The Avondhu - By The Fireside
‘STORMING’ HEAVEN WITH PRAYERS
The Little Company of Mary, known locally as the ‘Blue Nuns’, first came to Fermoy in 1902, opening their first house in St James’ Place.
The nuns saw just four of their order arriving in the town at the time, with a further four sisters taking up residence in St Patrick’s, then a workhouse, in November 1905.
According to Niall Brunicardi in ‘Fermoy a Local History’ published in 1979, the workhouse, or union as it was called, was a very ‘primitive place’.
“There was no indoor water, the supply having to be drawn in barrels from the nearby river. There were only paraffin lamps and candles for lighting. There were over sixty children on the roll, orphans and homeless mainly. Sr Barbara was always highly commended by inspectors, and some of the then children corresponded with her up to the time of her death in 1954. This school was closed in 1938 and the children were sent to orphanages, the girls to the Good Shepherd Convent and the boys to Greenmount, run by the Presentation Brothers in Cork,” Mr Brunicardi noted.
It was 1911 before the ‘Blue Nuns’ took up residence in the convent built for them on Monument Hill, which still stands today and is located directly behind the Bishop Murphy Memorial School.
Excerpts printed from the log book and accounts recorded of their first twenty-five years in the town offer an insight into snippets of their lives and the lives of people in Fermoy in that era. Some excerpts from the log book detail their events outside of work and within the community, as detailed hereunder:
“1916, November. Big flood in Fermoy. Three soldiers lost their lives in the flood. There was not such another flood for 50 years.
“1918, October. The epidemic of influenza broke out over the town. There were several deaths. Four sisters working from early morning to 10pm all over the town. Three of us were laid up here. At the College were 70 boys and three priests ill. Two boys died. A great many of the poor were stricken but very few of them died.”
According to Mr Brunicardi in his writings at the time, action at the Wesleyan Church, Fermoy on September 7, 1919, was also recorded. This is reported as the first organised action against British military forces since the 1916 Rising, carried out by Cork No. 2 Brigade under the command of Liam Lynch. One British soldier was shot dead while three others were wounded.
Niall Brunicardi notes the fears of the Little Company of Mary in Fermoy, who highlighted concerns regarding the retaliatory action of British troops the following day, as recorded in the logbook:
“We feared greatly for our little convent and had our shutters closed and all lights extinguished at 8.45 and stormed Heaven with prayers for the safety of the town and prevention of bloodshed,” the log book reads.
1922 brought the establishment of the Irish Free State which is also recorded within the log book as an entry from March 24 of that year notes: “The Last of the British soldiers left Fermoy today. They were replaced by seventy IRA soldiers.”
Following this, an entry for August 15, 1922: “Free State troops arrived, putting up at hotels and vacant houses, (the barracks having been burnt down) .... A Red Cross hospital at No. 1 James’ Place.”
Moving with the times, an entry from October 1923 noted that an electric light was installed in the convent, which would not be switched on until January of 1924.
To this day, the Little Company of Mary continues its work in Fermoy and Tallow, as well as much further afield including in South Korea, Tonga, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and America.