- Faith and Patronage: The Political Career of Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, c.1560-1629
Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire, also known as Florence Conry, was undoubtedly one of the most gifted and energetic Irish Franciscan friars of the seventeenth century; in an age in which there were many notably talented Irish Franciscans, Ó Maolchonaire was truly a man of many parts: poet, exiled scholar, military chaplain, founder (in 1607) of the Irish Franciscan friary of St. Anthony in Leuven, catechist, proto-Jansenist theologian, European power-broker, military strategist, political agitator, author, translator, bishop, and pastor—a figure at various times of immense influence and importance for the Irish at the Spanish court of King Philip III. Although many facets of Ó Maolchonaire's career have been examined in broader contexts in the past [End Page 808] (often in connection with Ireland's political relations with the Iberian peninsula or in the context of Ó Maolchonaire's catechetical concerns), this is the first real attempt at a full biography. What makes it particularly welcome are Hazard's efforts in uncovering and comprehensively treating little-known primary source materials such as letters, papers, and dispatches found in archives at Simancas, in the Vatican Library, in Brussels, and other places. Consequently, Hazard's chapters are heavily but not intrusively annotated, running to well over 400 endnotes in some instances.
Hazard's work consists of four chapters, detailing Ó Maolchonaire's upbringing and family background (especially the change in landholding in his native Connacht in the 1580s that affected the future friar's exile and political leanings). He traces Ó Maolchonaire's rise to prominence on the Continent, his education at Salamanca, and his difficulties with Jesuit authorities that led him to embrace religious life with the Friars Minor (he alleged that the Jesuits favored Irish students from Munster and Leinster who were loyal to the Crown rather than their more rebellious counterparts from Connacht and Ulster). During the Nine Years'War, Ó Maolchonaire became confessor and adviser to chieftain Red Hugh O'Donnell, and he petitioned Pope Clement VIII in 1600 to grant crusade-like indulgences to those fighting with the native Irish earls. By the following year, Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, and O'Donnell were petitioning King Philip III to nominate Ó Maolchonaire for a bishopric in Ireland. From 1603 to 1606, he functioned as intermediary at the Spanish court, working to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of Irish military migrants petitioning the Spanish Crown. His influence at the Spanish court and proclivity for favoring the claims of the native Irish over their Old English counterparts created much resentment and led to accusations by the Jesuit James Archer that Ó Maolchonaire was abusing his position as relator. One of the greatest legacies of this friar was the foundation of St. Anthony's College, Leuven, in 1607. This community of Irish friars would go on to become a powerhouse of catechetical, theological, and devotional publications in the Irish language, including large-scale scholarly projects such as the Annals of the Four Masters and the Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae.
Ó Maolchonaire's nomination as archbishop of Tuam in 1609 proved to be a highly divisive move that deeply concerned Old English émigrés. His frequent absences from his see of Tuam and continued embroilment in political affairs, especially on behalf of O'Neill in Madrid, also concerned prominent prelates such as Peter Lombard, archbishop of Armagh. Ó Maolchonaire's continued support for O'Neill's return to Ireland at the head of an army was dealt a serious blow with O'Neill's death in 1616. Later years saw a decline in his influence at the Spanish court and his return to the College of St. Anthony at Leuven.
The publication of this highly readable yet meticulously scholarly work three years after the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the foundation [End Page 809] of St. Anthony's College is timely and should be warmly welcomed. Hazard also helpfully includes a biographical chronology and...