The Capuchins first arrived
in Kilkenny in 1643 after their house in Mullingar had been burned down by "the heretics".
Fathers Peter Nugent and Thomas Tuite were the first Capuchin friars to come to
On their arrival the Capuchins first stayed in a rented house near Saint Canice's Cathedral. The bishop of
Ossory, Dr. David Rothe, gave them charge of one of the chapels in the cathedral.
After a short time, they were joined by Fr. Sebastian Butler who had local connections. Through his influence they were able to secure a house and a small church, the sites of which are not known. The papal nuncio to the Confederation of Kilkenny, Archbishop John Baptist
Rinuccini, commented after a visit to this house that, "If the Seraphic Father Saint Francis came on earth again, this place would be more pleasing to him than any other in the
Bishop Rothe showed them extraordinary kindness. He gave them a document, dated 8 March 1648, which stated,
"For the greater glory of God and the furtherance of the Catholic Faith, we are anxious to advance the labours and the good results of the Friars Minor Capuchins of Saint Francis ... We willingly permit them to procure and erect a residence or convent in this our city of Kilkenny, where by word and example, their light may shine before God and all the people
Before long they moved again to a plot of land in St. Michael's Lane. The land, which had a church and house, belonged to St. John's Abbey. A document in the
"Laffan Papers" quotes a resolution of the Corporation: "We the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the City of Kilkenny ... reserve the Chapel and garden of the poor Capuchins which they have improved on the meanest and craggiest spot in this city
..." However, this property was confiscated in 1697 and the friars had to go into hiding in order to evade the provisions of the Act of Banishment.
Even before this, however, times had been difficult. A Bro. John Verdon, along with a Franciscan priest, Fr. John Dalton, were arrested on 2 August 1653. The new civil authorities who had taken control of the city after the siege and surrender to Cromwell in 1650, were alerted to their presence in the city by the large number of people who had come to the friars for confession on the feast of the Portiuncula. Bro. John was imprisoned and then exiled to France where he died less than
two years later. Fr. Dalton was executed, and the Franciscan nuns, arrested at the same time, were exiled to Spain.
Similarly, Fr. Fiacre Tobin, a man who had served the people well during the plague of 1649, was arrested and imprisoned for some time before being banished to France in 1653. But he returned to Ireland within a short time. However, he was soon re-arrested and sentenced, along with four other priests, to penal servitude for life on a plantation in Barbados. They boarded a ship in Waterford but Fr. Fiacre became very seriously ill and died in captivity.
Another friar, whose name has not come down to us, managed to evade capture by working openly under the very eyes of his would-be captors. He earned a living selling books at a stall under the arches of the
Tholsel, and, in the evenings, gave the sacraments to people in his lodgings.
Matters began to improve, allowing the friars to move to Lower Walkin St. (now Friary St.) to an Alms House set up in accordance with the terms of the will of Rev. James Tobin of
Leyrath, Co. Kilkenny, dated 28 October 1699. It seems that he had received money from a lady with a colourful past who had been sentenced, after some offence, to be transported to Australia. Her ship had been attacked and captured off the North African coast. She and her companions had been enslaved but she was chosen from the harem to become a wife of the local ruler. Towards the end of her life she met an Irish Capuchin and gave him
"a considerable sum ... for the maintenance of twelve old reduced women and the same number of men in her native
city". (Kilkenny Capuchin Chronicle)
Adjoining the Alms House, where now stands the friary building that links Friary St. to Pennefeather Lane, was a small church. This was served by the Capuchins, and their home was in its attic. It was known as the Poor House Chapel.