Brother Ailbe Egan Born 5 January 1916 Entered Roscrea 8 September 1933 Solemn Profession 17 March 1939 Co-founded Nunraw Nunraw 1946 Died 14 May 1956 Brother Ailbe Stephen Egan, 5 January 1916 - 14 May 1956
Stephen Egan was born in the parish of Mullinahone in the Diocese of Cashel and Emily on 5th January 1916. He began his monastic life at Roscrea Abbey where he was known as Brother Ailbe. Brother Ailbe was among the first founders of Nunraw Abbey in 1946. He was a very handsome man with a powerful physique and engaging personality. He engaged in the heavy work of preparing for the building of the new abbey. He was also both cook and lorry driver. It was not unheard of him to rush back late in the morning, stop at the cabbage plot to cut some fresh heads of cabbage and hasten on his way to prepare the dinner for some fifty monks. Hauling stone took him more and more into demolition of old stone buildings and eventually the operation of the abbey’s stone quarry at Rattlebags, twelve miles away. The work took its toll of his energies and he suffered from ulcers of the stomach. While recovering from an operation in Roodlands Hospital septicaemia set in and he died suddenly on 14 May 1956. The following profile of Brother Ailbe was written by the Abbot Emeritus of Roscrea, Dom Camillus Claffy, in his retirement. His narrative shows a personal knowledge of Br. Ailbe from the time of his first contact and acceptance into the monastery. Archive Roscrea Profile of Brother Ailbe Stephen Egan, (1916 - 1956) - by Abbot Camillus Claffy (1965) Mullinahone, a small town in the heart of Co. Tipperary and situated within the confines of Cashel archdiocese, has become well known in modern times owing to its being the birth place of the renowned patriot, poet and novelist, Charles Kickham. Stephen Egan was born in the opening days of the historic year l916. The homestead was near the town of Mullinahone. He was the youngest of a family of six sons. While Stephen was quite young his mother died. There was not sufficient work on their small holding for father and sons. As a result three or four of the boys went to small positions in the nearby town. Neighbours always spoke kindly and well of both the Egan boys and their father. Owing to the death of the mother at an early age and the absence of a daughter in the family to replace her, the people of the locality were sympathetic towards the Egans. On the eve of the feast of the Epiphany in l916, the Benjamin of the family was taken to the parish church to be christened. As usually happens in Ireland, the child was so named not exactly in honour of the protomartyr of the Church, but after a near relative. In due time he grew up to be a handsome boy. When nearing the end of his education at the local school his mother died. The family were inconsolable. No one felt the blow more than young Stephen. Years after he told the novice-master that he felt her presence constantly beside him and that she had twice appeared to him. At this news the poor Fr. Master received a mild shock. He realised that among his novices he had an alleged visionary. Another - a severer one - followed. When the brother was asked when and where the visions occurred, he simply replied that one took place shortly after the death of his mother at home. The other was said to have happened one night in the dormitory some time after he entered. The reaction of the Fr. Master was to be vigilant and wary lest he might allow one suffering from delusions to remain in the novitiate. The novice was warned not to speak to anyone of these visions and as far as we know he never did. This has been anticipating events in Stephen Egan’s life but to return to the time of the passing of his mother, after his wife’s death Mr. Egan withdrew Stephen from school. None of his sons had so far married. They returned home nightly after work. Their meals had to be prepared and the house looked after. One son helped on their farm. Stephen and the father now did the household work. After a year or so the local doctor and his wife, who were then about to send their son to Mount St. Joseph College asked Mr. Egan to permit Stephen to come and live with them. They realised that he was a respectful and conscientious young fellow and he would be a suitable boy to replace their son who was leaving them. Stephen would be given a weekly wage, of course, for the work he did in the doctor’s house. Mr. Egan felt he could not refuse the kind offer. In any case his boy would be well looked after and quite near home. So Stephen took up the position. During his stay Stephen sometimes accompanied the doctor and his wife on their visits to the college. When little more than seventeen years old, he came one day in August l933 with two of his brothers to offer himself as a candidate for the Order. After the usual formalities prescribed for the reception of postulants, Stephen was informed that he would be received into the community on the feast of our Blessed Lady’s birthday following (September 8, 1933), and that he should stay at the guest-house three days before entering. All this he carried out to the letter. On the opening day of October in the holy year it is recorded that Mr. Egan put on the Oblate’s dress. For obvious reasons he chose as patron St. Ailbe. He soon settled down to the austere life. What was a novice to do anyway if he is determined to persevere in the holy life he has freely chosen except to say his prayers and be obedient. No responsibility is given him. He is both instructed and guided by his Fr. Master. To carry out the exercises of the day in every detail and to learn how to grow daily in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ he has only to read his book of usages and study the sacred Scriptures and the prescribed spiritual treatises always at his disposal. Then there is the example of the ‘living Rule’ that he sees all round him in the lives of his fervent brethren. On March 11, 1934, when the six months postulancy had expired, Bro. Ailbe received on Sunday morning at the hour of chapter the novice’s habit. And so he began his two year’s canonical novitiate. There had been complaints at the visitation about the bread that was being supplied to the community. The elderly Bro. Patrick Bowden, who single handed baked our daily bread for several years, had really never been apprenticed to a qualified man. With increase of age and corpulence (he was twenty stone) it became evident he was no longer fit for the work. At this time also (1934) the community began to increase. Bro. Ailbe, when he had concluded one year’s novitiate, went to the Mother House - Mount Melleray - to learn the art of baking. Here, thanks to the late Abbot Celsus O’Connell, Br. Ailbe was fully trained by a member of the community - Bro. Finbar - who before he entered had been a skilled baker. During his stay there, the time came for his profession. The Roscrea community, on the recommendation of the Fr. Master, voted in his favour. In consequence, Dom Celsus was delegated to receive the triennial vows. This ceremony took place on St. Patrick’s day 1936. Three years later on the same feast he made final and solemn profession. It is no exaggeration to say that when Bro. Ailbe returned to Roscrea and took over the work of baking the bread for the monastery, college and guesthouse, a new era opened for us in the production of excellent bread. Not only did he revolutionise the method of bread-making but he trained several other brethren in the art. As a result our bread since then is highly spoken of throughout the country. On January 29, 1946, the Abbot and half a dozen religious set out for Scotland. They had in view the taking over of the Nunraw estate. February 2 - the feast of the Purification of our Blessed Lady - was the day assigned for the payment and final signing over of the property. The founders were anxious to be the owners so that the first Holy Mass should be celebrated and the house blessed on this feast. On informing the solicitor - a non-Catholic - of this, he kindly had the business concluded on the evening of February 1. Next morning Archbishop McDonald O.S.B. came to Nunraw and celebrated the first Holy Mass. The altar improvised for the occasion was one of the room doors. After concluding the Mass, his Grace knelt on the bare boards and assisted at the second celebrated by the Abbot. Bro. Ailbe to his joy was chosen for the new venture. On February 20, 1946, he left with the second group for the new monastery. Never afterwards did he see the green hills or the fair lands of his native country. Up to the time of his leaving Ireland, Bro. Ailbe, retained his simplicity and his belief in the ‘wicked spirits that wander about the world’. Recalling this guilelessness. the writer remembers being one day in the novitiate with the novices. Bro. Ailbe quite casually mentioned that he could have been a film star. On hearing this, there were among the more matured members suppressed smiles. When questioned for further information on the matter he told of a returned Yank in his locality who on meeting him became so fascinated that she assured him if he went back with her she would easily get him into Hollywood. At this there were shrieks of laughter. No doubt at the age of seventeen the young man’s appearance could qualify for a position among these people. To the query as to why he did not accept the invitation, the answer given boiled down to his father’s disapproval. Certainly he loved and looked up to his father. He felt proud of being a native of Mullinahone. He revered the great Charles Kickham and could recite his poems. The history of the district including Slievenamon could be detailed by him. (Though the mountain Slievenamon, famous in song and in story throughout the land, is about ten miles distance from the town, one can obtain from Mullinahone a splendid view of this historic landmark. Up almost to our own time the country people told of fairies, headless coaches supposed to be seen only at night, and ghosts. Perhaps these folk could retort that these beliefs and superstitions were not confined solely to their part of the countryside. Today they proudly refer to it as the land of Charles Kickham or the Kickham country. Nor is the place at present (1965) bereft of either patriots or writers). When returning from Mount Melleray with his Fr. Prior, the journey was made via Mullinahone where Br. Ailbe visited the old homestead. He was received lovingly by his aged father, brothers and neighbours. Bro. Ailbe took the prior to a spot in which there were trees. The legend is that Kickham often sat under the trees when writing his works. Bro. Ailbe passed the last ten years of his life at the abbey of Sancta Maria, Nunraw. Fr. Michael Sherry of Nunraw sent this record of Br. Ailbe’s work and passing: “In the early days at Nunraw, Bro. Ailbe Egan was employed as cook. In 1949 he suffered from symptoms that seemed to be ulcer trouble. An X-ray made in the month of August proved negative. Later he had charge both of our milking herd and the dairy. We changed from shorthorns to Ayrshire T.T. cows. In every way possible Bro. Ailbe laboured to raise cows of high yielding milk and make it a success. No dog or stick was used. As a consequence the cows became mild and pets. For the last six months or so he daily drove the lorry to the quarry. There with his brethren and voluntary workers he did the day’s labour. The former pains recurred and became acute. Nothing remained but to have him transferred to hospital. He was taken to Roodlands (Haddington). The medical men there deemed an operation imperative. This he underwent. Bro. Ailbe, after surviving, had hopes of seeing his abbey again but succumbed, owing to further loss of blood. His passing took place on May 14th 1956.” Brother Ailbe had lived almost twenty three years in the cloister. He had, shortly before the end, completed his fortieth year and was in the twentieth of his profession. It would appear from what he told some of his brethren that Bro. Ailbe had a presentment of his coming end. Six months previously he announced to them he had only that period to live. He lies interred with three other members of the community (1965) in the grounds at Nunraw. “One thing I have asked of the Lord. This will I seek after that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Psalm XXVI, 4)