In the seventeenth century Fr Donatus Mooney, a Franciscan Observant historian, described Irish Observant foundations as naturally abundant, presenting them as divinely chosen and paradise-like places, while individual Observant friars were portrayed by Mooney as followers of sacred poverty, and as suggested in this paper, the true followers of the early Franciscans. The significant number of Franciscan and Augustinian Observant foundations in the rural landscapes of western Ireland and the architecture of their churches, viewed together with the apparent decline of parochial infrastructures at the time, all suggest that the Observant reform played a crucial part in the religious landscape of late medieval Ireland. As described by Mooney, the Observants presented the laity with a model of holiness to emulate, and offered through their preaching and pastoral care the guidance and spiritual services often lacking in the local clergy.
On the other hand, sources such as papal registers offer us glimpses into the more practical and everyday life of Observant communities, as well as into the life and careers of individual friars, which sometimes suggest that Irish Observant friars did not always practiced what they preached.
In this paper, through a number of case studies of places and personages associated with the Franciscan and Augustinian Observant Irish reform movement, we aim to explore the distinctive characteristics and the impact of the Observant reform among these two orders in late medieval Ireland. The paper also looks at the impact of Observants on local lay communities and the extent to which the perception of late medieval Observant friars and the ideals they were meant to embody might have differed from the realities of their communal life, the relation to their lay patrons, and their personal ambitions.