A special Mass is to be celebrated in the ruins of one of Limerick’s finest historical landmarks, the Franciscan Friary in Askeaton, to celebrate the tri-centenary of the order leaving the west Limerick town.

An organising committee has been formed under the chairmanship of local tour guide Anthony Sheehy to complete the arrangements for the Mass which will be celebrated by the Guardian of the Franciscan order in Ennis, Fr. Liam Kelly on Sunday August 24th at 3pm.

The Askeaton Franciscan Friary which is rich in history was founded in 1389 by Gerald, Gearóid Iarla, third Earl of Desmond, better known as the Poet Earl. The Abbey was completed in 1420 under the reign of his son James, seventh Earl of Desmond. As a religious house the Askeaton Friary was a centre of great importance. It was very much a tradition at the time that the Ruling Houses would have a say in the religious affairs of the district and Askeaton was no exception with the Desmonds being advisers, administrators and sometimes guardians of the Friary. The Friary was also the burial place of the Desmonds. Askeaton Abbey was reformed under the Order of the Observant Friars in 1490, having been founded under the Conventual Franciscans.

On October 9th 1579, after failing to take the Desmond Castle in Askeaton, Sir Nicholas Malby, Governor of Connaught, plundered the Friary, putting some of the monks to death in a horrific and savage manner. Fr. John Cornelius, O.S.F. was brutally murdered and Fr. Walter Farrell, O.S.F., was hanged with his own girdle. This type of outrage and barbaric slaughter was committed throughout the country. Bishop Patrick O’Hely and Fr. Conn O’Rourke were tortured and put to death at Crochta, a little mound outside of Kilmallock on August 13th 1579. Both men had earlier arrived in Askeaton prior to their trial and subsequent death. They were Franciscans and had met for the first time a year earlier in Paris.

Many years later, in 1647, the bodies of Bishop Patrick O’Hely and Fr. Conn O’Rourke were brought back to Askeaton to their final resting place in the Chapter Room of the Franciscan Friary. On September 27th 1992 the two clerics were beatified by Pope John Paul II at a special ceremony in Rome.

As a seat of religion the Askeaton Friary ranked highly in importance. Its highly acclaimed ecclesiastical rating was recognised in 1564 as a Provincial Chapter of the Franciscan Order held there. To the east of the Friary lies the ruined Hospice and this building acted as the local parish Church of Askeaton for a considerable number of years until it was accidentally destroyed by fire on March 10th 1847.

After the victory of the Confederates in 1642 the monks started to rebuild the Friary. They came to live among the ruins but their attempt at restoration was all but in vain and they finally left Askeaton in 1714 due to religious persecution.

It will be the third landmark occasion in which Mass has been celebrated in recent years at the Friary, Mass was celebrated on 12th September 1982 to mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis, the founder of the order. It was also celebrated on the 27th September 1992 to coincide with the beatification of seventeen Irish martyrs by the Pope, sixteen men and one woman, two of whom were Bishop Patrick O’Hely and Fr. Conn O’Rourke.

“We felt that it would be nice to have Mass celebrated this year to mark the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the monks finally leaving Askeaton” Anthony Sheehy explained.

It promises to be a special occasion for the parish of Askeaton and west Limerick and it is expected that on the 24th August, Fr. Kelly will be joined by other priests from around the diocese in the celebration of the Mass. Everybody is welcome to attend.