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The Story of St Ailbe

Friary in the Abbey CemeteryJournal of the Co Kildare Archaeological Society Vol IV

July 1903—1905

Dublin: Edward Ponsonby, 116 Grafton Street, 1905

Further Notes on the History and Antiquities of the Parish of Clane


The Rev. Canon Sherlock

To go back to the beginning. The beginning of the history of Clane dates from about 520 AD, when St Ailbe, Bishop of Ferns, founded an Abbey in Clane, and made St Senchal the Elder its first Abbot, being himself, according to Stokes, its joint Abbot. The good Bishop Abbot was one of those historical personages famous as having had—like Romulus and Remus of Roman fame—a wolf for a foster mother. The story goes—I do not vouch that it took place in Clane:- “The wolf- mother of At Ailbe was a kind creature, devoted to her foster child. One day, however, it fell out that a hunter caught sight of an odd little white animal which he followed into some bushes, and found to be a little boy. He took him home to his wife (a Princess), who was delighted with him. The child, who grew up to be St Ailbe and a Bishop, never forgot the kind wolves; and when the care of his Diocese became oppressed, he often wished himself back in the forest among creatures who did not ask questions. One day, the Prince had a great hunt. As the chase swept through the village, the Bishop, who was coming out of the Church, heard a long-drawn howl, and saw a wolf closely pursued by dogs. To his horror, he recognised his wolf-mother, and he was only just in time to save her from the pack. Every day after that,” –runs the story—“the old wolf-mother brought her four children to the Bishop’s Palace, and howled at the gate for the porter to let them in. And every day he opened to them,; and the steward showed the five into the great hall where Ailbe sat at the head of the table, with the places set for the rest of the family. And there, with her five dear children about her in a happy circle, the kind wolf-mother sat, and ate the good things which the Bishop’s friends had sent. But the child she loved best was none of those in furry coats and fine whiskers who looked like her. It was the blue eyed Saint at the top of the table in his robes of purple and white.

But Saint Ailbe would look about him at his mother and his brothers, and would laugh contentedly. “What a handsome family we are!” he would say, and it was true.”

There still exists, as you know, the ruins of the Franciscan monastery, founded at Clane, by Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice, 3rd Lord Ophaly, in 1272. In 1542 the site and precincts of this House of Friars, manor or preaching-house of the preaching Friars of Clane, were granted, by Henry VIII’s Commissioner, to Robert Eustace, Roger Roche, and Ed. Browne for £177. The monastery does not seem to have been avery extensive or wealthy establishment; for we read that—besides about 70 acres of land in the neighbourhood—its only possessions consisted of a church, cemetery, dormitory, store, kitchen, two chambers, stable and orchard. The dormitory and other two buildings probably stood on the north side of the Abbey Church and have long since completely disappeared.

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