But if you wish to know how these things come about,
Ask grace not instruction,
Desire not understanding,
The groaning of prayer not diligent reading,
The spouse not the teacher,
God not man,
Darkness not clarity,
Not light but the fire
That totally inflames and carries us to God
By ecstatic unctions and burning affections.
This fire is God,
And His furnace is in Jerusalem,
And Christ kindles it
In the heat of His burning passion.
Nuns' Island, Galway.
The origins of our Nuns' Island Monastery go back to early 17th century Flanders in northern France.
At this time there were no convents of nuns in Ireland or Britain, since the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.
Any young woman desiring to become a nun, had to go to the continent of Europe, most went to Flanders, (then the Low countries).
In 1608, Mary Ward (who later founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary), was instrumental in establishing a Poor Clare Monastery for English girls in Gravelines.
Here, the first Irish sister was professed on Christmas Day 1620. By 1625 we have a record of five professed sisters, whose intent is to establish a monastery "for their own nation".
Their first move is to Dunkirk, then Nieuport (Northern France), and finally to Dublin in 1629, being the first community of nuns in Dublin for nearly a century.
This new way of life of these youthful pioneers made an immediate impact. Within two years, twelve postulants joined them, but Dublin Castle was also keeping an eye on happenings- they were given one month to leave the city.
To the rescue came Viscount Dillon, father of Abbess Cicely (later she would die in an exile ship in quarantine off the coast of Galicia, Spain).
The Viscount, had in due time, a monastery built for the sisters on the shores of Lough Riagh on his own estate. This is the "Bethlehem" Monastery which for eleven years flourished: many daughters of the leading Galway families entered here. (to this day this ruin is preserved)
But it was time to move again.
With the outbreak of the war in 1641, the sisters, being in great danger, were invited to come to Galway and make a foundation there. This they did in 1642.
Later that year Bethlehem Monastery was burned, but luckily the remaining sisters there were alerted and fled to some secluded area.
A significant date for the Galway Poor Clares is July 10, 1649 - that year Galway Corporation gave the Nuns OILEAN ALTANAGH as "free grant for ever".
But in the Ireland of those days there was no permanence, you did not put down roots.
Cromwell had reached the West. Galway was obliged to surrender in 1652.
The sisters' Monastery burned, they had to disband, some to exile in Spain, but others remained on in hiding, hoping for better times. This was long in coming.
In 1691 Oilean Altanagh was again under attack and the Monastery burned. Towards the end of the 17th century the sisters rented an old house in Market Street which was "home" to the Poor Clares for over 130 years. These were the years of the Penal Laws, so even here their presence was not unnoticed and they were raided several times. Despite all this, numbers increased, and a foundation was made in Dublin in 1712.
Would the nuns see again Oilean Altanagh so generously granted them by the Corporation?
The time destined was 1825 - June 18 - they were emancipated and four years later would follow the Catholic Emancipation Act.
A community of fifteen returned with Mother M. Clare French as Abbess. Gradually they resumed full religious life - Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Night Office, Enclosure etc., all of which had to be abandoned during the Penal days and periods of persecution.
As we look to our Bethlehem beginnings, we bring with us OUR LADY OF BETHLEHEM, familiarly known as "the Black Lady".
This treasured wooden image of Mother and Child, damaged in the wars of 1641, is a priceless relic of our storied past.
Today as we go to and from the chapel, Mother and Child are watching!
"A Short History of The Poor Clares Galway"