The Franciscans first came to Galway in 1296 and founded the Abbey. In 1483, a school of advanced theology was instituted there. When the Cromwellians invaded the city, the friars were expelled. In 1657, the friary was destroyed and the church was turned into a courthouse — the present courthouse stands on the same site. In 1660, a new church was erected on the present site of the Abbey. There were 13 friars there in 1766, and eight years later a novitiate was opened here. The present friary was built or rebuilt in 1820, and the present church opened c1836. It was renovated in the 1970s and became the first Franciscan parish in 1971.
There are no remains of the original buildings, but there is an interesting collection of medieval tombstones in the present friary garden.
The rapid expansion of the Franciscan Province in the 1920s caused them to make better arrangements for students who attended UCG. In November 1930, the Visitator General reported that the Franciscans had been invited ‘Alla Universita Catolica di Galway’, and the following October it was decided to establish a student house where young Franciscans could live and continue their theological studies while taking a degree at UCG.
The building was constructed in Newcastle by James Stewart and Co, and when St Anthony’s College opened in the autumn of 1932, the pattern for intellectual formation was established; following a period of novitiate in Killarney, students would take a philosophy or arts degree at UCG before proceeding to Rome or Louvain for theological studies.
By the late 1930s, a growing number of friars were taking postgraduate studies at UCG, UCD, or Louvain in disciplines such as maths, philosophy, psychology, history, and Celtic studies. It was no surprise that an increasing number of Franciscans were appointed to academic posts in Irish universities, beginning in 1936 with the appointment of Felim O’Briain as professor of philosophy in UCG.
A new wing was added to St Anthony’s in 1941 caused by the closure of the college in Louvain and the impossibility of getting students to Rome during the war. In July, 1942, ordinations took place in St Anthony’s.
A significant number of students took degrees in Celtic studies and Irish history in UCG with distinction, and within a short space of time, Irish Franciscans had established their tradition of scholarship in Irish history, language, and culture.
During the 1980s, the order withdrew from St Anthony’s and the building is today part of the economics department of UCG.
Speaking of UCG (sorry, NUIG ), the Special Collections Library there is organising a seminar to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the noted Galway historian Roderick O’Flaherty. It will take place in Room G011 in the Hardiman Building from 2pm to 5pm on Monday next, April 9. The speakers are Dr Bernadette Cunningham and an tOllamh Nollaig Ó Muraíle and all are welcome.