Pictured in the Poor Clare Convent Drumshanbo (back row (l-r) Sr Jemma; Sr Judith; Sr Clare and Sr Paul. Front row (l-r) Sr Dominic; Mother Angela and Sr Michael.
The sisters of the Poor Clare convent would be the first to acknowledge their way of life is not for everyone, but the arrival of three new nuns over the last few years, in Drumshanbo's enclosed order, has offered hope for the future of this beloved landmark.
Located on a hill overlooking the town, the Poor Clare convent has been a focal point for prayer and devotion for more than 150 years.
During that time the Leitrim Observer has had the opportunity to write a number of articles on the sisters and their vocation.
Below are some excerpts from an article, printed 50 years ago this week. Written by the late Reverend Fr Canice Mooney OFM, the feature gives a timely insight into the amazing journey which brought the Poor Clare sisters to Drumshanbo.
“If some visitor to that tall and elegant house designated as 72 Easton Place, in prosperous Belgrave Square, London, were to tell the young lady, Elizabeth Sophia Law, residing there in 1845 that she was destined to end her life as a religious under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in a Roman Catholic Franciscan Convent in the Wets of Ireland, of which she would be the foundress, nobody would have been more surprised than herself,” notes Fr Mooney in the introduction to his article in 1969.
He goes on to note that Elizabeth and her friend, Mary Anne Hayes, founded an Anglican sisterhood, the Sisters of Charity in 1850. The following year, attending a service on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Sister Elizabeth was so moved by the sermon that she made the decision to convert to Catholicism. She and a friend, Sister Catherine Hayes converted and were soon joined by Francis Maria Horne in their community, who later rose to become Mother Mary of St Joseph Horne.
Financial difficulties resulted in them moving from their original house in England to Gorey in Co Wexford. Financial problems with their sponsors forced them to move in 1862 to Sherlockstown, Sallins, Co Kildare before they were able to secure a site of five acres in Drumshanbo on the estate of Hugh O'Beirne of Jamestown House.
From here, Father Mooney takes up the story of their journey to Leitrim:
“On November 26, Dr Kilduff, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, granted formal permission for the foundation, and on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1864, 'on a frosty morning, so calm and still that the candles of the acolytes burnt steadily,' the foundation stone was laid, and Farther Anderdon delivered a special sermon to a large attendance.
“The architect was Beardwood of Dublin. Mother St Clare and Mother St Francis had arrived a few days before the ceremony, and were the guests of Mr and Mrs Hugh O'Beirne at Jamestown House for one night on their way.
“The host of Mother St Clare and Mother St Joseph while they stayed in the town of Drumshanbo supervising the last stages of the building of the new convent was Francis McKeon. They live in his house for two or three months.
“On November 30, the rest of the community set out for Drumshanbo from Sherlockstown, staying one night at St Joseph's Orphanage, Dublin , and another at Jamestown House and reaching Drumshanbo on the morning of December 2 in carriages provided by Hugh O'Beirne and by Lady Louisa Tennison, of Kilronan Castle, who had been an acquaintance of Mother St Clare in her young days.”
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1864, solemn high mass was sung in the convent for the first time in Drumshanbo.
“Although she had been confirmed in the office of abbess by the Bishop in October, 1864, Mother St Clare, now in failing health, could well feel that with the establishment of a permanent foundation of her Order at Drumshanbo, her main life's work was accomplished.
“In so far as her character can be discerned from the documents of the time and the traditions of her community, she was a woman of great charm and winning personality. She was noted for her wonderful Franciscan spirit, her love of poetry and simplicity, and her tender devotion to Our Lady.
“Townspeople and community looked up to her as a very saintly soul and preserved a tradition about a poor child of the place that could neither speak nor walk being cured by her blessing. She resigned in March 1865, becoming vicaress of the convent instead, an office that she held until a few years before her death on December 5, 1888.”
She was succeeded as abbess on March 27, 1865 by Mother Mary St Joseph Horne, who was instrumental in having the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament introduced in May, 1869.
“Since then there has been an unbroken succession of adorers, night and day, despite sickness and epidemics, in that little chapel at Drumshanbo,” said Fr Mooney.
“A few months after the introduction of the practice of perpetual adoration, a strange phenomenon was witnessed in the convent chapel. It was the apparition of a luminous snowy-white cross about two and a half feet in height with a throbbing heart at its centre. It was seen during Mass on two different mornings by several of the sisters and continued for about eight minutes on the first and about half an hour on the second occasion.”
He notes that the congregation continued to grow and “in 1880, there were 24 religious; in 1890, 25; in 1900, 39; in 1910, 40”.
He adds that: “They may never have worked on the foreign missions, but surely their prayers are as necessary for the extending of the kingdom of Christ as the labourers of the foreign missionaries themselves. Without ever leaving their convent, they bring the balm of spiritual healing to the rank and file of the struggling Christians in the world.”
Today, the Poor Clare Sisters continue to serve and at present there are seven sisters living in the Poor Clare convent in Drumshanbo.
Now the local community help with the continuing tradition of Perpetual Adoration but the nuns, though few in number, still remain very much at the heart of this small community, over 150 years after their order first arrived.