The medieval site known as Greyfriars or The French church is located two minutes walk from Reginald’s Tower and is about a quarter mile from the present day friary. The 13th century ruin of the Fransiscan Friars got the name Greyfriars after the color of the habits worn by the friars. This former Franciscan friary was built about 1240, only fourteen years after the death of Francis of Assisi, the founder of the order. Just outside the site lies the statue of Luke Wadding, the Waterford-born Franciscan friar who persuaded the Pope to negotiate with Charles I on behalf of Irish Catholics. Hugh Purcell gave the church to the Franciscans in 1240, asking them in return to pray for him once a day.
During the thirteenth century the friars received an annual allowance for the purchase of new habits from Henry III of England. Their habits were made from un-dyed grey woollen cloth, the cheapest available, and were worn as a sign of humility. A twenty five meters high bell tower with stepped battlements was added in the late fifteenth century. The friary was dissolved by order of king Henry VIII in 1540 and, in 1544, Henry Walsh, a wealthy Waterford merchant received a charter from Henry VIII to convert it into an almshouse. This almshouse was known as the Holy Ghost Hospital.
The almshouse remained on this site until 1815 when it transferred to a new location on the Cork Road. It is still in operation today and is one of the oldest charitable institutions in Ireland., and was then occupied by French Huguenot refugees between 1693 and 1815. The Walshs were driven from the city during the Cromwellian period. They took up residence in the Canary Islands and became involved in the wine business. Yet despite religious differences, for many years the Protestant corporation that now controlled the city allowed the exiled Walshs to appoint Catholic masters to the hospital each time the post became vacant.
In 1693, the corporation encouraged French Huguenots to settle in Waterford and establish a linen industry. The Protestant bishop Nathaniel Foy had the choir of the old friary fitted out for their religious service, hence the name the French Church. The Catholic almshouse and the Huguenot house of worship coexisted peacefully on this site for over a century.
Among the distinguished persons buried in the friary is Sir Niall O’Neill of County Antrim, who fought for King James Il at the Battle of the Boyne and who was wounded while defending the ford at Rossnaree. He was taken to Waterford where he died shortly afterwards at the early age of thirty-two. O’Neill’s monument now stands against the wall on the left-hand side of the chancel. Beneath the tower arch lies the unadorned limestone grave slab of the city’s most famous architect, John Roberts.
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