“A people who don’t have a knowledge of their past is like a tree without roots”
Benada Abbey and it’s Unique Statue
I am grateful to Mr. Danny Jones for sending me the following remarkable story of a Sligo family, of their deep roots in the history of the county and their fascinating engagement with Irish life both secular and religious:
The historic mass that took place in the unique little chapel in Benada Abbey on the 7th of August 2005 perhaps closed the final chapter on a remarkable piece of history on both the Abbey itself and the Statue of Our Lady, which had rested there since 1850.
This Statue came to Ireland as a gift from Pope Pius IX to a descendant of Sir Roger Jones, a Welsh Protestant who was granted lands in Wexford and Sligo and later became the first High Sheriff of Sligo in 1602. Jones ousted the local Chieftain O’Hara and settled in Benada where he built a house beside the River Moy next to an Augustine Monastery. Jones owned vast tracks of land including most of the current Castle Street in Sligo Town and was responsible for the building of St John’s Church there.
Four generations later the Jones family was converted to Catholicism when Roger Jones embraced the Catholic faith as a consequence of a remarkable incident.
Roger Jones and the Conversion of a tyrant
Despite the Penal laws that raged in 18th century Ireland, the Jones family had a benign attitude towards the local Catholic population and left the priest of the area to suppress disorders and scandals. On one occasion a lowly man was warned by the priest to mend his ways or else face the wrath of the church. The miscreant worked for the Jones estate and in his dilemma sought protection from Roger Jones, the then landlord. Jones, on hearing the man was to be denounced from the altar in nearby Barratogher Church threatened publicly to horse whip the priest in the event the denunciation occurred.
Undaunted by the presence of the owner of Benada who took up a conspicuous position near the altar, the priest warned his flock against the evil example and the evil doer in their midst, and the next moment Mr Jones, white with rage, rushed to the alter raising his arm to strike the priest with his horsewhip when the congregation through Gaelic cried out in one voice “the curse of Saint Attracta be on you”. Remarkably the whip fell from Jones’s hand and his arm itself fell paralysed down by his side.
The whole transaction had a dramatic affect on Roger Jones and some days later he sent for the priest where they later became firm friends with the result that Jones took instruction on converting to the Catholic faith, however his premature death denied him a place in the church. Nonetheless his family all became Catholics and his Grandson Daniel (born in 1816) became perhaps the most famous of them all despite leading a secular life.
Daniel, Roger Jones’ son, like most of his generation had a relatively privileged upbringing having a tutor to educate him, his three sisters and two brothers. On finishing their education he and his brother James became Jesuits, his two sisters entered the Sisters of Charity with a further girl joining the Sisters of Mercy.
Freddie, the third son stayed with his parents andbecame automatic heir-designate of the estate which comprised over 3200 Acres and included the following townlands, Benada, Tourlestrane, Gortnamone. Altenelvick, Cloonacamogue and Carrentubber. Later he too, was to express a wish to enter the Jesuits cloister, a wish that was thwarted by his untimely death in his thirtieth year in 1853.
Wild, dissolute and reckless, Freddie was an anomaly in a family with such strong religious devotion. His bouts of debauchery and equine escapades were notorious. He was often seen galloping his horse down the tree lined avenue and jumping the Grand Gates that stood on the entrance to the estate. On one occasion, for a wager, he jumped his horse from the parapet of Benada Bridge on to the embankment below along the River Moy.
Meanwhile Daniel, the eldest son and heir to the estate was a magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for Sligo and had unsuccessfully contested the 1837 Parliamentary election for the Sligo Constituency running for the Daniel O’Connell supported Liberal Party. He has already taken classical studies in the University of Louvain and Trinity College , a circumstance that was later to contribute to his distinguished career in the Jesuits.
Statue: Our Lady of Benada
He was the first Rector of Milltown Park, First Provincial of the Irish Province and was sent to Rome on numerous occasions to represent the Irish Jesuit Province . Following his ordination in 1850 a trip to Rome followed where he was granted a private audience with Pope Pius IX who presented him with a small statue of Our Lady as a present for his widowed mother who was instrumental in helping the local population deal with the terrible atrocities of the great famine. The Pope also recognised and appreciated what she had done for the church by giving five of her children to religion and added, “that the statue was miraculous”. Mrs Jones, deeply touched by the Holy Fathers gift had the statue placed in a special alcove- still intact - in the family oratory under the title of Our Lady of Benada.
The Conversion of Freddie Jones
During Daniel’s early period in the Jesuits, his brother Freddie still continued his bohemian life style despite his mother praying incessantly for the conversion of her erring son. Her prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears until one evening as she decided to make a Novena to Our Lady of Benada and during the course of the Novena, Freddie who had been away for several days on one of his frequent trips to the Gentleman’s Club in Ardnagalass, Skreen, passed by the little oratory and saw a strange light shining all around Our Lady’s Statue. He was astonished to find he could not penetrate within the circle it made.
A few nights later he saw the same light and his mother kneeling within the circle. This time – with his mother’s outstretched hand to help – he was able to step inside the radiance. He inquired from his mother why she was praying at this late hour and she replied with an answer that pierced his heart “ I am asking Our Lady of Benada to convert you”. There and then Freddie knelt down by his mother’s side, implored her forgiveness and promised with the help of God and Our Lady of Benada to change his life.
From that moment Freddie changed his life and entered a retreat at Milltown Park under the tutelage of the Jesuits. While he was there he expressed a wish to enter the Society of Jesus, but in view of his past lifestyle he was advised to take a year out to consider this step more carefully. He returned to Benada and unfortunately suffered a rapid decline in health which resulted in his death within a year.
Freddie’s death marked the end of an era as all his siblings had entered religious orders and in accordance with the wishes of his late father Daniel decided that the portion of land surrounding Benada should be devoted towards religious purposes. This eventually led to the property being transferred to the Irish Sisters of Charity. The remainder of the estate was forced into the Encumbered Estates to pay for the mortgages that were raised before and during the famine.
Mother Mary Aikenhead and the Sisters of Charity
Mother Mary Aikenhead and the IrishSisters of Charity came to Benada in 1858 and later in 1863 founded a school for little boys and girls. Old Mrs Jones still continued to live in a separate part of the house and died in 1865.
A few years earlier the Pope, having heard the story of Freddie’s conversion gave permission to have the statue erected high over the altar in the new convent chapel higher than the Blessed Sacrament – a rare privilege. He also requested that a light should be kept burning at her feet. In the year following Mrs Jones’s death, Pius IX dedicated the statue under its present title of Our Lady of Benada and granted the image his Apostolic Blessing with a plenary indulgence attached. This may be obtained by all persons who at any day (once a month) having taken confession, communion, visit the Statue and pray before it for Propagation of the Catholic Faith and for the Pope’s intentions.
Fr Daniel Jones died in 1870 at the age of fifty-four fortified by the knowledge that his beloved Benada was in good hands but, not even he would believe the tremendous affect the good nuns would have on the surrounding communities. The Sisters of Charity started a Lace School on 1901 and within a few short years took first prize at the RDS. Later a sewing industry and a knitwear business took off and indeed today Vestments and Alter Linen are still made by Ann Gaughan. Unfortunately the Nuns left Benada in 1988 due to decreasing numbers and the property fell into the hands of the Diocese of Achonry who recently sold it to local entrepreneur Neil Egan and his wife Cathy who have major plans to transform Benada Abbey to the splendour of yesteryear.
Legacy of the Sister of Charity
Perhaps the greatest legacy the Nuns brought to the area other than religion or work was the establishment of a Secondary school in the 1950’s. Not alone did it stem the flow of young people emigrating it also allowed teenagers to sit Exams rather than test their mettle on shovels and spades and indeed it is fair to say that Benada Abbey Secondary School was recognised both inside and outside of the county for its academic and sporting achievements and certainly had no equal during this writers sojourn there.
Benada Abbey today
Today as you approach Benada Bridge from Tubbercurry you cannot but notice the beautiful garden on the left called the “John Hume Peace Garden”, the bridge itself built by Thomas Jones a direct forbear of the writer is a protected structure. From there you will see the original Benada Abbey founded by the Eremites of St Augustine in 1423. Today, it stands time stricken and hoary as a replica of medieval monastic Ireland . Beyond a short distance is a large Celtic Cross made of Granite that looks eternally over the beautiful River Moy, this cross marks the graves of the parents of Daniel Jones and his younger brother Freddie. Further along the road you will see the avenue leading to what is now known as Benada Convent, the tree lined avenue has long since disappeared to be replaced by profiteering coniferous trees.
New Home: Tourlestrane
On the 11th of September 2005 a procession took place to remove the statue of Our Lady of Benada from its resting place to a new home in the church at nearby Tourlestrane. It was followed by a blessing and a special mass to honour the occasion. I conclude this story with the words of the deceased Augustine monk Fergal Dubh O’Gara who is buried beside the Abbey:
Most happy among women/A woman among women/A mother among mothers/A Virgin among virgins.
Danny Jones address on the installation Our Lady of Benada in Tourlestrane
Good Morning, Bishop Flynn, Rev Fathers, Sisters, fellow parishioners, I have been requested to give a brief history of the Our Lady of Benada.
The story of Our Lady of Benada begins in 1850 with ordination of Fr Daniel Jones who was sent to Rome on business for the Jesuit Order. Daniel Jones was the heir to over 3200 acres and had unsuccessfully stood for election to the British Parliament in 1837 and it was quite a surprise when he turned his back on this inheritance and instead chose to enter the Jesuits.
When he was in Rome he had an audience with Pope Pius IX where he spoke of his family and how his father had converted to Catholicism, and how his own brother and sisters had all joined religious orders and he begged a special blessing for Benada Abbey and all its inmates. The Holy Father not only granted his request but also gave him, as present for his mother, a lovely little statue of Our Lady which even then had the reputation of being the medium of miraculous favours.
Filled with gratitude and joy, Fr Jones brought the gift to Benada and had it erected in a place of honour in the little oratory beside the Estate House. A lamp was kept continually burning before the statue and each day Mrs Jones gathered the household round her and prayed to the Holy Mother of God under the title Our Lady of Benada - a name that was sanctioned by Pope Pius IX.
Many striking answers to prayers were obtained by the Jones Family themselves and by the people of the surrounding countryside and non more so than the conversion of Freddie Jones, a younger brother of Fr Daniel who lead a wild and reckless lifestyle and without going into the depths of the story it is suffice to say his conversion resembled that of Saul on the road to Damascus.
In 1858 the lands at Benada were handed over to Mother Mary Aikenhead and her order of the Sisters of Charity and the good nun gave a promise that each Sister of Charity residing in the house or convent as it is now know would daily recite the Memorare before the statue of Our Lady of Benada. The nuns formally came to Benada four years later in 1862 and the named the convent Our Lady of Benada.
Before his Death in 1870 Fr Daniel again visited Rome and give a full account of what had happened in Benada. The Pope gave a further privilege of having it placed over the High Altar as longs as the convents lasts. Additionally he granted a plenary indulgence to anyone who took confession, communion and prayed before it.
Today is an historic day with the formal moving of the statue to Tourlestrane chapel as it allows us the opportunity to continue to worship and carry on the tradition of the past 150 years.
Danny Jones 11 September 2005
|website copyright Joe McGowan 2005. design: mangiare|