The Avondhu - By The Fireside
THE FAITHFUL JOURNEY
March 19th, 1997, the doors of the new Carmelite Convent in Tallow were officially opened and since that day, 25 years ago, there have been so many joyful and significant occasions at St Joseph’s Carmelite Monastery, as well as many changes and challenges along the way.
A day of celebration was held to mark this 25-year jubilee on July 29th this year, which included a ceremony, with accounts from friends of the Tallow Carmelites who described the abounding support and solace that the Carmelite Sisters have provided for so many over the years. However, the story of the Tallow Carmelites began long before the cutting of the tape in 1997.
In 1836, at the request of Fr. Eugene Condon and his predecessor Rev. Denis O’Donnell, the five founding sisters of St Joseph’s Carmelite Monastery began the long, courageous journey by horse and coach from the Carmelite Community of St. Teresa’s, Warrenmount in Dublin to their new home in Tallow, which was located near the River Bride on lands owned by the Duke of
Devonshire at that time.
The Carmelite Sisters became an integral part of the wider Tallow community and when the Great Famine struck in 1845 the Sisters received a financial donation from Pope Leo XIII, through the intervention of Archbishop Tobias Kirby who was a native of Tallow. This money enabled the Sisters to set up a soup kitchen which supported over 150 families.
At this time, the Carmelite Sisters in Tallow were also educating the children of the town and also set up a lace making industry which provided employment to hundreds of people in the area. Tallow Lace soon became known all over Ireland and England and was renowned for its quality and design. Horiton Lace, made in Tallow, was used in the christening robe of Princess Royal Victoria and future generations of the Royal family including King Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry.
The Sisters also kept cows, hens and other livestock during this time and continued to do so up until the mid 1990s.
The Carmelite Community in West Waterford continued to grow and flourish throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, as the years rolled by, time began to take its toll on the convent buildings and while many stabilising works were carried out, cracks continued to form in the brickwork.
A NEW BEGINNING
On 9th June, 1994, the Sisters were informed of the news they had been fearing; their monastery, their home, had been deemed unsound and was condemned as a fire hazard. The best option was to demolish the old structure and rebuild a brand-new convent on the same site, but with very little finances available to them at this time, the future of the Carmelites’ in Tallow was in jeopardy.
However, the Sisters were united in their determination to keep the Carmelite flame burning locally and so, with the backing of their Provincial Fr. Gerry Fitzpatrick and a deep trust in God’s plan for them, the Carmelite Sisters embarked on an enormous fundraising campaign with a target of £400,000.
In the interim, they needed somewhere to reside and luckily, the Sisters at the Presentation Convent in Lismore generously welcomed them to stay there during the re-building project.
A fundraising committee was established with representatives from almost every local town and village in the
West Waterford/East Cork area, chaired by the late Mr. Maurice Geary.
As part of this ‘Be a Brick, Buy a Brick’ fundraising campaign, with the support of the Carmelite Community, Sr Patrice and Sr Magdalena took many innovative and courageous steps to gain national and international support including their appearance on national television, first on Nationwide and then on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne. These interviews on national media led to an outpouring of support from all corners of Ireland and further afield. The Sisters received numerous letters and phone calls from viewers, who had been inspired and deeply moved by their story.
The fundraising committee and the Sisters continued their great work with enthusiasm and dedication, organising many different fundraising events and travelling to various popular public occasions such as The Galway Races and The International Horse Show at Millstreet to promote the cause.
As an enclosed order, this sudden spring into the public eye was unchartered territory for the Tallow Carmelites, but guided by their faith, they followed the path that was laid out and the response from the public was phenomenal.
The fundraising mission was such an outstanding success that the financial target had already been reached by the joyous day on 19th March, 1997 when the new monastery was officially consecrated and opened.
25 YEARS ON
The Sisters have seen many changes in the past 25 years in vocations and in congregation numbers for masses amongst other things, but their link with the townspeople of Tallow is still very evident and is a vital part of their mission. People often reach out to them in times of need and the Sisters are always willing to help in any way they can. Very conscious of the fact that the new monastery was built by the people, the Sisters see it as a place of welcome and worship for all who need it.
The Carmelites at St. Joseph’s have been running a printing business since the 1970s and this provides a source of income for the community, while of course providing a much appreciated service to those who require Mass cards, mortuary cards, etc. to be designed and printed.
There have been many highlights during the past 25 years, including the four day visit of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux in 2001 which drew thousands across several days and the nights to pray, to attend confession and to share in a very special experience.
Since ’97, nine of the sisters have sadly passed away while six new sisters have joined in that same timeframe. Four of those six have joined in recent years and have been a source of