A Brief History
Around 1770, a Mr Potts acquired land from the Clibborn family for the Carmelite Order in the Newtown area of Moate. This land became the site of a small friary and chapel. The Carmelites had a pre-Reformation foundation at Ardnacranny but this had been suppressed in 1540. The Carmelite presence and memory were never totally obliterated in this part of County Westmeath. Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel remained with many people and, occasionally, a friar would come to the area. The possibility of forming a community would have been impossible at the time due to the Penal Laws. These laws were relaxed gradually during the eighteenth century particularly in relation to Catholic worship.
The friary church built after 1770 was a low building with no outstanding features or spire. It would serve as the place of prayer and liturgical worship for Carmelites and their spiritual followers until the 1868. At the time of the 1798 Rebellion, it was commandeered by General Cornwallis to house soldiers and horses as they returned from the Battle of Ballinamuck.
Records suggest that there was only one Carmelite friar in Moate in 1800. It appears to have been Fr James Martin Reynolds, a native of the area. There is further evidence of some local men joining the Order. Patrick Berry, a native of Mount Temple, was received into the Order in 1816 and professed for Moate friary on Christmas Eve 1817.
The number of friars resident in Moate remained minimal for most of the nineteenth century. At the Provincial Chapter of 1823 Frs John O’Flynn and Patrick Dunn were appointed to Moate. John O’Flynn would remain there for many years and is a significant figure in the history of the Order in Moate. He spearheaded the Order’s first involvement with education in the town. He established, under the auspices, of the National Education Board a boys’ and a girls’ primary school. Later the Order set up St Kyran’s Academy for second level pupils, which lasted until 1880. The Boys’ National School continued until 1974 when it closed with the retirement of the last Principal, Mr J. Griffin.
Building of the Church:
By the 1860s the chapel had become a tottering building and, if the Carmelites were to continue to have a pastoral and sacramental ministry, they needed a new church. This challenge was taken up by Frs Flood and McDonnell, and a challenge it was. They drove the building of a beautiful church with the support of the people at a time when money was very scarce. Many Catholics were still eking out a living as tenant farmers. Despite their difficulties these people valued their spiritual lives and the particular ministry of the Carmelites. Financial support also came from those who had gone abroad to work and especially from those who had emigrated to Argentina, from this part of Westmeath. By 1868 the new church was completed. It was solemnly dedicated to The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Bishop Whelan of Bombay, a Discalced Carmelite. Fr John Spratt, the Prior Provincial gave the sermon which, when published, ran to seventeen pages!
The Carmelites church is still much loved and frequented. There have been renovations over the years but it has never lost its ‘interior simplicity’. The tranquillity and warmth of the church encourage many to spend time there for personal prayer and public worship. Moments of joy and sorrow are marked within its walls.
Carmelites again became involved in secondary education in Moate with the opening of Carmelite College in 1949. The late Fr Oswald McGrath was the initiator of this project. The College was a highly successful day and boarding school. Football, athletics, tennis, basketball and badminton made a major contribution to the extracurricular activities of the College. In 1996 it amalgamated with the other two schools in the town to form Moate Community School. The Community School crest includes an element of the Carmelite crest as a mark of one part of its origins.
The Pastoral Centre, built in 2004, provides up-to-date facilities for a variety of activities while the Repository provides religious goods including candles, rosaries, medals, books, statues etc. Mass cards are also available at the Friary.
As Carmelites we are very conscious and, indeed, most grateful for the friendship and support which the people of Moate and surrounding areas have given the Order over the years. It is in a spirit of collaboration and hope that we recall the past, acknowledge the present and plan for the future.