‘A New Initiative’ – The Friary in Multyfarnham

Last week I finished work on ‘A New Initiative’. This is a video I’ve been working on since March about a Franciscan friary in Multyfarnham, Westmeath.

The friary is made up of a church, house, old agricultural college and extensive grounds. It was marked for closure a few years ago due to the difficulty and expense of its upkeep, but the friars there would like to try something new.

They would like to create a mixed community in Multy, and have plans for an arts centre, organic farm and hospice for people recovering from cancer. They’ve experimented with a few new ideas over the last few months and I was invited to take part in the first artist residency in May, along with three others, during which time we lived and worked alongside the friars and used empty classrooms and old halls as studios.

It was a fascinating experience. Joe, Richard, Diarmuid and Salvador are four of the most interesting people I have ever met. They were incredibly welcoming, but at the same time they put no pressure on us regarding involvement in religious activities in the friary. Salvador says (quoting Saint Francis) “We should be always be preaching the Gospel, and, if necessary, use words, so we would like to do it in that spirit.”

The video I made with them was created to show other friars and leadership in their province what is going on and the potential of what they are trying to do. It was screened last week at their chapter meeting and as far as I know it went quite well, so hopefully we’ll be hearing more news about Multy soon.

A lot of people seem to be intrigued by what’s going on down there, so I might do a new edit for a regular audience. In the meantime, here are some more stills:

Ruth Lyons, who also took part in the artist residency has written about her experience in The Good Hatchery blog.

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4 Comments on “‘A New Initiative’ – The Friary in Multyfarnham”

  1. OR Melling says:

    Hi Jessica, Loved reading about your experience at Multy as I have just returned from my two week stint. (I left a comment on Ruth’s blog also.) Would really like a chance to see your video if possible. Have you thought of posting it on youtube? Or is there any other way I might see it? Meanwhile, I’d like to know if I might use your photo of Diarmuid and Salvadore on my blog? Credited, of course. I have already posted some of my own, but intend to add a few more.

  2. Jessica says:

    Thanks OR, I’ve just enjoyed reading your account too! Feel free to use the pics.

    You’ve just given me a timely reminder of my original intention to do a second edit of A New Initiative. The first edit was made to show at the Franciscan Chapter Meeting in July to illustrate to the rest of the friars in the Province of Ireland just what on earth is going on in Multy.

    So that version was made for that particular audience, taking into account that they would already know the priorities of the order and the goals of a new initiative etc. A lot of that stuff was quite new to me, as I’m sure it would be to a lot of people, and also very interesting, so I thought it would be nice to make a more detailed version to put online.

    I’ll keep you posted on the project. In the meantime, drop me a line at jesskelly[at]gmail.com and I can post you out a copy of the original.

  3. Gerard Moore says:

    Hello Jessica
    I have just found this site and note that it was posted in 2008. I am interested in what has happened to the old College. I note that there were plans as your piece here suggests. Did anything come of that initiative? I was a student in the last class to attend there before they moved the college to Gormanston. I have many fond memories of the place and have visited it often over the years. I was a student there from 1952 to 1956 when it closed.
    Regards from Canada
    Gerry Moore

  4. Jess Kelly says:

    Hi Gerry,
    Thanks for the comment. The idea was to have three strands to the new initiative; a hospice, an arts centre and environmental strand.
    As far as I know, two wings have been given over to LARCC, a cancer support service, and there were recommendations made by postgraduate students of agriculture in UCD as to what to do with the land surrounding the friary. When I was there, they had already sold a lot of it to raise funds for foreign missions etc, but wanted to keep a remainder to maintain the atmosphere and environs. There were ideas about setting up plots for the local community and setting up some sort of organic farming.
    They did a series of artist residencies for about a year and a half after I was there, culminating in an exhibition in November 2009, which reunited all the artists who had visited. As far as I know, they would like to continue engaging with artists, but with a few tweaks.
    The main thinking behind the new initiative in Multy is to engage more with the lay community, as there are less and less vocations nowadays. So rather than let the Franciscan way of living die out, to maybe adapt it so that lay people could live alongside friars and continue the ethos.


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