Saturday 17 August 2019



I HAVE lived in New Ross all my life and never knew the Carmielite Sisters. They were ' the nuns behind the high wall' – a mystery! Why anyone would choose this silent hidden world baffled me when 'our world' has so many exciting and interesting things to see and experience. So it was with some trepidation but a lot of natural curiosity that I visited the sisters with my two classmates Dawn O'Rourke and Róisín Moran.

There are only 10 nuns residing in Mount Carmel at present. Although the monastery is in Wexford, the last nun living there from Wexford has died. It is a sad sign of the times that there are no new novices. However, the order is alive and vibrant in other communities, with many younger women taking up the challenge. The monastery's history dates back to 1817. It was first set up by Fr Dean William Chatman, who had a relative in a Dublin convent. He bought a house for his retirement outside the town walls. When there was a question of the nuns coming to New Ross, he offered his house. In 1817 five Carmelite sisters came to New Ross and have lasted through many hardships. Dean Chatman became their first chaplain. Ten years later he died. In June 1837 the Augustinains took over and have continued to the present day, and over time have given more land to the Carmelite sisters.

These 10 women have dedicated their lives to God. They start their day at half past five in the morning with an hour of silent prayer. This is followed by morning prayer (the Divine Office) and breakfast. Reading and Mass are also held at 8.30. Prayer is central to their lives.

During the day the main work is making the altar bread from a special refined flour and water. These hosts are supplied to the parish church and other churches in the county. As Mount Carmel is an enclosed order, the postman collects them or the priest comes in person. The hosts are made daily from Monday to Friday. Communion classes used to be allowed visit the convent to see how the hosts are made, but demand became so great that they have made a DVD for them to watch instead. The nuns also do other work, but they are assisted by a cook, a cleaner and a caretaker.

Recently the nuns in the Mount Carmel contime listening to music or recorded interviews during dinner, or chat during feast days. They watch the news and videos or play scrabble. They also have a couple of creative pastimes like knitting and crochet.

I was concerned that the sisters could be lonely or miss their families, but one sister, who joined the order many years ago, said she had always been attracted to a life of prayer. Families keep in contact by phone calls, letters and emails, and by visiting the monastery. She felt that when she first became a nun she grew closer to her family, because they had more to talk about during their visits. Still, it must be difficult to be without the daily contact and support of their loved ones.

Even though the Carmelites of Mount Carmel are an enclosed order, many people come to pray with them. They pray for the sick, for work and exams, and any other special intentions. We were welcomed into their community and treated with great hospitality, so it was easy to see why the sisters live such a happy and contented life full of prayer and peace.

The Carmelite sisters of New Ross asked us to tell the community that they are here to pray for the people of New Ross. If anybody is interested in joining them, they can be contacted at the convent or at their website.

Our sincere thanks to Sister Brenda and all the other nuns in the Mount Carmel convent for allowing us such a wonderful insight into their world. (Research, interview and article by Jane Ryder. Interview and photographs by Róisín Moran. Interview by Dawn O'Rourke.) vent have started to straighten prints for lace work, which dates back to Famine times. During the Famine, students at the Carmelite convent school were taught how to make the lace patterns as a way of making a livelihood. The lace is now displayed to the public at events like the Dunbrody Festival and Heritage Week. They have also been given to the New Ross library and the Ramsgrange Stitchers. When John F. Kennedy came to New Ross, his wife Jackie was given an exact replica of one of the lace works. Sadly, none of the sisters can make the lace anymore.

Ten years ago, Sister Brenda, a nun we interviewed, took classes in the Christian Brothers school to learn computer skills. What she learned she passed on to the other sisters in the convent, and now five or six nuns use the computer regularly. They even set up a website and email address. Stepping into the world of text is not as easy for the Carmelite nuns, as there is only one mobile phone for the community, used only if a sister needs to leave the community or some other emergency. A sister can leave the convent for doctor's and dentist's appointments, if another sister is in hospital and for family funerals, something that has only come into effect in the last 20 years. Other necessities, like food and shopping, are ordered in, and the caretaker buys the basic essentials for them once a week, as they cannot drive. Clothes shopping is not an issue as they wear the brown habit at all times.

For entertainment the sisters spend their

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