12 December 2017

The Sisters of Mercy have
left but Saint Anne’s Convent
is still a part of Rathkeale

Saint Anne’s Convent remains part of the architectural streetscape of Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

One of Leonard Cohen’s earliest hit songs opens with the line:

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.

The Sisters of Mercy left Rathkeale over four years ago, but the convent they built soon after their arrival in Rathkeale in 1850 remains a landmark building on Thomas Street.

Saint Anne’s, the former Convent of Mercy, forms an interesting ecclesiastical and architectural group with the neighbouring Roman Catholic parish church, Saint Mary’s Church.

The form and detailing of the former convent mark out this building on the streetscape of Rathkeale. The gabled bay is characteristic of convent buildings of its time, along with the stone quoins, the cross finial and the lancet recess.

The size and scale of the building give it an imposing appearance that is complemented by the boundary railings. The rubble stone boundary wall behind the convent on the west side has a pointed arch entrance set in a slight projection and once surmounted by a carved and dated cross with raised lettering.

The convent, which predates Saint Mary’s Church, was built around 1850, when the Sisters of Mercy first arrived in Rathkeale.

Saint Anne’s is a detached, seven-bay, two-storey building, with a projecting gabled north bay at the front on Thomas Street or east and the west or rear elevations and a three-bay two-storey hipped-roofed block to the north side.

A statue of Saint Michael vanquishing the devil remains in front of the former convent (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

After more than a century and a half in the town, the Sisters of Mercy left Rathkeale in April 2013. Neighbouring Saint Mary’s Church was thronged for a special Mass before the last three nuns left Saint Anne’s Convent.

Sister Jerome Darcy arrived in Rathkeale in 1958, Sister Joseph Conway was at Saint Anne’s for 25 years and Sister Mary Galvin had been there for nine years. Sister Jerome and Sister Mary moved to their community’s house in Westbourne in Limerick city, while Sister Joseph moved to Mount Saint Vincent on O’Connell Street, Limerick.

The three Sisters were joined for the Mass and celebration by other members of the community who had served in Rathkeale down through the years. The Mass was celebrated by the parish priest of Rathkeale, Father Alphonsus Cullinan, now the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.

Later, at a reception in the Rathkeale House Hotel, presentations were made to each nun who had lived in Rathkeale.

The convent building is now vacant, but it remains diocesan or parochial property. Behind the old convent building, the pointed arch entrance remains, but the carved and dated cross with raised lettering that once stood above the gate have since gone missing.

The arched gate remains behind the convent, but the carved and dated cross that once stood above it are now missing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

1 comment:

Donal Leader said...

It is wonderful to see your documentation of the places and stories associated with rural Limerick. I member as a schoolboy in the 1950s having an I Spy book from England depicting arhictectural and other features of the English townscape. I bemoaned the fact that we had nothing like it here. It wasn’t until much later when I read books by Maura Shaffrey and Sean Rothery that the realisation dawned that we also had a rich urban vernacular culture as well. Your work is a delightful illustration of what has been so little appreciated, especially at the local level. We rarely appreciate the beauty and value of the streetscape we have inherited from earlier generations. Modernism in all its forms has done a lot of damage.