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Enough, however, remains of the chapel to enable one to determine that it was a large cruciform building, with probably a central tower, and very graceful windows. Of the cloisters, too, there is left a memorial of thirteen arches, which, with their supporting couplets of pillars, yet retain evidences of great beauty and variety of design, and admirable execution. They are of the small size common in examples of Irish monastic architecture. But though the material lineaments of this building are so sadly effaced, it has left an impress on Irish history indelible as that history itself. It was a Franciscan monastery, founded in the year 1474, by Nuala O'Connor, the pious wife of Hugh Roe O'Donnell. Nuala dying before it was finished, the second wife of O'Donnell, Fingalla, daughter of O'Brien, king of Thomond, had the honour of completing it. It was richly endowed by O'Donnell ;—indeed it seems to have been from the first specially favoured by that princely family, some of whom took the habit of St Francis, and many of whom lie buried there.
In 1505 Hugh O'Donnell built a castle in the immediate vicinity of this friary. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, during the reign of Hugh Dhu O'Donnell, in his youth a brave warrior, but now old and feeble, two English captains entered by sea from Sligo, fortified themselves at Ballyweel, a small island at the mouth of the harbour, and soon after succeeded in establishing themselves in the monastery, whence they pillaged the country round. They fled, however, at the approach of the young Hugh Roe O'Donnell after his escape from his long and dreary imprisonment in Dublin Castle, and the friars were reinstalled in their monastery.
But a dark day was coming on. While Hugh Roe was engaged in Connaught, the English won over his cousin and kinsman, the active Nial Garv. Nial, having first put the English in possession of the O'Donnell's castle at Lifford, next marched to Donegal with, besides his own followers, a body of 500 English from Dowcra, and seized the monastery, which he fortified for defence. The friars fled.*
* There is a curious account of the flight of the friars in a manuscript history, in Latin, in the possession of the Franciscans at Louvain, compiled by a Father Purcel. He says, “In the year 1600 we were in the convent of Donegal, forty brothers in community, and the divine offices for the night and the day were chanted with great solemnity. I myself had charge of the Sacristy, in which I had forty suits of vestments with all their appurtenances, and many of them were of cloth of gold and of silver, some were interwoven and ornamented with gold, all the rest were silk. There were eighteen silver chalices of large size, all gilt except two ; there were two ciboriums for the Most Holy Sacrament.” Father Purcel then proceeds to tell that at the approach of the English the brothers fled away, and that he himself carried with him this altar furniture in a boat, all which not long after fell into the hands of Oliver Lambert, the English governor of Connaught, who converted the chalices into profane uses, and destroyed the vestments. After the peace made between Roderick O'Donnell and the king of England, the former set about
Hugh Roe hastened to Donegal, and laid siege to the monastery occupied by his false cousin. Nial was brave, and resisted to the last, so that Hugh Roe had nothing for it but to sit down before the monastery and invest it. On the night of the 19th September a fire broke out in the building. Hugh Roe seized the occasion for an assault. The men on both sides fought like lions. All through that night did the fierce struggle last, the conflagration adding a ghastly horror to the wild work of death, till at length in the early morning, Nial with the survivors of the garrison retreated, keeping along the strand, under cover of a ship in the harbour, and took refuge in the neighbouring abbey at Magherabeg. Donegal monastery never recovered from the ruin of that night. After some years, when the terrible war between Hugh Roe and the English had come to an end, the friars began to creep out from their hiding places, and by degrees establish themselves in some cottages which they built among the ruins of their late home. In these cottages—the primitive form of monastery-was written the chronicle known as the Annals of Donegal, or the Annals of the Four Masters, which has given to this abbey its special celebrity. “In whatever point of view," writes the late lamented Professor O’Curry, regard these annals, they must awaken feelings of deep interest and respect; not only as the largest collection of national, civil, military, and family history ever brought together, in this or perhaps any other country, but also as the final winding-up of the affairs of a people who had preserved their nationality and independence for a space of over two thousand years, till their complete overthrow about the time at which this work was compiled. It is no easy matter for an Irishman to suppress feelings of deep emotion, when speaking of the compilers of this great work; and especially when he considers the circumstances under which, and the objects for which, it was undertaken. The chief of these now-called Four Masters was Michael O'Cleary, and his collaborators were Ferfessius O'Maelchonaire, Peregrine or Cugory O'Dubhghennain, men of consummate learning in the antiquities of the country, and of approved faith, and to these subsequently was added the co-operation of other distinguished antiquarians.”* Michael O'Cleary, the author of many learned works on Irish subjects, appears to have been born in Kilbarron near Ballyshannon, in the county of Donegal, sometime about the year 1580. He was descended from a family of hereditary scholars, lay and ecclesiastical, and received, we may presume, the rudiments of his education at the place of his birth. In course of time he entered the Franciscan order : we don't know exactly the date. “The grand object of the Four Masters is to give chronological dates, and with the exceptions above, nothing can be more accurate. The years of foundations, and destructions of churches and castles, the obituaries of remarkable persons, the inaugurations of kings, the battles of chiefs, the contests of clans, the ages of bards, abbots, bishops, &c., are given with a meagre fidelity which leaves nothing to be wished for but some details of manners, which are the grand desideratum in the chronicles of the British Islands."* “ With all that Doctor O'Connor has so judiciously said here, I fully agree,” observes O'Curry. “A book consisting of 11,000 quarto pages, beginning with the year of the world 2242, ending with the year of our Lord's incarnation 1616, thus covering the immense space of 4500 years of a nation's history, must be dry and meagre of detail in some, if not in all parts of it. And although the learned compilers
rebuilding the monastery, but, understanding that his life was in danger, he fled with O'Neil to Flanders, and thus the work was not proceeded with. Ware says that this convent was famous for a wellstored library, which O'Donovan conjectures was destroyed in the conflagration of the 19th September 1601.— Apud O'Donovan's edition of the Four Masters, introduction, p. xxix.