Augustinian Abbey, Grantstown
The Augustinians in Wexford ( A Summary … M.P. Kelly, osa. )
Clonmines and Grantstown.
The Augustinians first come to Wexford in 1317, to set up an Abbey in Clonmines, then a sizable town on the shores of Bannow Bay. They were granted the land on which to build by the Kavanagh family. They built a Castle/Church which was completed in 1399 and its ruins can be seen today just outside the town of Wellington Bridge.
The Abbey was dissolved in 1539 by order of Henry, the Eight. The roof was stripped of its lead and the uncovered building was exposed to wind and rain. The buildings and land were leased to local tenants. The friars were scattered among friends and relatives throughout Bargy and Forth, but they continued to minister to the people of the area in secret for hundreds of years. In fact, the tenants of the land never occupied the Abbey buildings but, alas, the friars never returned.
Clonmines,like its sister town of Bannow, ceased to have a commercial importance and disappeared in the 16th century.
In 1734 Fr. Murphy o.s.a. rented 22 acres from a protestant lady, Catherine King, of Barrystown House. He built a thatched Priory and Mass-house at Grantstown, on the site of the present Augustinian Priory and Church. The Priory eventually became the Novitiate of the Irish Augustinians. In 1811 a much more substantial, slated house was built and in 1832 the present Grantstown was completed and blessed. The Friars continue to serve in Grantstown, the present incumbent being Father Aidan O’Leary o.s.a..
The town of New Ross, like many Irish towns, owes its origin to a monastery. At the end of the sixth century Saint Abban built a monastery on the banks of the Barrow, probably where St. Mary’s Abbey now stands. Later Saint Evin and Saint Coman followed their example and built monasteries off the present John Street. The Danes built a town around the remains of the Abbeys. By the time the Normans came, St. Saviours Abbey (the present St. Mary’s) was built on the remains of St. Abbans and was the town’s Parish Church. The town became a major trading post.
From 1200 on, four religious orders made their appearance in the town. The first to arrive were the Crutched Friars. They soon disgraced themselves and were expelled and the Franciscans took their place in 1250. The Dominicans set up a foundation in Rosbercon in 1267. The last religious Order to arrive was the Order of Saint Augustine, probably in the year 1320. The founder of the first Augustinian Abbey was Willian de la Roche. Other benefactors of the building of the Abbey were William Grace, Aymer de Valence, the Earl of Pembroke and Richard de Clare.
The de Clare family gave the first Augustinian foundation to these islands when they brought the first Augustinians to ‘Clare Priory’, Suffolk, England.
New Ross, at that time, surpassed even Waterford as a shipping commercial centre. The steep-sloped town was then, as now, dominated by the great parish church of St. Mary’s Abbey, known then as St. Saviour’s and later as Christchurch.
When the Augustinians arrived from Clare Priory, they set up house down near the waterside between Upper South Street and the Quay. The site today is occupied by St. Michael’s Theatre and the former Mercy Convent. South Street did not exist at that time.
For refusing to conform to Henry V111 as head of the Church, the Friars were expelled from their monastery in December, 1539 and the land and buildings were granted to Richard Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond. He was a Catholic, so he allowed the Friars back into their monastery almost immediately. Then in 1578, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, new anti-catholic laws were enforced. All Priests and Friars were ordered out of the country, and saying Mass was punishable by death. Thanks to the Kavanagh family, who hid them, the Friars continued to serve the people.
In 1715 a period of religious peace and tolerance started. So Father Joseph Rossiter o.s.a., a native of Graignamanagh, rented a property on the High Hill and built a priory there in 1725 and later built a small Chapel. The site was the present site of the Christian Brothers school.
At that time the Parish Church was a small, thatched structure, called St. Mary’s, on the site of the present Augustinian Priory. In 1808 the parish clergy moved to a new and bigger Church in South Street and Charles Tottenham, the protestant landlord gave their old site to Father Philip Crane o.s.a., the prior of the Augustinians. So, the new Parish Church ended up on the old Pre-reformation Augustinian site in South Street and the Augustinians ended up on the old Parish site in Chapel Lane/High Hill.
The Augustinians used the old Parish Church for twenty years. Then Father James Crane o.s.a. started the building of a new church in 1832, which he completed in 1835, It is the present Church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Augustine.
The next item on Father Crane’s agenda was the priory. The Friars were living in a ramshackle old house in Chapel Lane and he proposed to build a new priory. But the landlord, Charles Tottenham, had a change of heart and tried to stop the building. He issued an eviction order on the Friars. When the people of the town and especially the local farmers heard this, they worked around the clock and, in a very short time, the new four-storey priory rose beside the Church and the eviction order had to be cancelled.
Father John Furlong o.s.a., a native of Bannow, became prior in 1883. He is responsible for building the entrance, by the steps, from Mary Street and for the founding of Good Counsel College. But that’s another story. Clonmines & Grantstown
The Augustinians in Wexford
Details taken from “Near Restful Waters”, the Augustinians in
New Ross and Clonmines by
Fr. T.C. Butler OSA.
Nowadays, on the grounds of the Abbey are built several homes caring for the elderly. One Augustinian Friar — Fr. Kevin O’Leary — a Wexford man himself, lives on-site. ( More details to follow … )