The Augustinian Church (Abbey) Fethard
Founded 1300 - Suppressed 1540 - Reopened 1823
The Augustinian Fethard Community in 2019: Fr. Iggy O'Donovan, Prior OSA, Fr. Paul O'Brien OSA, and Fr. Gerry Horan OSA. Contact: The Prior, Augustinian Abbey, Abbey Street, Fethard, Co. Tipperary. Telephone: 052 6131273
Stages of Development of the Church
- 1306 - After an enquiry held in Cashel on 21st April 1306, the Augustinian Friars got permission from King Edward I of England to accept the land outside the town of Fethard granted to them the previous year by Walter Mulcote.
- 1379 -The Friars obtained a flour-mill and bake-house beside the Clashawley river. Because of other similar gifts their property gradually increased during the two centuries following.
- 1540 - When Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries, William Burdon, prior of Fethard, was obliged to surrender the Abbey to the King's agent in Dublin.
- 1540 - The Abbey lands and buildings were granted to Edmund Butler, Baron of Dunboyne, who lived at Kiltinan Castle about three miles from Fethard and was a benefactor of the Abbey. From the records of the transaction we know that in addition to the church and tower the buildings at this time consisted of “a hall, two other rooms, a kitchen, a dormitory as well as a mill and bakehouse, two stables, two gardens and a cemetery.”
For a while the Abbey was used as a parish church by the clergy of the reformed religion. The friars, disguised as labourers and peddlers, continued to minister in the district, and there is evidence to show that all through the following century, in spite of the spasmodic persecution of Catholics, there were friars residing in or near Fethard.
- 1641 - Catholics got a short breathing space at the time of the Confederation of Kilkenny. The Augustinians were able to hold their provincial chapters in Fethard in 1643, 1646 and 1649, with up to forty friars attending. The Provincial Superior actually lived in Fethard from 1646 to 1649.
- 1650 - Cromwell with his army marched on Fethard in February 1650 and has a gesture of contempt, stabled his horses in the Abbey. The governor of the town averted a massacre by surrendering, on conditions, to Cromwell.
- 1687 - Still the tenacious friars held on. In his report for 1687 the Archbishop of Cashel mentions that four Augustinians were living as a community in Fethard and had a public chapel. But ten years later an edict was issued banishing all members of religious orders from the country. As a result we have no records of the Fethard friars and their activities until around 1750.
- 1760 - The friars acquired a small thatched cottage opposite the ruins of their old church. On Sundays they celebrate Mass on an altar erected inside the porch for the congregation kneeling outside.
- 1823 - Fr. Thomas Condon succeeded in obtaining, around 1820, a lease of the ruined church from the person who then owned it. At once he began the work of re-roofing the eastern end of the nave and renovating the ancient church of the friars. The restored church (or rather, “half church” ! ) was opened for Mass on 3rd July 1823.
- 1837 - Some twelve years later the decision was taken to re-roof the remainder of the church and glaze it. This work was completed in 1837. Regrettably the massive square tower with walls four feet thick which until then had stood at the entrance to the church was demolished. It was replaced by a new facade of cut-stone with a small belfry.
- 1835 - A new sanctuary floor was laid.
- 1970 - The altar and sanctuary were remodeled so as to conform with the liturgical requirements of the Second Vatican Council.
- 1998 - Fundraising has been going on for two years to raise £600,000 to renovate and refurbish the church and ensure its survival into the next millennium. So far half of the target has been reached largely through local fundraising.