By Br. Conal Thomas

The building was originally known as Annaghdown Monastery in the Post Office district of Drumgriffin. The first group of Brothers to come in 1851 comprised of four members. They were led by Br. Elias Silke, a renowned teacher of Irish and History. Among those he taught at Errew Monastery, Castlebar was Canon Ulick Bourke who later became a leading professor of Irish at Maynooth and who left him a signed copy of his famous “The College Irish Grammar” as a token of appreciation for his former teacher of Irish. Br. Francis Kelly was a native of Kilkerrin, Ballinasloe. Another member of the founding group Br. John Concannon travelled to New York later where he joined the Franciscan Brothers in Brooklyn. Br. Clement Halloran was the fourth member of the original group. On their arrival from Errew Monastery they were granted a three acre site by Francis Blake of Cregg Castle, on which they were directed to erect a monastery and school. According to a written account, “the site comprised of nearly three acres of bare, rocky land”. Immediately on their arrival, the Brothers began to teach “in a small thatched house across from the Chapel”. Shortly afterwards they purchased a farm from John Butler, Esq. of Tonagarraun, and built a temporary dwelling house there while they were completing their monastery. This was probably a small building where the local supermarket now stands.

The Monastery, School and Parish Church – Franciscan Monastery, Annaghdown, Drumgriffin, Co. Galway
A letter from Archbishop John McHale, seeking funds for the new monastery, published in the Freeman’s Journal, 20 June 1851

Some of the Brothers taught in the thatched school while others worked on the farm, cooked meals, did the necessary housework and assisted in clearing the site of rocks, building the new school house and monastery, and developing the land. We can only surmise how the monastery site was developed – a mammoth physical task considering the lack of machinery! Large boulders had to be quarried south of the structure, then shaped and transported to the site of the monastery. Timber, slates, windows and furnishings had to be procured, transported and put in place. Luckily manual labour within the neighbourhood was at a premium for the onerous task of clearing and digging, building and completing. Neither was there any lack of artisans in the locality following their experience in the building of Corrandulla Church in the 1830’s. These craftsmen could now use their skills in the construction of the monastery and school. Brothers quested regularly for the necessary funds throughout Ireland, England and the USA where they met with generous responses from the Irish diaspora and other munificent donors.

The new schoolhouse was completed within one year and stood the test of time for about 90 years. Subjects on the timetable were listed as English, Writing, Arithmetic, History, Geography and English grammar. Religious instruction was delivered by the Brothers in Corrandulla Church and in Lisheenanoran Mass House every Sunday and the Brothers led in the recitation of the Rosary in these centres also. The instruction was delivered through the medium of Irish, the language of the people. From 1862 onwards the basic text used was “An Teagasg Críostaighe” compiled under the direction of Archbishop John McHale of Tuam.

Fr. Cavanagh, P.P. reported that he “often visited the school and noticed 110-120 boys present. The attendance was much better in winter and spring than in summer and harvest. The children were from families of tenants and as soon as they were able to work they were kept from school”.

It was not until 1856 that the monastery was completed, at which point the Brothers moved from their limited accommodation in the farmyard to their new permanent dwelling near the parish church.

Six years later the founder Br. Elias Silke died at the age of 50 years and was buried at the eastern side of the Monastery chapel. His birthplace remains unknown though it is surmised that he was a native of Co. Galway. In 1844 he joined religious life at the Franciscan Monastery, Errew, Castlebar; his baptismal name being Patrick Aloysius. Here he became renowned as a gifted teacher of the Irish language. In 1851 he was specially chosen by Archbishop John McHale to lead a group of Brothers in the founding of Corrandulla Monastery.

Due to deteriorating conditions the local school had to be vacated in 1930 and transferred to a wooden structure adjacent to the upper side of the monastery. Towards the end of 1945 the deeds in connection with the proposed new school were completed. The contract for the new building was agreed at a sum of £3,607 of which the local contribution was £360 with Mr. P.J. Kelly, Westport chosen as contractor. By April 1937 the new structure was complete and declared open following the celebration of Mass and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament by the parish priest Fr. P. Garvey in the presence of the teachers, parents and pupils.

Sources of Power. In the house annals of September 1941 we find as follows: “17. 9. 41. the wind charger was fully erected on this day by Messrs. Clarke, Abbey Garage, Tuam at a total cost of £285. As this system was far superior to that of oil lamps, battery torches and candles it was welcomed initially by all. However in order to generate and store power it greatly depended on the strength of the wind which fluctuated from a storm to a strong wind or down to a gentle breeze. Consequently there wasn’t a constant supply from day to day, leaving the users over dependent on the oil lamp system once more.”

On October 7th 1950: A lighting plant was installed to replace wind charger which of late was not giving satisfaction. This consisted of a large engine driven by oil. In order to start the engine it had to be cranked up initially; it making a regular thudding noise but it was much superior to the wind charger system.

Rural Electrification 1953: Extract from house annals.
Sept, 1st ESB operations have commenced work in this area; judging by the speed at which the work is proceeding we should have the current in the district in about two months’ time. At present the monastery is supplied with current from an engine which was installed here on Oct. 7th, 1950, which arrangement has proved very satisfactory, but of course the advantages of the E.S.B. lighting and power are too great to justify the retaining the former: consequently we have decided to have the monastery connected with the E.S.B. system.

Nov. 22nd 1953: The switch-on ceremony under the rural E.S.B. scheme was performed this evening in the parish church. The P.P. Rev. Fr. Garvey performed the ceremony of blessing and switching on of the lights. Addressing the people, Fr. Garvey said that electricity was one of the greatest manifestations of God’s power and consequently, it was but fitting that the inauguration of the scheme for a brighter parish should be made in God’s house, the church. All the fittings in the monastery were in order for the switch on, on the same evening.

Mr. Patrick Connolly, Electrical Contractor, Nuns’ Island, put in all fittings in the parish church, in the parish priest’s house and the monastery. The total cost for wiring, lights, sockets and storage heaters in the monastery, farm and poultry yards was £277 – 18 – 6.

The Monastery Chapel

This monastery served as an adequate, spacious home for so many Brothers over many decades from 1856 until 1990, undergoing several interior improvements during that period of time. The adornment of the chapel with its timber wall paneling, seating and gallery are still admired as is the altar surrounds with various mosaic designs. The work was executed under the direction of Br. Brendan Buckley in the early 20th century. Two new stained glass windows costing £100 were erected in the altar wall side depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady Assumed into Heaven. Many of the altar requisites and other items required for Mass were donated by various generous donors.

Advertisement in the Examiner, 21 November 1891

Among the Brothers’ locations throughout Ireland, Corrandulla Monastery is unique in that it became the central novitiate house for all members the congregation in 1885. From that time onwards every individual who wished to become a Franciscan Brother spent at least one year in Corrandulla, receiving a basic initiation into to the life of a Brother – through prayer, study and general religious living. Over all that time until the year 1980, some hundreds of young men were trained here, a number of whom became members of the Congregation, while many others found fulfillment in other walks of life later. One way or another they were influenced by the good example of the people they encountered in the historic parish of Annaghdown, the Brothers with whom they lived, studied and prayed as a Religious community, the gardens and fields they cultivated, the roads they walked and the landscape they so much admired.

The original monastery and surrounds are known today as Corrandulla Nursing Home though the place is still referred to occasionally as “The Monastery” – a confusing name for the young perhaps, but not for the older generation.

The Monastery’s front garden
NameHome AddressDate of Death
Br.Malachy TuohyRossmore,Woodford, Co. Galway16.01.1987
Br. Gregory SkehanThomastown, Co. Kilkenny15.03.1974
James DunneAthlone, Co. Westmeath20.03.1925
Br. Bernard Boland  The Bawn, Ballycumber, Co. Offaly23.03.1890
Br. Senanus McDermott    Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim25.03.1962
Br. Francis Kelly09.04.1880
Br.Nicholas CurranTumnahaich, Outrath , Co. Kilkenny15.04.1932
Br. Michael D’arcy       Oughterard, Co. Galway19.05.1956
Br. Conleth MannionGlenamaddy, Co. Galway25.05.1962
Br.  Ambrose Ennis                                 Tyrrellspass, Co. Westmeath03.06.1900
Br. Francis CostelloLisduff, Kilcolman, Co. Offaly17.06.1918
Br. Sebastian Masterson15  McCleery St., Belfast20.08.1971
Br. Elias Silke01.10.1861
Br. Bonaventure  FinnertyLongfield, Straide, Co. Mayo27.11.1912
Br. Bernard Boyle26.12.1864
Burials in the Brothers’ Cemetery, Corrandulla
Ar dheis Dé go raibh anamneacha na marbh

Note: This article originally appeared in our Winter 2020 Newsletter.

The Franciscan Brothers in Corrandulla

4 thoughts on “The Franciscan Brothers in Corrandulla

  • January 20, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    Very interesting article!

  • April 9, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    Very informative

  • December 23, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    Wondering if any photos exist of the brothers…i am interested in Br Malachy Tuohy from Woodford who is listed as buried there

    • February 5, 2022 at 11:38 pm

      There is a photo of Bro. Malachy in one of the Christmas Laudata circulated by the Bros in Mountbellew-
      I was a novice in Currandulla in 1958/59


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