The Carthusians were founded in 1084 by St Bruno and their annals place them in Kilnalahan sometime between the foundation of a priory at Hinton, Somerset, England in 1227 and in Beauvale, Nottinghamshire in 1343. The Carthusians were an enclosed order, living solitary, austere, contemplative lives and they derived sustenance from the lands. This was Ireland’s only Carthusian priory and was occupied until 1321 when an order from the General Chapter of the Grande Chartreuse was made to suppress the priory and move its monks to various other houses of the order.
The Knight Hospitallers Connection
The Knight Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalum succeeded the Carthusians in ownership of Kilnalahan at an unknown date before the middle of the fourteenth century. These were a semi-military monastic order which had begun during the crusades for the protection and religious care of pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Kilnalahan priory had the distinction of being the remotest Hospitaller foundation in Ireland and within the confines of Connacht there was but one other, Teach-Temple in Sligo. It is probable that the Knights remained in their parent house in Kilmainham and delegated their pastoral and parochial duties in Kilnalahan to the Franciscan Friars.
The Franciscans in Kilnalahan
A five hundred year association of the Friar Minor (Franciscans) with Kilnalahan began on 29 July 1371, when a papal bull issued by Pope Gregory XI and addressed to the Archbishop of Tuam granted permission to the Friars Minor of Ireland to establish “a Guardian and community of Friars” at Kilnalahan.
The lands previously held by the Carthusians were not passed on to the Franciscans and their meagre living had to be supplemented by seeking alms from local people. The friars were responded to generously, as for the next two centuries they remained in undisturbed occupation of the monastery.
In general, the suppression of religious houses was very much part of the Anglicisation of Ireland. A Franciscan writer of the time tells us that when James I ascended to the throne in 1603, the friars were still at Kilnalahan, but that the buildings had suffered much destruction during the recent Elizabethan wars. Protected by the Clanricarde family, the friars managed to repair the monastery and remain in residence until the end of the sixteenth century
An Act of Parliament passed in the reign of William and Mary banished all religious from Ireland. This desperate sentence left the friars at Kilnalahan with no option but to disappear. By 1710 the penal laws were relaxed somewhat and a number of friars cautiously made their way to Kilnalahan once more. There was a community of five in 1766 but by 1790 the friars had finally and forever abandoned their monastery and gardens.