Archbishop Fláithrí Ó Maol Chonaire (also known as Florence Conry, Conroy, O’Mulconry; 1560 – 18 November 1629), was an Irish Franciscan and theologian, founder of the Irish College of St. Anthony at Louvain, and Archbishop of Tuam.
A member of the Ó Maolconaire bardic family of Connacht, he was born at Cluain Plocáin (now Ballymulconry), parish of Kiltrustan, County Roscommon, in 1560. His early studies were made on the Continent, in the Netherlands, and in Spain. At Salamanca he joined the Franciscans. In 1588 he was appointed provincial of the order in Ireland and as such sailed with the Spanish Armada. There are no details as to the manner of O’Maolconaire’s escape from the expedition.
Activities during the Nine Year’s War
He was again sent to Ireland, this time by Pope Clement VIII, to aid with counsel and influence the Irish and their Spanish allies during the last struggle of Hugh O’Neill in Nine Years’ War (Ireland). After the disaster of Kinsale (1601) he accompanied Hugh Roe O’Donnell to Spain in the hope of interesting anew the Spanish Court. But O’Donnell died at Simancus, being assisted on his death-bed by Ó Maolconaire (Four Masters, ad an. 1602) who also accompanied the remains to their last resting place in the Franciscan church at Valladolid. Ó Maolconaire was deeply interested in the welfare of the Irish College at Salamanca .
The Flight of the Earls
When the native Irish leaders, Hugh Ó Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and Rory Ó Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, fled from Ireland in 1607, Ó Maolconaire accompanied them to Rome. For the so-called “Revelations” of Christopher St. Laurence, Baron of Howth, implicating Father Conry and the principal Irish in a plot to seize Dublin Castle and raise a new rebellion just previous to the Flight of the Earls see Meehan (cited below), pp. 67–73. At Rome Father Conry was consecrated Archbishop of Tuam in 1609 by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Urban VIII). In 1614 Conry wrote from Vallidolid a vigorous remonstrance to the Catholic members of the Parliament of Ireland for their adhesion to the Bill of Attainder that deprived of their estates the fugitive Irish earls and their adherents and vested six whole counties of Ulster in the English Crown.
The College of Louvain
Entrance to the Irish College in Louvain, Belgium. The inscription reads ‘Dochum Glóire Dé agus Ónóra na hÉireann’ (‘For the Glory of God and the Honour of Ireland’) In 1616 Archbishop Ó Maolconaire founded, at Louvain for Irish Franciscan youth, the College of St. Anthony of Padua, principally with means furnished by Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, wife of Archduke Albert, and the daughter of Philip II of Spain (cf. V. DeBuck, “L’archeologie, irlandaise, au couvent de Saint-Antoine de Padoue a Louvain”, Paris, 1869), where the first and most active Irish printing press on the Continent was long in operation.
As Archbishop of Tuam, Ó Maolconaire never took possession of his see, owing to the royal proclamations of 1606, 1614, 1623, commanding all bishops and priests, under the gravest penalties, to quit the kingdom. But he governed Tuam through vicars general and continued to live principally at St. Anthony’s in Louvain, not improbably on the bounty of the King of Spain, as was the case of many Irish ecclesiastics of the time. His influence in Irish matters at the royal court was always considerable; thus, as late as 1618 we find him presenting to the Council of Spain Philip O’Sullivan Beare’s “Relation of Ireland and the number of Irish therein”, and in the following year his own “Statement of the Severities Practised by England against the Irish Catholics”. Like his fellow-Franciscan, Luke Wadding, and Peter Lombard, Archbishop of Armagh, he was ever at the disposition of his exiled countrymen. He communicated in 1610 to the Council of Spain, a translation of the original (Irish) statement of one Francis Maguire concerning his observations in the “State of Virginia”, between 1608 and 1610, a curious and unique document of the earliest English settlements in the New World and the life and habits of the Indian tribes (Alexander Brown, The Genesis of the United States, Boston, 1890, I, 392-99).
Ó Maolconaire died in Madrid in 1629. In 1654 his body was brought back from Madrid and buried in the collegiate chapel of St. Anthony’s, near the high altar, where an epitaph by Nicolas Aylmer recorded his virtues, learning and love of country:–
Ordinis altus honor, fidei patriaeque honos, Pontificum merito laude perenne jubar.
One of the earliest works of Ó Maolconaire was a translation form Spanish into very pure Irish of a catechism known as “The Mirror of Christian Life” (Sgáthán an Chrábhaidh), printed at Louvain in 1626, but probably current in manuscript at an earlier date, both in Ireland and among the Irish troops in the Netherlands. This was composed, as he says himself, “out of charity for the souls of the Gael”.
O’Maolconaire was a scholastic theologian, very learned especially in the writings of Augustine of Hippo. At Louvain he sat at the feet of Baius, and was also a friend of Jansenius (died 1638). He had, however, by his own efforts arrived independently at conclusions concerning the teaching of Augustine on grace and character of the sufferings of such unbaptized children. His “Peregrinus Jerichontinus, h. e. de natura humana feliciter instituta, infeliciter lapsa, miserabiter vulnerata, misericorditer restaurata” (ed. Thady MacNamara, Paris, 1641) treats of original sin, the grace of Christ, free will, etc., the “Pilgrim of Jerico” being human nature itself, the robber Satan, the good Samaritan, Our Lord. Hunter says that this edition was owing to Arnauld, and that the same ardent Jansenist is possibly the author of the (Paris, 1645) French version.
Conry wrote also other works expository of the teaching and opinions of Augustine, e.g. “de gratia Christi” (Paris, 1646); “De flagellis justorum” (Paris, 1644); “De Augustini sensu circa b. Mariae Virginis conceptionem” (Antwerp, 1619).