rest of the children who were in the hall were put under the stage for safety.  This hall was then turned quickly into a hospital by the Volunteers and Cumann mBan (The Irishwomen’s Council).  This was a paramilitary organisation formed in 1914 which was then dissolved and incorporated into the existing Inghinidhe na hÉireann (daughters of Ireland).

The Volunteers and Cumann Na mBan, combined with the assistance of the Capuchin friars, were said to have been heroes in these grave situations -- not fearing for their own safety and always having women who would work shifts throughout Easter week.

So, it was from here in the gravest of situations that all medical aid was administered to any wounded soldiers or civilians during the 1916 Easter Rising.  

.The Capuchin Friars were heavily involved  the surrender-; after the initial surrender had taken place between General Lowe ; Patrick Pearse with Nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell  as the 'runner ' in all the discussion between the British Forces and the Irish Irish Military Army . They ably assisted Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell [Cumann na mBan] with the task of delivering the surrender order to the other leaders all around the outskirts of Dublin in their strategic positions i.e Eamonn Ceant, Thomas MacDonagh , Dev Valera Of course General Lowe, not wanting to take any chances that these surrender orders would not be safely delivered; he ordered two of his officers to accompany them. They then went to Dublin Castel to deliver the surrender message    

Like all of the Capuchin friars of Church Street, Father Aloysius was heavily involved in administering to the Leaders of the Easter Rising in whatever capacity where they were needed.  Some historical records and TV documentaries about the Easter Rising and its leaders, are said to have omitted, in some instances, these emotional and traumatic aspects of the last days of the Leaders lives, and thereby not understanding that it was these intense moments in the last days of their lives, that the focus of historians on all aspects of recording history, should have examined more closely.  These details have been preserved by some of the Capuchin Friars , but not all, about, the spiritual depth of all these young leaders who faced defeat and death so nobly.

The Capuchin friars are on record as saying, "We were privileged to serve and minister to such noble and patriotic young men who died so that Ireland may be free." 

The Capuchin friars ministered to all of leaders in the various prisons across the city.  Long hours were spent in meditation with each of the prisoners.  At any one time, a friar was with all these young men as they faced execution, only stepping aside as the prisoners were blindfolded and instantly shot by a firing squad.


More from this series:

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Éamonn Ceannt

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Cornelius Colbert

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Cathal Brugha

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Seán Heuston

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Seán Mac Diarmada

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Tomás Séamus Ó Cléirigh

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Liam Mac Piarais

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Edward 'Ned' Daly

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Tomás Mac Donnchadha

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Michael O'Hanrahan

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Sean Connolly

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Michael Mallin

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Patrick Pearse

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: James Connolly

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Joseph Mary Plunkett

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Éamon de Valera

Top Image:  Fr. Dominic O’Connor OFM Cap. (right) and Fr. Albert Bibby OFM Cap. on Church Street, Dublin – 1921.  Image courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Mary Thorpe is the author of "That's Just How it Was," available on Amazon, Kindle, Gardner's Wholesale Books UK, Bertems, and Inghams.

NOw available to order from Waterstones - USA ; England / Ireland 


Views: 4660

Tags: 1916, Catholicism, Dublin, Easter Rising, Faith, IRA, Irish Freedom Struggle

Comment by Michael Quane on February 21, 2015 at 3:05pm
My father was a member of the IRA during the War for Independence and the Civil War. He said that the only religious who supported the rebels were the Capuchins and the Jesuits.
Comment by Michael Quane on February 21, 2015 at 3:06pm
Very interesting and informative, Mary.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 22, 2015 at 5:58am

Since writing that piece Michael - I am inspired to know more about our history . I was inspired too write my Granny's story 'That's Just How It Was'  after I retired. So in a sense I am still learning !

Comment by Katarzyna Gmerek on February 22, 2015 at 7:40am

Possibly a mistyping error, or was there another Battle of the Boyne in the early 1600's? '"They came to Dublin's Church Street in 1615, shortly after the Battle of the Boyne". A fascinating article anyway!

Comment by Patdee Mullarkey on February 22, 2015 at 11:46am

I was lucky enough to read the Witness Statement of Father Aloysius, and the letters written from jail of several of the executed men, including Pearse and Casement. I took the course Irish History: 1912-1923, which gave access to Trinity's archives. Nothing is so moving as the voices that speak from the heart of history.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 22, 2015 at 4:28pm

You are absolutely correct = when I started on this journey of highlighting the various Easter Rising Leaders ; nothing prepared me for the overwhelming emotion that I felt; tears running down my face as I am trying to type . 

The Capuchin Friars and their counterparts the Jesuit Priests were heroes' in their own right 


Comment by Mike McCormack on April 5, 2015 at 11:33am

Allow me to point out an oversight in the article.  The mission of taking the surrender order to the various outposts was assigned to Cumann na mBan member and nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell.  She was joined on the second day by a cleric who accompanied her on her remaining rounds.  Let us never forget the role of the Women of Cumann na mBan! 

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on April 13, 2015 at 8:23am

Mike ; I have sent you a comment in your own profile - I would love to hear if you do know about James cOnnelly ; read your comment page !

Comment by Michael Quane on April 13, 2015 at 6:22pm
And it wasn't only serving as nurses and messengers. The Red Countless, and maybe more,were behind the sights of a rifle.
Comment by Michael Quane on April 13, 2015 at 6:23pm
Countess, sorry for the misspelling.


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