The Sisters of Mercy will celebrate 150 years since they first arrived in Cahir, this Saturday, in the company of the community where they came to live, work and support.
From small and difficult beginnings the community grew and from the Cahir base sisters established centres of education and caring as far away as Wales.
The first three sisters left the Mercy Convent in Cappoquin on a cold, wet evening in May 1863, making their way in a horse-drawn cart over the Knockmealdown Mountains, through the Vee, skirting bay Lough, on the old road to Cahir. An uncomfortable and dangerous journey. Before dark they came down Barrack Street, over the River Suir bridge and catching their first glimpse of Cahir Castle turned into the Mall where there first home in Cahir was to be.
As community numbers grew a second house on the Mall was acquired and a third on Castle Street, until the present convent was built in 1877. Mother Bernard Vaughan, the superior, designed and supervised the building herself. Known as ‘Mrs Vaughan,’ a respectful title at the time, she was a capable, powerful and kind woman who would be very much at home with today’s far-seeing female entrepreneur.
Many of the first nuns died young from pneumonia or TB.
In Cahir the Mercy Sisters established a girls’ primary school, a secondary school (Scoil Chriost Ri) and boarding school. From Cahir a convent and school were established in Portlaw, a school and hospital in Clogheen and a school in Ballyporeen. They also developed St Joseph’s Hospital in Clonmel. Having worked in the adjacent St Michael’s Hospital Sr Eileen Fahey saw the great need for a rehabilitation centre. She established the ‘Aiseiri’ centre in Cahir and this spawned a similar centre in Wexford nad a centre for young people in Ballyragget. In 1957 Mother Eucharia Keane founded a convent and a junior primary school in Haverfordwest in Wales. Since arriving in Cahir in 1863 the contribution of the Mercy Sisters to Cahir has been considerable.