Back to the convent

Sent down the village to pick up some blessed palm from the church, I spotted a Celtic Cross through the convent gates. Curious, I stepped inside for a closer look.

The old convent has long been on my list of Lotto buys, a lengthy list that includes a hotel and an old brick factory in Hungary, a fisherman’s cottage in Portugal, and a lighthouse in Nova Scotia. I’m not holding my breath though.

The Celtic Cross beckoned. And I was surprised.

I’m a product of that convent school. At some stage, I must have known who founded the convent but I’m drawing a complete blank. I’m sure it was drilled into us. I’d be surprised if we hadn’t had to stage a play about her life but I can’t bring a thing to mind.

In a hybrid of her lay name and her religious name, Mother Teresa Brenan was one of the Presentation nuns who came to the village in 1839. They took up residence in an old orphanage, built around 1818, and run by the Patricians. The orphanage school was

…built by subscription from the members of the Patrician Society and about £130 from a charity play in the Theatre Royal, Dublin.

Thi was back in the day when £130 would get you a sight more for your money than it would today.

Their teacher training course was a six week course and the trained teacher was expected to teach 100 pupils, of all ages, in one large room, with the assistance of a monitor (a competent senior pupil aspiring to do the formal training course).

Heady stuff, indeed.

The Presentation Sisters weren’t the first choice apparently. The Sisters of Charity were asked to come and teach in the newly renovated school in the 1830s but they declined. When Bishop Haly was appointed in 1838, he invited the Presentation nuns and on 25 April 1839, Rev. Mother Teresa Brenan, herself from Portlaoise, rocked up with two nuns from Carlow, two from Maryboro, and one from Drogheda. And from the start these six made, more than a century later other Presentation sisters like Sr Brendan, Mother Patrick, and Sr Louise would teach me.

One might look at the school building as it is and wonder at its significance. And indeed, had I not done a little research, I’d have been none the wiser. I’m convinced I never knew any of this stuff before.

According to a fascinating article in Le Chéile, the parish newsletter…

This School House had been built in 1818 for £300, and was an exact copy of the Kildare Place School (behind the Shelbourne Hotel) This in turn had been built as an exact copy of the School Street School (behind Guinness’s). Both were demolished by 1960. For this reason the Girls Old School in Clane is a living link with an important episode in Irish Educational History.

But it’s not the schoolhouse I’d be interested in, for all its historic importance. It’s the convent.

I have vague memories of being allowed inside a couple of times, once in the upstairs chapel and once in the kitchen. I can still hear the sound of the doorbell reverberating through the building. I loved it then and in the years that have passed, it still pulls me in.

I took a wander down to what was once our playground and is now the church car park. There’s a small remembrance garden in a place where I don’t remember there being a garden. I wondered at the names painted on the stones and what they might mean. And I smiled at the inventive use of an old log as I’d just saved a picture of something similar with a view to eventually deciding on its tweeness and whether it would fit in my garden.

I was surprised at the apartments that overlooked what was once our playground. Who knew. The village, it seems, has expanded every which way.

The old bell tower is now overgrown. So many memories. Hoping I wouldn’t be picked last when it came to choosing teams to play Red Rover. Hoping I would be picked to ring the heavy handbell once break time was over. I remember the weird fashions and wonder if our one American classmate who I think was the first to wear trousers under her school uniform skirt is now the famous playwright-screenwriter-feature writer?  I remember when peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made a brief appearance and how I hated them. I remember, too, the exoticness of the kiwi fruit and how uncool I felt when I didn’t recognise it. For a while there, I was 10 again.

Seamus Cullen, in his history of Clane, notes that there was a Magdalen Hospital for those with leprosy back in the day. But no one, it seems, knows where that one was. When you’re only given 5 km to wander around in, it’s amazing what you can find.


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8 Responses

  1. I saw the title, asked myself, What’s my Derry girl up to? Quite a contrast, very thoughtful and interesting. My interest in celtic crosses comes from you, drew me in immediately too.

  2. If you can get your hands of some of the Coiseanna books that the Clane Local History Society published, you might find more info on the Magdalen Hospital. Brendan Cullen is one of the founding members of the society and very knowledgeable on Clane. I’ve all editions of it so let me know if you need them.

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