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Presentation Bicentenary in Carlow
03 February 2011
Ireland N Province
The Presentation Community in Carlow celebrated their bicentenary in the town on Saturday 29th January 2011. The original community of founding sisters were Sr. de Sales Meighan, Sr. Magdelene Breen and Sr. Agnes Madden, all of whom came from the Kilkenny convent. The community now comprises three Sisters also: Peggy Campion, Anne Marie Farragher and Anna Hyland.
The convent was founded at a very difficult time in the history of the town. At that time, Carlow was a garrison town and the county had not been noted for the liberality of the ascendancy, who controlled most land and all public offices. The rising of 1798 had seen 600 men die on the streets of Carlow and their thatched cottages were put to flames, leaving their families destitute.
Within a short time of the founding the Sisters had established a small school where some poor and sickly children were fed and taught free gratis – this was in contrast to the hedge schools of the time where students had to pay a fee to the master. Numbers increased so much that it became necessary to build a separate school building on College Street which was finished in 1819 housing 130 girls. It was replaced in 1840 by another larger school on College Street and a convent chapel was built above the school. It was replaced in 1899 by a new building next to the convent on Tullow Street. A secondary top was started in 1949 in the same building. The primary school moved to new building on Green Lane in 1960 and the secondary remained active on Tullow Street until it became coeducational in 1983, moving to brand new buildings in the newly created parish of Askea in a growing area of the town of Carlow.
The Sisters were also involved in establishing St. Laserian’s Special School and the Holy Angel’s Day Care Centre. They retain strong links with these four Presentation ministries to this day.
There were a range of activities over the week before and after the event, all designed to celebrate the occasion and honour the work of the Sisters. Our local radio station KCLR (96.6fm) ran a series of one-minute pieces over the two weeks before the actual day of celebration. These recalled different aspects of the life of the Sisters and reminded people of the celebrations planned for the weekend of 29th January. They were written by Noel Keating and recorded by Anne Conway and Noel in the KCLR studios. In addition, Ray Murray (Principal, Presentation College), Bernie Murphy (Principal, Scoil Mhuire Primary) and Walter Lacey (Mayor) were interviewed on the Sue Nunn Show in the week before the event and Anne Conway was interviewed by Brid de Róiste as Gaeilge the following week.
The local newspaper, the Carlow Nationalist, ran a 24-page insert in their edition of 25th January. Prepared by a hard-working group under the direction of Ted Brophy and Anne Marie Farragher, it recounted the history of the convent and its Sisters and contained an article by Sr. Terry Abraham as well as articles by different Sisters reminiscing on their time in Carlow and by past-students of both schools, the oldest writer being 96! It also contained a range of photographs down through the years as well as photographs from pages of the beautifully-decorated Annals. Click here to read the supplement.
The Sisters had also prepared an exhibition of photographs which were on display in the County Library which is now located in the former convent. The exhibition was in place for the week before and the week after the celebrations. They had also prepared a DVD which told the history of the convent and which contained over 300 photographs – more than it was possible to include in the exhibition. The DVD was for sale for a minimum contribution of €5. An anonymous donor looked after the cost of producing the DVD, so all proceeds from sale of the DVDs go directly to St. Vincent de Paul (Carlow). Copies can be ordered from the Sisters at 56 Oakley Lawns, Tullow Road, Carlow. It is hoped to raise €2,500 – a fitting tribute to the Sisters who continue to give of their time and energy to enrich so many aspects of life in Carlow.
On Friday, 28th January the Sisters were honoured at a civic reception in the Town Hall by the Town Council. Mayor Walter Lacey paid great tribute to the Sisters recalling how much they had contributed to the people of the town over the past 200 years. Sr. Peggy Campion, on behalf of the Sisters, presented the original 1811 chalice on loan to the Town Council for display in the new Museum which will be located in the old convent building. The following day a plaque was unveiled on the former convent building by the Mayor and all who wished to do so were given an opportunity to view the work on the new Museum and the fine restoration work being carried on the old chapel with its ceiling and altar fully restored to their former glory, in what will become an exhibition space above the Museum and the Tourist Office.
On Saturday a joyful celebration of the Eucharist took place in Carlow Cathedral which is situated next to the former convent. Sr. Cecelia Molloy had written music especially for the occasion which was arranged by Marian Gaynor and which was sung beautifully by a choir of past-pupils and friends. The Scoil Mhuire School Band, which Sr. Anne led for over 40 years, also took part in the celebrations.
Staff and students at Presentation College, working under the direction of teacher Catherine Kavanagh, had created a beautiful piece of textile art which depicted the story of the foundation of the convent 200 years ago. Staff and students were given the opportunity to contribute even a single stitch! For more about this wonderful work of art, click here.
The homily was given by Sr. Elizabeth Maxwell, Provincial Leader, who was born in Carlow and who served in the convent for a time. The Sisters stress that the story of the Presentation in Carlow is not limited to the story of the Sisters who joined the congregation. It includes as well all of those who supported, cooperated with and worked with the Sisters in their schools and other ministries. It includes all who ever contributed to the development of the schools and ministries by service on Parents Councils, Boards of Management, other forms of voluntary and financial support; and it includes all the members of the clergy and other religious who offered sustenance and support down through the years.
After the meal all were invited back to a meal at the Seven Oaks Hotel. Over 300 people, including 80 Sisters, sat down together, gathered in communion, remembering and honoring the contribution of so many individual Sisters and the sacrifices they had made to provide for the education of the youth of Carlow over 200 years.
The celebrations over the weekend of 29th January were a fitting homage to 200 years of service to the people of Carlow by the Sisters and honoured as well the support and active help of so many people in so many ways over the years.
There will be two further, smaller events during the year. A visit to Nano Nagle’s birthplace in Ballygriffin will take place on Saturday, 7th May 2011. Any interested persons from Carlow can attend. And there will be a special service at the convent graveyard in November 2011. Indeed, it was lovely to see that a special flower had been placed on each grave on the day of celebration on 29th January.