The twenty-two Augustinian communities in Ireland belonged to the English Province.
Although officially suppressed in 1539 - 1540, possibly as many as nine of these communities west of the River Shannon in Connaught beyond the effective reach of the forces of Henry VIII were able to continue. They were then suppressed in the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Even so, all the houses in the civil provinces of Leinster and Munster, as well as the oldest foundations of the Order in Ireland at Dublin, Dungarvan and Drogheda were suppressed. The dispersed men of these communities most likely kept true to their religious calling.
Richard Nangle, the last Vicar Provincial of the Order in Ireland, was not a good superior. His appointment as the (first Anglican) Bishop of Clonfert at different times by King Henry VIII and the Pope was the occasion of much controversy - and of his own abduction by a rival. Instead he was made a suffragan bishop to the ex-Augustinian George Browne, the first Anglican Archbishop of Dublin. After the confiscation of the Augustinian Priory in Dublin, Nangle bought it in 1540 - almost akin to the possession by Martin Luther of his former Augustinian priory in Wittenberg about fifteen years earlier. Nangle died in 1541.
By a decree of 7 July 1542, the English Parliament permitted the Augustinian community at Dunmore in County Galway, Ireland to continue. This happened because Lord Birmingham, a descendant of the founder of that community, requested its preservation. (See the link at bottom of this page.) As well, the members of the suppressed community in Galway were able to continue their religious life in another part of the same city.
They had an unenviable task in 1588, when they were chaplains to Spanish Catholics who were washed ashore when ships of the Spanish Armada broke up on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. In all, there may have been as many as 300 Spanish sailors in this situation. John Lynch author of Cambrensis Eversus, in his Vila Kirovani wrote: "The men who sailed in those ships having in many instances, escaped the dangers of the raging sea, met on their landing a more implacable foe in the person of the viceroy, William Fitzwilliams, by whose order many of them were basely butchered. The Queen of England censured this unjustifiable cruelty."
"The viceroy was intent on seizing whatever of the Spanish property was cast on shore, and having instituted a rigid search, committed many persons to prison as helpers of the Spaniards, and thus was given occasion to many of the turbulences which afterwards ensued. The Spaniards cast ashore at Galway were doomed to perish. And the Augustinian friars, who served them as chaplains, encouraged them to meet death bravely when they were led out, south of the city, to Saint Augustine's Hill, then surmounted by a monastery, where they were beheaded. The matrons of Galway piously prepared winding sheets for the corpses, and we have heard that two of the Spanish sailors escaped death by hiding a long time in Galway, and afterwards getting back to their own country."
Some foundations of the Order in western Ireland such as at Ardnaree (Adare), Ballinrobe, Ballyhaunis, Banada and Murrisk stayed open for varying periods because they were located outside the territory assigned to the agents of the king for the suppression of religious houses. They kept in tenuous contact with the current Prior General in Rome, including the outstanding leader of the Order, Girolamo Seripando O.S.A., between the years 1539 and 1551. In March 1542 two Irish Augustinians came to the Prior General in Rome to inform him first-hand of the sad condition into which the Order had been forced in Ireland. Seripando gave them a warm welcome. He appointed one of them, Bernard O'Higgin, as his vicar "in the province of England and Ireland." Even when O'Higgin was appointed Bishop of Elphin two months later, Seripando prevailed upon him to remain Augustinian vicar. He did so until 1561, when he resigned as both vicar and bishop, and moved to retirement in an Augustinian monastery in Portugal, where he died in 1564.
In the year 1556 the Prior General who had succeeded Seripando appointed Maurice O'Flynn O.S.A. as moderator of any Augustinian houses remaining in Ireland. This Prior General, Christopher of Padua O.S.A., then asked O'Flynn if as well, with the help of any influential friends he might have in England, he might send Augustinians from Ireland to establish communities in England once again. For O'Flynn, however, this was an impossible request. It was due to the vigorous direction of men such as Maurice O'Flynn that the Order remained in Ireland during the great difficulties it encountered in the centuries that followed. By the year 1610, all these Irish houses except Dunmore had been forced to close. Individuals from Ireland became members of the Order overseas, and returned to Ireland. In 1622 the Prior General noted that there were twenty-eight Augustinians still working in Ireland without the formal support of any Augustinian houses or communities. From that time forward, their numbers grew rapidly. Irish-born Augustinians were educated and ordained to the priesthood in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Holland, Bohemia and Moravia.
When back in Ireland, however, they found that most of the former Augustinian priories in Ireland were occupied by laypeople, and that they lacked any guaranteed and regular means of financial support. It so happened that an Augustinian Canon, Patrick Comerford, was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1628-1652). He had been appointed vicar general of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, which was - and still is - a non-mendicant religious order completely distinct from the Order of St Augustine. Previously the Canons had possessed far more houses in Ireland than the Order of Saint Augustine, but were by then extinct in Ireland. At his suggestion the Augustinians petitioned the Pope for the rights to the former Monastery of the Holy Cross that had belonged to the Canons Regular in Limerick City. Over some objections from other interested parties, the Pope agreed to their request on 18th October 1632. With no Augustinian communities remaining in England after 1539, there was the anomaly of the remainder of the Province being in Ireland, but with no prospect of returning to Protestant England.
The Irish Province was thus established in or about the year 1620, largely to give official structure and encouragement to the members struggling in vain for survival in Ireland. Dunmore became the first mother house of the new Province. Thus encouraged, Augustinian life continued bravely yet precariously in Ireland. Those Augustinians in Ireland who did not obtain the martyr's crown suffered many hardships in the decades of persecution, but this did not deter them of ministering to the religious needs of the people.(Continued on the next page)
Dunmore. Photos of the ruins of the former Augustinian priory (convento) at Dunmore. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Dunmore_PrioryFormer Callan Priory building. Numerous good pictures of this Augustinian ruin. http://irishantiquities.bravehost.com/kilkenny/callan/callan_priory.html
There is a book on this subject written by Michael Benedict Hackett O.S.A., who died in April 2005: A Presence in the Age of Turmoil: English, Irish and Scottish Augustinians in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. It was published in 2002 by the Augustinian Historical Institute, Villanova University, Pennsylvania 19085, United States of America. ISBN 1-889543-27-X. 134 pages.
The Irish Augustinian Friaries in pre-Reformation Ireland. By F. X. Martin O.S.A. Augustiniana (6), April 1956: Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain. pp 346-384.
Medieval Augustinian Foundations in Britain and Ireland. By David Kelly O.S.A. Analecta Augustiniana (LXX, 2007), Institutum Historicum Ord. S. Augstini, Rome, pp 187-204