Rite & Reason: Capuchins still bearing witness on 400 years of Irish history

Priests attended at executions of 1916 leaders from the beginning on May 3rd

At the recent launch of a book exploring the faith profiles of the 1916 leaders, Fr Bryan Shortall, guardian of the Capuchin Friary, Church Street, Dublin, spoke in very moving terms about the role of his Capuchin confreres during Easter Week 1916.

Church Street was the location of some of the bitterest fighting during the Rising. Indeed, one of the first and youngest casualties of the week was a child named Seán Foster who died in the vicinity of the friary.

The toddler, not yet three, was killed in his pram by a stray bullet as his mother made her way to the Feis Maitiú which was to take place that Easter Monday morning in the Fr Matthew Hall adjacent to St Mary of the Angels Church.

The hall became a refuge for local people, with many of the friars ministering to the wounded, including the then guardian, Fr Aloysius Travers, who later came to prominence for his ministry to the condemned leaders in Kilmainham Gaol.


Fr Travers kept watch with Patrick Pearse on Tuesday, May 2nd, the night before his death, and had intended to stay with him until the end but was not permitted. The following day he returned to the jail and protested: a priest was present at all the subsequent executions.

In a meeting with John Dillon MP on May 7th, Fr Travers attempted to bring a halt to the executions: eight of the leaders had been put to death over three days starting on May 3rd.

Working classes

He explained “how the feeling among the working classes in the city was becoming extremely bitter over these executions and this feeling is strong even among those who had no sympathy whatever...with the Rising”.

Fr Travers attended James Connolly and was present at his execution on May 12th, 1916, "a scene I should not ask to witness again".

During the Rising and the days that followed, the Capuchins, together with many other Dublin clergy, were ministers of consolation and mercy to both the combatants and the citizens of Dublin.

The Capuchin friars, celebrating 400 years in Ireland this year, continue to bear witness to Gospel mercy in Church Street in 2016; a witness embodied in the work of Br Kevin Crowley. The Capuchin Day Centre, which was founded by Br Kevin in 1969, has journeyed with people in need for almost 50 years.

Through his ministry Br Kevin has contributed to the redemption of a Catholic Church disfigured by abuse and, dare it be said, to the redemption of the Republic as it reeled from the disastrous effects of the economic crash.

Banking collapse

Following the banking collapse in 2008, numbers attending the centre almost doubled. In 2015 alone, 8,000 children attended the service for meals.

At a time when Christians are questioning their role in Irish society, which is perceived as an increasingly cold house for people of faith, Fr Declan Hurley spoke for many at the Easter Vigil in Saint Mary's parish in Navan.

“How can I find my place as a person of Christian faith in the Ireland that is evolving at this time? How can I contribute to a society that rejects my belief?”

Speaking to the great Easter symbol of Christ risen from death, the Paschal Candle, Fr Hurley continued: "This candle reminds me that I am still called to give my life in love for others, I am still called to empty myself for others, until the moment my life is extinguished."

The self-emptying ministry of the Church Street Capuchins bears powerful witness to the light of Christ and the power of his transforming love in all our yesterdays, through the generations.

However, the numerals “2016” inscribed on the candle remind the believer that Christ is alive and that his love is transformative in all our todays.

The ministrations of Aloysius Travers and Kevin Crowley are a reminder of who we are called to be as Christians and what we can do, alongside fellow citizens of other faiths and those of none, to redeem the Republic in 2016 and beyond.

David Bracken is archivist at Limerick Diocesan Archive. He edited The End of All Things Earthly: Faith Profiles of the 1916 Leaders (Dublin: Veritas, 2016)