News from Times Past with Brian Gabriel, Blarney & District Historical Society

Establishing a Community of Nuns at Blarney 1882

The village of Blarney, which fifty years ago was very unimportant, and would not have been known outside the county, but for the famous old Castle and caves, and still more famous ‘kissing stone’, has now assumed a position which bodes well for its future. Would that it might also prove to be typical of our country’s growth in prosperity. Half a century ago the firm of Mahony Brothers employed a few hands in the manufacture of tweeds; and looking at the immense concern which now gives employment to 700 or 800 hands daily, and at which the weekly wages bill amounts to about £400, a striking exemplification is found of the truth of the saying “that from small beginnings, great things arise.” The firm of Mahony Brothers has made a name for itself through-out the entire civilised world, and the excellent tweed manufactured by it (called by the appropriate name of the ‘Blarney Tweed’ finds almost as ready a sale in Melbourne and Sydney, in New York and San Francisco, as it does in the cities of Cork and Dublin. What a striking contrast does this busy village now present (we will soon be forced to give it a place on the map of Ireland amongst the towns) as compared with ninety-nine out of every hundred villages to be met within the Provence? On week days the hum of busy industry and the click-click of machinery fall upon the ear, proclaiming to all that idleness and want have found no resting place in Blarney, and on Sunday, the bright faces and neat dresses on the young girls (for the majority of the workers are girls) indicate a degree of comfort and happiness begotten of industry which we would wish to see the rule, and not the exception, through-out the country. The rows of cleanly-kept cottages also speak of the thrift of their occupiers, and so do the accounts of the deposits made weekly in the Savings Bank, which Miss Breen, niece of Mrs Nicholas Mahony, has established for the workers in the factory. But superadded to all this, there is a community of feeling, a kindness of regard, existing between employers and employed, which is seldom met with elsewhere. Mr and Mrs Nicholas Mahony, and Miss Breen, their niece, know nearly every worker in the establishment by name, and they go out amongst them, and have a smile and a kind word for the smallest child as well as the oldest man or woman in the village. The result of all this kindly treatment and solicitude, fostered for half a century, has been that the name of Mahony has grown to be a synonym in Blarney for all that is generous, good and kind. We have now spoken of what has been done for the Blarney people in the past in regard to their material comfort and welfare; but Mr and Mrs Nicholas Mahony have not been content with this, and have taken steps to see that the spiritual wants of the now populace village will be amply provided for. To-morrow will, therefore, mark a new epoch in the history of the village, for on that day four Sisters of Mercy from the Mallow Convent will take up their abode in what we may call the new convent at Blarney. During the past twenty years, it has been the dream of Mr and Mrs Nicholas Mahony to establish a community of nuns in the district; and as there is always a way where there is a will, Providence has blessed them in their declining years with the fulfilment of that desire. The building to be used as a convent occupies a site overlooking the factory, and a fine view of both old and new castles is to be had from it, while in front of the house well laid-out grounds extend to the road leading past the factory into the village. Until June last, it was the residence of the medical officer of the district, and then becoming vacant, Mr Mahony at once set about transforming it into the handsome convent which it is today. Various alterations and extensions were found necessary to render it suitable for a conventual establishment, but neither money, nor time, nor trouble was with-held, and the result is as might be expected – a convent has been established in the village which will be in future generations an enduring memorial of the generosity, kindness and religious fervour of the respected donors. The doors of the new building were thrown open to the villagers yesterday, and all day there was a constant stream of people through various apartments. Mrs Mahony, Miss Breen, and Miss Eugenie Dunne (who is also a niece of Mrs Mahony) taking the greatest pains to explain use of the rooms, and to describe the appointments to the many visitors, and Protestants as well as Catholics availed of the privilege accorded to them, and by all who made a visit to the building there was but one feeling expressed – that of wonder at the transformation made, and admiration for the taste and neatness displayed in the fitting-up of the establishment. On entering by the front door the visitor is ushered into a spacious and well-lighted hall, furnished with a few handsome mahogany chairs and around the walls are sacred pictures which at once denote the character of the establishment. The reception room is off the hall at the left, and the appointments here, as in other parts of the building, are most suitable – being chastely simple and substantial, and devoid of all grandness or ostentation. The chapel is on the right hand side of the hall, and it is a perfect gem in its way. The altar, which is of wood, was made by Mr Kelleher (carpenter to the firm), and its construction reflects a great credit on him. The front is carved and painted in white and gold, and the altar fittings are very handsome, the most of them being of Irish manufacture. A beautiful set of Stations of the Cross are also suspended round the walls of the chapel. The Vestment Room, in which the chaplain will robe and disrobe, is in close proximity to the chapel. Passing along a narrow hall leading from the main one, we come to the refectory on the left, which is furnished with plain table, seats, etc., and on the right is the kitchen, which is a most commodious apartment, nicely tiled, and supplied with a good range and an abundance of water. Close by is a small room for the lay visitors, and about equi-distant from the refectory and kitchen is a fine pantry, which Mrs Mahony has stocked with every requisite, the bedroom candles being even in the candle-holders ready for use. This pantry is a marvel of completeness in every respect. At the rear of the kitchen is a scullery opening into the yard which can be used for washing purposes, and at the opposite side of the yard is a room which can be used as a storeroom. We now proceed to the second storey and find that a spacious bath-room is placed directly over the kitchen. The remainder of it is divided into six bedrooms, or cells as they are called, which are characterised by the same simplicity and neatness to be found all over the building. On this storey, commanding a fine view of the beauties of the district is the community room, where the sisters meet for recreation and conversation an hour every evening. A handsome table occupies the centre of the room, and above it are placed two beautiful duplex lamps on a massive stand from the establishment of Messrs John Perry & Son of Cork. The entire arrangements of the convent are most complete, and the building, as it stands is, as we have already said, a lasting monument of the goodness and generosity of Mr and Mrs Nicholas Mahony. The good sisters will take up their abode in the building tomorrow, and their advent will, we have no doubt, inspire many a fervent prayer to be sent up to Heaven from the villagers, invoking blessings on their worthy benefactors. There are nearly six hundred young girls employed at the factory, and it goes without saying that the presence of the Sisters of Mercy will be productive of incalculable good in the district. There are good schools in the village already, but it is intended to establish an infant school in connection with the convent, and this is sure to prove a great boon. The good results of an education based on religion, are too apparent to require any accentuation at our hands; and we will now conclude our notice of the establishment of a convent at Blarney, with the expression of hope that Mr and Mrs Mahony may live to see this, their latest and perhaps greatest philanthropic work, crowned with the success which well-directed efforts eminently deserve. The above article appeared in The Cork Examiner of Monday November 20 1882

The next illustrated public lecture of the Blarney and District Historical Society takes place on Thursday 1st March 2018 at 8pm in Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál, (Blarney Secondary School). Guest Speaker for the evening, Mr. Liam O’hUigín, of the Middle Parish History Society, speaks on ‘The Life and Times of Terence MacSwiney’, the rebel-hero Lord Mayor of Cork in 1920.  Everybody welcome. Please note date.