C: Irish Franciscans

‘A sad day’: Final Mass today as Clonmel Friary closes its doors

A Mass of thanksgiving and farewell will take place this morning (Friday 6th January) at 11.30am at the Friary in Clonmel as the Franciscans prepare to leave the town after 753 years. The Mass will be the final one celebrated in the friary.

It comes after the Franciscan Friary hosted its final Christmas services last month.

“[Friday] is sure to be a sad day for Clonmel and surrounding areas but all are welcome to join with the Friars as they very regrettably say goodbye to Clonmel,” local TD Mattie McGrath said, as the friary gets ready to close its doors after seven centuries of serving the local people.

Speaking recently, Clonmel District Mayor Pat English said the Friars were “central to the daily life of the town” since they arrived there in 1269. 

The end of the 750-year presence by the Franciscan order in the Tipperary town has been met with huge sadness since the decision was announced in September 2022. In a statement read at Masses in Clonmel and Waterford last year, the Minister provincial of the Irish Franciscans, Fr Aidan McGrath, said the decision was one which was due to falling vocations and ageing clergy.

He added that the decision to leave the town was a “sad and difficult” one which could not be avoided. 

He said that the community always felt welcomed and supported by the people of Clonmel. Speaking at masses last September, he said the order are “eternally grateful” for the friendship and support received.

“We Franciscans were always welcome and felt supported in Clonmel. I so regret having to make this announcement today to the people of Clonmel who have prayed with us and supported us in so many ways over the centuries”.

“I thank the people of Clonmel and the surrounding area, and all who have gone before, for the friendship and support to us Franciscans and our work. We will be eternally grateful,” he added.

Speaking as he visited the Friary last September, TD Mattie McGrath said that the friary was a place of reflection for church goers and non church goers alike. It also provided the opportunity for people to avail of regular confession, he said.

He said: “The friary with St Anthony’s Altar has provided a place of solace and reflection in the centre of Clonmel for generations and people of all ages slip in and out throughout the day for a quiet moment, to say a prayer to St Anthony or to attend regular confession. 

“Even many non-church goers have been known to spend time in the friary for a moment of reflection. Those who attend the friary have a deep sense of connection with the church and its closure will be a huge loss, particularly to those who attend daily mass there.” 

Most likely founded by Sir Otho de Grandison, the friary became Observant in 1536, four years before it was suppressed. The friars, who remained in Clonmel, were able to open an official residence in 1616. During the 18th century, they assisted the parish clergy in the parish church. They reopened the friary for Catholic worship in 1828 when they obtained the old friary again. They had a small school which ran from 1873 to 1881. The church ended up being too small, and this gave way to the building of the present-day church in Clonmel, which formally opened in 1886.

It comes as falling vocations also prompted the closure of the Franciscan Friary in Athlone, which is also set to close this month.

It was recently revealed that a plan is being developed to try and keep the Franciscan Friary church in Athlone open until at least the middle of 2023, despite the impending departure of all of the friars who are currently based there.

Under the plan, Mass would be celebrated in the much-loved church twice a week, on Tuesday and Sunday mornings, while volunteers from the local community would give their time to help ensure the church opens to the public on a daily basis. The decision to close the friary led to a sense of shock and sadness in the wider Athlone area after the news was announced in October.

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