|Where We Live & Work|
|Portarlington - The Story of Our Community|
Portarlington Convent: This convent was founded on 29th September 1854, on the feast of St. Michael, from Bagenalstown. Ten years earlier, in 1844, Mother Magdalen Breen and two sisters came from Bagelanstown. Mother Magdalen died and the two sisters were recalled, but the Parish Priest held her remains because it was hoped the Sisters would return in time to found a convent.
The founding Sisters in 1854 were Mother Mary Angela Maher, Mother Mary John Kinsella, Mother Mary Bernard Kinsella, Sr.Mary Teresa Donoghue newly professed, Magdalen Tierney (a novice?) and Sr. Mary Baptist Davin; they were joined by a young girl, a lay sister- Sr.Mary Catherine Phelan.
The community was founded because the Parish Priest, Fr. T. O’Connell was anxious to have them set up schools for the poor, as there were already schools for the rich and for Protestants.
The convent is on the edge of the town- a Huguenot town surrounded on the West side mostly by bog. The location would be the poorest side of the town beside the church, called Kilmalogue.
Fr. T. O’Connell handed over his house, in which he lived, together with the garden and a field close by. Mr. Edward Lyons, Finniscourt, Kilkenny, uncle of Mother Mary Angela, agreed to provide an annuity of £100 plus a donation of £200 to help the infant community. Annals relate that when the Sisters arrived in Portarlington, the house was not ready and they slept in the Parish Priest’s house across the road. The Countess of Marlborough visited the house because of her sister, the Countess of Portarlington, who was a very good friend and benefactor of the Sisters.
The first school dates to 16th October, 1854. The small parlour in the Convent was used as the classroom and six pupils were present. That evening, catechism was organized for boys and girls. Classes in practical subjects were organized for poorer girls, but were later discontinued.
In 1856, the first extension to the convent was built in the form of a wing. It comprised a new school (60’ x 22’) over which were new cells and corridors for the Novitiate. A bazaar which raised £100 and contributions from surrounding counties enabled the work to take place. In a short time, the school was crowded as country girls and young women swelled the ranks. A work mistress was found under whose supervision an industrial class was formed. This was discontinued in later years as pupils preferred book learning. An infant class was later set up in the upper storey of an old outhouse, originally a stable. The under part of the building was converted into a kitchen for the Sisters and food was conveyed across the yard.
In 1860, the Archbishop of Dublin, (later Cardinal) Dr. Cullen, visited and again in 1861. In 1862, a chapel, cells, refectory and new classrooms were added on. In 1866, the Countess of Portarlington converted to Catholicism and attended Mass every morning in the Convent. 1867 saw a fire break out in the convent, this could have been disastrous, but it stopped inexplicably at a picture of the Sacred Heart and spread no further! In 1883, a valuable plot was added when the Sisters bought a Public House. In 1886, the Papal Nuncio visited the Convent with a Papal Benediction. His Eminence Cardinal Moran visited on 29th September, 1902.
In 1906, a large entrance hall was built to the school and convent about which, a spacious new Novitiate and two cells were added. Hot and cold water was brought to the Convent in 1923.
In 1946, it was decided to provide Secondary education and a secondary-top was opened attached to the primary school. This meant that girls could now sit for the Intermediate Certificate examinations and later for the Leaving Certificate under Sr. Gertrude Connolly. The secondary-top was located in what is now the Assembly Hall. When ‘Free Secondary Education’ was introduced by the Government in 1967, numbers increased significantly and the secondary top became a full Secondary School. Such was the pressure on accommodation that one Sister had to take her 4th class to a newly purchased cottage on the Bog Road, which was not in very good condition. She was relieved in Autumn 1968 when four new prefabricated classrooms were erected. More prefabs were erected in 1970 - a warren of prefabs grew up - 12 in all, including a Science Lab, a Staff Room an so on.
In 1979, the Provincial, Sr. Clement (Kathleen) Hallinan, asked the Sisters to undertake the building of a new school. Much fundraising took place in the local catchment area and loans were given by the Province; these were repaid in due course. Many people co-operated and, in 1983, a new Secondary School, Scoil Mhuire, was opened beyond the garden, thanks to the generosity of the local people.
The fundraising for the Scoil Mhuire, forged many friendships between the Finance Committee and the Sub Committees. People gave so generously of their time - Sales of Work, Raffles, American Tea Parties and weekly collections were organized to raise funds. In 1983, Scoil Mhuire started an alternative to the Leaving Certificate knows as the Community Living Programme. It was developed by the Shannon Curriculum Development Centre. Teachers gave of themselves generously to train and gave time to pupils. It was a big success.
Also in 1983, a primary school Principal, Sr. Rosario Hourigan R.I.P. was killed in a car accident on her way to Portlaoise for school. It was a huge shock. She was an excellent Principal and was very dynamic.
In 1999, three pupils from Scoil Mhuire won the Aer Lingus Young Scientist of the Year Competition.
In September, 2001, the school amalgamated with the Christian Brothers’ secondary school and an extension was added to Scoil Mhuire. The result was a magnificent co-educational school, Colaiste Iosagain.
Scoil Mhuire was always very conscious of the no-academic pupils and felt Nano Nagle would have special care for these. The school introduced the concept of pre-1st year classes and the school was one of the first to get a Remedial Teacher ex-quota. Today, in Colaiste Iosagain, L.C.A. classes get very special attention as well as the more traditional academic programmes.
In August, 2006 the convent in Portarlington closed its doors; dwindling numbers and a only fours sisters in a big house was the reason for its closure.
At the time of writing (2008) the Primary School attached to the Convent was still in use. However, a new school was under construction for the Primary School on Station Road. In latter years, the Education Office, for the Northern Province, was also based in rooms at the Convent.
In addition to education the Sisters have been involved in many ministries. From the 1970’s onwards a range of additional ministries developed. Prayer ministry developed in the Convent. Three prayer groups met there – a Charismatic Group, a Eucharistic Group and a Scripture group. The St. Vincent de Paul Society was also very important ministry. In the late 1090’s and 2000’s, counseling was available and one sister was a part-time chaplain in Scoil Mhuire and later in Colaiste Iosagain. Ministries to the Travelling people are still carried on from the house in Ballymorris and Sr. Kathleen works with the non-nationals in the Primary School. Colaiste Iosagain still has one sister who commutes from Portlaoise. Mount St. Anne’s, Killenard, the former Novitiate for the Province, lies just a few miles outside Portarlington.
Sr. Peig O’Rourke left to help with others to set up a house in Chile and in 1979, Sr. Mary Kavanagh went to Zambia. Sr. Mary Kavanagh, who taught in and was manager of Scoil Mhuire as well as Superior, went to Zambia in 1979. Sad to say, she was killed there the following year R.I.P.
Mount Saint Anne's was for many years the Novitiate for the Presentation Sisters of the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin. It currently functions as a retreat centre and is operated jointly by the three Irish Provinces.
History: This beautiful mansion, originally known as ''Mount Henry' was the home of the landlord for the surrounding area, Edward Randal Skeffington-Smyth. The building of this Georgian mansion was completed in 1820. The design for the house was elaborate. It is fronted with dressed granite, the entrance consisting of a raised platform of Portland flags, reached by three steps, surrounded by a portico, which is supported by pillars, crowned by a graceful pediment and flanked by large bay windows on either side. The front hall is imposing with flooring of Portland flags and beautiful moulded ceilings supported with columns of imitation marble. This work was carried out by Italian artisans and by the renowned firm of 'Morrisons of London'.
In 1823 the Skeffington-Smyths took up residence in the house and lived here until 1922.The last owner of 'Mount Henry' was Major Randal Charles Skeffington-Smyth, born in 1863, son of Colonial Edward Skeffington-Smyth who died in 1887. His mother, Letitia, was a daughter of the first Lord Castletown. Major Skefffington-Smyth left for London at the outbreak of the first World War and the house was left in the charge of a caretaker. Around 1919/1920 the house was rented for one year by the famous Dublin physician, Dr. Oliver St. John Gogarty.
In 1922, the house was sold to a Mr. Burke for the sum of IR£1,500. In the late twenties, he sold it to the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. It became the residence of the Bishop of this Diocese, Dr. Cullen, who in turn, sold it to the Presentation Sisters in 1933.
The house was then renamed 'Mount St. Anne's' and the Sisters took up residence on 26th July 1933, the Feast of St. Anne. On 2nd January 1935, the first novices and postulants arrived and on 6th January Dr. Cullen solemnly opened the novitiate and imparted the Papal blessing to the community. The house ceased to be a novitiate in 1973 with the establishment of a central novitiate in Co. Limerick.
In 1974 Mount St. Anne's became a Liturgy Centre and here many people studied the Theology of Liturgy, The Prayer of the Church, the Eucharist and the Sacraments and related subjects. In 1978, the Liturgy Centre moved to St. Patrick's College, Carlow.
Mount St Anne's then became a Retreat Centre. Retreats (directed, preached, private) for students, adults and groups take place here. Many workshops, training and planning opportunities are available.
The Presentation Sisters welcome individuals and groups who wish to grow in faith, renew themselves in prayer and search for God's plan in their lives. Jesus said, 'I came that they may have life and have it to the full'.
Ballymorris Community: Founded on 1st October, 1992 from Presentation Provincialate in Athlone, its founding Sisters were Sr Anne Smyth, Sr. Nora Cunneen, Sr. Marie Behan. The County Manager requested the Sisters presence and ministry to the Laois Travellers based at Woodlands Park, Portarlington and that was the reason for its foundation.
The ‘house’ is located close to the halting site at Woodlands Park and is the property of Laois County Council. It is situated at the Ballymorris Cross, approximately one mile from the town of Portarlington. The building itself is a bungalow, occupied by three sisters, and is mainly used for ministry to Travellers, pre-school and homework support club. Extensions consist of an outdoor shed which was renovated and made suitable for use with Travellers.
The pre-school was opened on 3rd December 1992 with Department of Education & Science sanction. This is a one-room, pre-school allowing for 14 children to be catered for, all of whom were travellers initially. Grants were received in 2006 from E.O.C.P., Dept of Justice, Equality and Law Reform towards upgrading of the facility and now other children can be included by request.