On this day 25 years ago on October 9th 1996 Currow artist Margaret Scanlon put the final brush strokes on a remarkable work of art in the bicycle shed of Muire Gan Smál National School here in Castleisland.
Ms. Scanlon’s work of art, which measures just short of eight feet high by just over 80 feet in length told and still tells the story of the life and times of Hanora Harnett – one of the most inspirational people of any era to walk the streets of the town.
It traces her life from her home in Sandville through her convent life and ends at the other side of the shed wall with a depiction of her heroics as a champion and friend of the poor.
Hanora Harnett was born on October 13th 1798 and she went on to become Mother Joseph Harnett and to establish the Presentation Convent and school in Castleisland and against all odds.
Influence Still Felt Here
Her influence on her native town is still felt here and wherever Castleisland people are to be found throughout the world today.
Born Hanora Harnett in Sandville House, just about a mile outside Castleisland on the Killarney Road – on October 13-1798, she entered the Noviciate in South Presentation Convent, Cork and was professed in 1826 taking the name Joseph.
The 2010 edition of the invaluable Divane’s Calendars looked at the deep-rooted relationship built up here by the Presentation Order since it was established by Mother Joseph in 1846 – now 175 years in this year of 2021.
A paragraph of the foreword, on the cover of the calendar, summed up the work and support structure put in place by the sisters soon after the convent was founded here.
Darkest Period in History
This was at a time when the country was in the grip of its darkest period in history – the Great Famine.
“In the midst of the greatest calamity to befall this country a pioneering group of dedicated sisters founded the Presentation Convent in Castleisland. With selfless devotion and dedication, the Presentation Sisters continue to educate countless generations, nurturing young minds to achieve their inherent potential.”
A Tribute to Mother Joseph
On October 13th 1998 the community in Castleisland celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sr. Joseph Harnett.
The events of that time were co-ordinated by a little committee headed by Denis Divane.
On that occasion also, local teacher and Castleisland native, Noreen O’Dell delivered a tribute to Mother Joseph.
Unremitting Service to the People
Mrs. O’Dell told the large congregation that though Mother Joseph died on April 25th-1888 her spirit of mission did not die with her.
“It has lived on in the work of the sisters of the Castleisland convent down through all of those 152 years which have past since its foundation.
They have given, and are still giving unremitting service to the people of the town and the surrounding area.
Midst of Privation and Struggle
In the midst of the privation and struggle, of those awful famine years, the sisters carried out their work of educating and instructing the children of the parish in the church – a cold, damp building with flagstones lying on a mud floor. These conditions took their toll and Sr. Catherine Vize – who helped set up the convent – died from tuberculosis in April 1849 at only 27 years of age.
In an Evocative Vein
Even in the middle of suffering and hardship there were joyous moments – Mrs. O’Dell continued in an evocative vein:
“On June 11th 1847, on the feast of Corpus Christi, a few days before the nuns took possession of their convent, 80 children – instructed by the sisters – received their first Communion with much fervour and solemnity. They afterwards spent some hours playing in the Convent Garden.
Nuns’ Garden on Communion Day
This event, initiated by Mother Joseph and her community started a tradition which still prevails today – 151 years later.
Imagine the joy and happiness of children and parents in this garden through all of those years. Our First Communion mornings and the May Processions of our childhoods in the ‘Nuns Garden’ have surely become treasured memories indelibly marked on our minds.”
Indomitable Pioneering Spirit
Times were still hard and despite many pleas for help they received little and plans were drawn up to dissolve the community and transfer the nuns to other convents.
However, that indomitable pioneering spirit came to the fore when it was needed most – and, according to Mrs. O’Dell:
“Michael Harnett, a brother of Mother Joseph, who lived in Liverpool sent her £800 – a huge sum of money in those days – with a promise of the same again if needed.
He also promised to send £40 pounds a year to enable them to continue with their work. The first school, to which Michael Harnett also contributed, was opened in 1850.
Mrs. O’Dell then went on to relate her own connections with the convent and sisters over the years:
“In my family alone, my children have been the third generation to have benefited from their labours and I’m sure that there are other families in the locality who have had a longer association with them,” Mrs. O’Dell concluded.
Celebrating 175th This Week
This week, the four remaining sisters of the Presentation order are being celebrated locally.
On Wednesday afternoon, Sr. Albert, Sr. Maureen, Sr. Mary and Sr. Margaret were invited to the Main Street office of Castleisland Heritage for tea and cake and an acknowledgement of the educational services they and their order have provided to generations in Castleisland and surrounding parishes down through all those years.
On Thursday afternoon a special Mass, at which teacher and pupil representatives from Muire Gan Smál National School marked a remarkable 175 years of service by the order to the schoolchildren of the Castleisland area since 1846.
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