The English Province of the Order of Saint Augustine began a community in Dublin, Ireland sometime between 1260 and 1280.
This would not have been the first exposure of Ireland to the Rule of Augustine, however, because, as was also the case in many other districts and nations, an earlier-founded and separate (non-mendicant) religious congregation called the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine and their female counterparts - the Canonesses - were already present there. For example, the Canonesses had the Convent of St Mary de Hogges in Dublin as early as 1146. and the Archbishop of Dublin, Laurence O'Toole, introduced the Canons Regular of St Augustine to Christ Church cathedral in Dublin in the year 1163, which probably was about a century earlier than the arrival of the Order of Saint Augustine in that city.
Numerous other Canon and Canoness houses existed in Dublin as well. Furthermore, the Dominicans (who follow the Rule of Augustine) predated the Augustinians in Dublin. The Augustinians arrived in Dublin some time before 1280, after having received in 1259 the approval to move there. As well, they settled at four other Irish centres by 1300 within the territory in Ireland that was controlled by the English kings: Dungarvan in 1290, Drogheda in about 1295, and Cork and Tipperary in 1300.
The earliest extant reference to the Order's presence in Dublin appears in a last will and testament that was signed in 1282, hence presumably the Order had been there and become known at least a few years previously, e.g., in about 1275. The first Augustinian site in Dublin in approximately 1275 was east of the city walls beside the Poddle, a small tributary of the River Liffey. The Priory there was most probably dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The present central Augustinian presence in Dublin at Saint John's Lane had its beginnings much later, around the year 1700.
The other mendicant orders - the Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites, plus the later-disbanded Sack Friars - all preceded the Order of Saint Augustine to Ireland. The first Augustinians there were men brought from England, for it was the invading Norman families from England who settled in Ireland from 1169 onwards and supported these early mendicant communities. These families desired education for their sons in the English language from English-speaking friars. The existing monastic schools attached to churches and cathedrals taught in the Gaelic language.
Of the first thirteen Augustinian houses established in Ireland by the year 1241, all but one of them formed part of a semi-circular sweep from Drogheda near the borders of Ulster to Adare near the River Shannon. This line reflected somewhat accurately the extent of English culture and domination in Ireland at that time. Unlike the Orders founded by Saint Dominic and Saint Francis of Assisi, the Order of Saint Augustine appeared slow in establishing itself among the native Irish areas outside the area of English domination.
The Augustinians initially worked only among the English settlers, and looked to England to obtain new members for the community. By the middle of the 14th century, there were thirteen houses of the Order in Ireland, making Ireland both the most numerous but the poorest section of the English Province. One instance of their lack of funds is recorded. On 9th May 1348 they successfully petitioned the English King that, “Since in all Ireland there is not a single school (studium) of liberal arts or theology, six Austin Friars were sent to England for obtaining degrees; their sustenance cost six marks per year. The Irish Austins can no longer pay this amount because the misery of the people is such that they can no longer support the Order. Now John de Graunsete declares himself willing to pay these six marks, if he can charge his tenements in Dublin with it. The king grants this request."
These Anglo-Irish Augustinians became uneasy with their direct supervision from the leadership of the English Province in London. Their uneasiness grew into tension, and developed into a stalemate which that led to the Irish houses being deprived of privileges by the Augustinian Provincial in London. In a gesture of defiance the Anglo-Irish sent two spokesmen to the Augustinian General Chapter at Wurzburg, Germany in 1391, and their privileges were restored. Note that the above defence of Augustinian rights in Ireland was the work of the Anglo-Irish, since up to that point in time the Order had not penetrated greatly into Gaelic (native Irish) areas.
Beginning in the first half of the fifteenth century, however, a change happened. From that point onwards, there was a great benefit enjoyed by the Order that unfortunately would not also be present anywhere near to the same extent in England. The Augustinian observantine movement had begun in in 1387 at the famous monastery of the Order at Lecceto near Siena, Italy. Observantine reformers insisted on strict adherence to the Rule of Augustine and the Constitutions of the Order, that is, a return to the original spirit and practice of the Order. This spirit of a more strict observance of Augustine's Rule caught fire amongst the Irish Augustinian friars, probably becuase it resonated with Irish spirituality generally. From Italy, the movement spread to Ireland, introduced by a friar named Charles, who was apparently surnamed O'Hara.Photos (at left) Picture 1: Ruin of Augustinian Friary at Banada, Co. Sligo. Picture 2: Ruin of Augustinian Friary at Murrisk, Co. Sligo. Picture 3: Section of ruined “Red Abbey” Augustinian Friary at Cork, Ireland.
On 19th September 1423, O’Hara was authorized by the Prior General, Agostino da Roma O.S.A., to establish a house of the observance at Banada, County Sligo (which eventauted in 1432, after which some other Irish houses also became observantine). In a decree, Pope Eugene IV gave privileges to "the Austin Friars of the Observance (in Latin, de observantia) in Banada, Diocese Achonry, Ireland, who have built their house and church, but cloister, refectory, sacristy, chapter house, bell tower, books and many other things are still wanting. Pope Eugene IV [a friend to the Augustinians] grants, therefore, an indulgence of five years and five quarantines to all visitors at Corpus Christi [the name of their church] who make a contribution and fulfil the other obligations."
According to one historian, the observant movement, initiated in this way, was adopted in other Augustinian houses in the country. This example was also adopted by the Dominicans and Franciscans, and put new life into the Irish Church. The adoption of the observant or strict way of Augustinian life did not of itself save the Order in Ireland. After all, Martin Luther was a member of the observant congregation of Saxony before he rejected the authority of the pope and went his own way.
In Ireland itself the Augustinian Vicar Provincial, Richard Nangle, an observant, abandoned the Order in the early 1530s even before the suppression of the Irish houses by the English Crown. But individual defections, even by men who at one time held high office in the order such as George Browne and Richard Nangle, did not significantly diminish the witness of the Irish observant Augustinians, who neither threat nor inducement could compel to disown their Augustinian religious profession.
In the first half of the fifteenth century, therefore, the Augustinian situation in Ireland had changed dramatically. Between 1413 and 1500 all eight new Augustinian houses founded were located in a cluster within Gaelic areas towards the west of Ireland (see map on the next page).(Continued on the next page.)
There is a book on this subject written by Michael Benedict Hackett O.S.A., who died in April 2005: A Presence in the Age of Turmoil: English, Irish and Scottish Augustinians in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. It was published in 2002 by the Augustinian Historical Institute, Villanova University, Pennsylvania 19085, United States of America. ISBN 1-889543-27-X. 134 pages.
The Irish Augustinian Friaries in pre-Reformation Ireland. By F. X. Martin O.S.A. Augustiniana (6), April 1956: Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain. pp 346-384.
Medieval Augustinian Foundations in Britain and Ireland. By David Kelly O.S.A. Analecta Augustiniana (LXX, 2007), Institutum Historicum Ord. S. Augstini, Rome, pp 187-204.
A History of the Abbeys, Convents and Churches, and other Religious Houses of the Order… in Ireland. By W. J. Battersby. Dublin: G.P, Warren, 1856.
Augustinian Youth Ireland. This web site contains material on Augustinian history, ethos, etc. http://www.augustinianyouthireland.com AN4842