Conry, Florence (Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire) (c.1560–1629), catholic archbishop of Tuam and Franciscan minister provincial of the Irish province, was born at Cluain na hOíche near Elphin, Co. Roscommon, the son of Fíthil and Onóra Ó Maolchonaire. He belonged to a well-known family of scholars, which supplied poets and chroniclers to the MacDermots and O'Connors of Connacht; in recording the death of his grandfather Muirgheas Ó Maolchonaire in 1543, the annals of Loch Cé describe him as ‘the sage of Erin in history and poetry’ (ALC, ii, 339–41). Conry was brought up in the family profession, studying with the poet Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird (qv) and becoming ollamh file (‘chief poet’).
Turning his back on poetry Conry went to Spain to study for the priesthood and entered the Irish college at Salamanca, founded in 1592 by Thomas White (qv), a Jesuit born at Clonmel. The first recorded date relating to his sojourn at Salamanca is 19 September 1594, when he was registered as a third-year student in arts and philosophy. A year earlier he had translated Jerónima de Ripalda's El texto de la doctrina Christiana into Irish, the manuscript of which he sent to an unknown recipient in Ireland in 1598. The original is a very simple catechetical work for children based on a question and answer format, and apart from the lost bilingual catechism in Irish and English (with Latin explanations), Epitome officii hominis Christiani (1560), by Richard Creagh (qv), Conry's translation can be seen as the first formal attempt by Gaelic counter-reformation clergy to combat protestantism in Ireland. It is difficult to say whether the translator envisaged publication for his work or not, but there is no way that the Dublin authorities would have countenanced the existence of a printing press specially designated for the publication of catholic religious material.
A deterioration in Conry's relations with White over presumed discrimination in favour of Old English students, at the expense of Gaelic students from Connacht and Ulster, led to his leaving the Irish college and joining the Franciscans, who had a prestigious college at Salamanca. It is unclear whether he was expelled from the Irish college or left voluntarily. It is equally unclear whether he was ordained or not before joining the Franciscans.
Commissioned by Pope Clement VIII (according to Luke Wadding (qv)), Conry accompanied the Spanish force led by Don Juan del Águila (qv) to Kinsale in 1601. After the Irish defeat he returned to Kinsale with Red Hugh O'Donnell (qv) to seek further Spanish aid. He negotiated on his behalf with the royal court and attended O'Donnell on his deathbed at Simancas in 1602. In May of that year he presented a memorial on O'Donnell's behalf to Philip III, complaining yet again about Thomas White's prejudices against Gaelic students from Connacht and Ulster, but now going much further in castigating the Old English in general and the Irish Jesuits in particular for not supporting Hugh O'Neill (qv), earl of Tyrone, during the nine years war. Conry acted as adviser to the conde de Puñostro, the king's appointee as protector of Irish exiles in Spain, both sponsoring their admission into Spanish orders of chivalry and successfully promoting Henry O'Neill, eldest son of the earl of Tyrone, as colonel of the newly founded Irish regiment in 1604.
In May 1606 Conry was appointed minister provincial of the Irish Franciscans at the general chapter of the order at Toledo, but because of his proscription by the English authorities he was forced to appoint a deputy to carry out the duties of his office. He spent the rest of his life on the continent, where he was indefatigably active as an opponent of English rule in Ireland; he was considered by Peter Lombard (qv) ‘more eager to sustain the war than the very officers of the army itself’ (F. O'Brien, Irish Rosary, xxxii (1928), 454).
In 1606 Conry petitioned Philip III in the following terms: ‘that his Catholic majestie would be pleased to grant the Irish Franciscans a place for a college, and means wherein to live in the town and universitie of Loven, and diocese of Mechlin, to the service and glorie of God, to the preservation of the Catholick religion, and their holy order in the kingdome of Ireland’ (F. O'Brien, Irish Rosary, xxxi (1927), 901). Pope Paul V issued the foundation for the Irish college in Louvain on 3 April 1607 and the first friars took up residence in May. It is noteworthy that the teaching staff were all doctors of Salamanca. When the exiled earls arrived at Douai in November 1607 they were met by Conry, who escorted them to Louvain, where they stayed until the following spring. The unfinished narrative by Tadhg Ó Cianáin (qv), Turas na nIarlaí as Éirinn (1607–9), which recounts the flight of the earls from Ireland, carries a very strong Franciscan stamp, best explained by Flaithrí's presence with the group on their journey to Rome; the same influence no doubt caused them to turn aside when they reached Foligno in the last days of April 1608 to visit Assisi, birthplace of St Francis and home of the order. Conry's influence on Ó Cianáin's text bears further examination, as the work contains the first recorded examples of the Irish word naisión (‘nation’), prefers Eirinnach over Gaedheal throughout, and couples Eirinnach with naisión; it also places the Irish on a par with the Spanish as the leading catholic nations of Europe.
Conry remained in Rome, staying with the Spanish Franciscans at San Pietro in Montorio, until he was appointed archbishop of Tuam on 30 March 1609, a promotion that owed much to Tyrone's influence. Following his consecration by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, the future Pope Urban VIII, the archbishop returned to Spain to further Tyrone's cause with the royal court. On the death of Henry O'Neill, colonel of the Irish regiment in Brussels, Conry was determined that his replacement would not come from the Old English faction. His preferred candidate was Owen Roe O'Neill (qv), a nephew of Tyrone. Tyrone, however, nominated his oldest surviving son, John, as the only person who could maintain the unity of the regiment. Owen Roe was appointed sergeant major and, as John O'Neill was only eleven years old at the time, became effective commander of the regiment. The Old English officers were greatly upset by this appointment, attributing it to Franciscan interference in their internal affairs.
In March 1614 Conry wrote an open letter to the catholic members of the 1613–15 Irish parliament, rebuking them for assenting to the attainder of Tyrone and Tyrconnell (qv) and to the confiscation of their estates. He visited Tyrone in Rome in the summer of 1616 and was with him when he died 21 July 1616. In the same year his translation of a popular Catalan devotional work as Scáthán an chrábhaidh, better known as Desiderius, was published from the Irish Franciscan printing press at Louvain. The translator, in fact, took great liberties with his source text, omitting more than half of the original while making various additions of his own, one of which was specifically aimed at encouraging Irish catholics to hold firm in the face of persecution. This interpolation, nearly one quarter of the whole text, contains some interesting observations on the distinctions between temporal and spiritual authority: Conry rejected the right of temporal princes to claim spiritual jursidiction and asserted, contrary to the contemporary doctrine of the divine right of kings much cherished by James I, that temporal authority derives from the people and not from God.
In 1618 Conry advised the authorities in Brussels on the negotiations over a proposed marriage between the prince of Wales and the Spanish infanta. He then returned to Louvain to pursue his study of theology, Augustinian theology in particular. Luke Wadding held that Conry had read all of Augustine's writngs seven times, and those concerned with grace twenty times. Indeed, Conry's interpolations in the Desiderius are liberally furnished with references to Augustine. Two works by him in Latin were published during his lifetime, one on the immaculate conception, De Augustini sensu circa B. Mariae Virginis conceptionem (Antwerp, 1619), the other on the state of infants who die unbaptised, Tractatus de statu parvulorum sine baptismo decdentium ex hac vita, juxta sensum B. Augustini (Louvain, 1624, repr. 1635; Rouen, repr. 1643 and 1653). A few other theological works were published posthumously: Peregrinus Jerichuntinus, hoc est, de natura humana, feliciter instituta, infeliciter lapsa, miserabiliter vulnerata, misericorditer restaurata (Paris, 1641); De flagellis justorum, juxta mentem S. Augustini (Paris, 1644); and Compendium doctrinae S. Augustini circa gratiam (Paris, 1645). Conry has sometimes been accused of Jansensim, but this conclusion may derive more from his preoccupation with the nature of grace and from his actual friendship with Jansen, than from any concrete evidence.
In addition to his theological treatises, there is evidence that Conry managed to keep in touch with his former profession as a Gaelic historian. In a letter written in 1638, the historian Tuileagna Ó Maolchonaire twice refers to a chronicle written by his namesake. This missing chronicle may well be the genealogical tract on Irish kings, ‘Réim ríoghraidhe shíl Éireamhain’, composed by the archbishop of Tuam in 1627, according to an eighteenth-century manuscript. An interpretative gloss on a poem dealing with the saints of Ireland, attributed to Conry in another eighteenth-century manuscript, may form part of the same chronicle. Although only one example of his poetical compositions has survived – a satirical quatrain upbraiding the futility of both sides involved in the famous Contention of the Bards – recent scholarship has suggested that Conry's contribution to the Iomarbháigh may have been much more substantial than has been hitherto believed, and that he may in fact be the author of the poems attributed to his confrère, Robert Chamberlain (qv). Seven of his letters have survived in Latin and Spanish.
In autumn 1626 when it seemed that hostilities would be renewed between England and Spain, Conry went to Madrid to further the case for a Spanish invasion of Ireland under the joint leadership of the earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell. When the threat of war receded, however, the invasion plans were shelved. Conry died in Madrid on 18 November 1629; his remains were transferred to Louvain and buried in the chapel of the Irish Franciscan college on 23 March 1654. Five years before his death, Conry, aided by the Franciscan archbishop of Dublin, Thomas Fleming (qv), was instrumental in setting up the Irish pastoral college of Louvain and in appointing Nicholas Aylmer as its first rector. It was only proper that the latter should write Conry's epitaph. This was apparently inscribed on a monument to him erected by the friars in his honour on the right side of the high altar at St Anthony's College, and while every trace of the monument has disappeared Aylmer's poem has happily survived. The inscription on the grave-slab, by another author, describes Conry as laboribus variis fidei et patriae . . . fractus (‘worn out by various labours for faith and fatherland’). A portrait of Conry by Emanuele da Como (1672) is in St Isidore's College, Rome.