Prawn cocktail and plum pudding: Poor Clares sample the 'good life' for one day
SISTER Regina is finding it hard to contain her excitement, as the expectancy around Christmas builds.
One of 11 Poor Clare nuns at an enclosed convent in Ennis, Co Clare, she says she is "so excited to be telling someone about our life here".
Tomorrow will be Sr Regina's 28th Christmas Day spent at the monastery where the nuns will take a brief respite from their life of austerity to enjoy a Christmas menu that includes prawn cocktail, melon, homemade soup, turkey and ham, and pudding.
It will be far cry from the more modest fare usually served up for the rest of the year. Entertainment will be provided later by the first instalment of the goings on at 'Downton Abbey' after Sr Regina revealed that they have received the box set. She says: "We're told it's very good."
Abbess Sr Gabriel smiles and says: "We'll be having a glass of wine as well, but don't ask how big!"
All of the food and drink -- and Christmas crackers -- are donations from people around the country with one woman from Clonmel, Co Clare, sending on a wrapped present for each of the sisters every year.
Sr Regina says: "People are fantastic. They are our bread and butter and they want us to have a nice dinner for Christmas. It is a family day and we do what families do."
The Poor Clares are in Ennis since 1958 and Sr Bernadette has been in the monastery for the past 53 years.
She says: "It has been a good life. I can honestly say that while we have lived an extraordinary life in the sense that it is so different, being away from life outside and maybe not doing things I would have loved to do, I feel that I am the person that the Lord meant me to be."
Sr Gabriel says: "No two days are the same here. There is always something happening. You wouldn't change your life for anything. No regrets. We have followed the dream."
Sr Bernadette says: "I am always amazed that people pick up a certain joy when they come in here. We never put it on. It is just us."
This prompts Sr Gabriel to joke: "It must be the ecstasy tablets!"
The nuns also have close links with former President Mary McAleese who has spent annual retreats at the convent in recent years.
Sr Gabriel says: "We are here to pray for the people. We stand before God on the people's behalf, that is what we are about."
And while the nuns don't normally venture beyond the walls of the monastery, they are well aware of the impact the recession is having with people regularly calling to the door for support and prayer.
Sr Gabriel says: "We have our finger on the pulse."
She says that the nuns watch the news every night.
"It would be wrong if we were isolated from the world. The world's troubles are our concern. You could lead a very insular life, a very selfish life, but that would be wrong."
Sr Bernadette says: "We are sometimes the first to hear the news because if there is a calamity outside, people come in to ask for prayers."
The request for prayers from people all around the country and locally has risen dramatically with the recession.
Sr Regina says that in the days running up to Christmas, "the bell is going continually throughout the day with people asking for prayers".
Aged 28 when she entered the monastery in 1984, Sr Regina says that the monastery touches on a vulnerability in people when they enter seeking support.
She says: "It is an oasis here and we are privileged to be set apart."
She says: "You would have a number of people coming in. They're looking gorgeous. They're made up, the hair is done and all of the rest of it and two seconds in here and they're crying.
"That has happened an awful lot this year, so much worry and anxiety and people carrying a lot of burdens and hopefully they feel better, with a little bit more hope, going back out there."
During Christmas week, the nuns are on holiday from their 5.45am starts, but the cycle of prayer continues seven times a day.
Sr Gabriel says: "We are in the heart of the town. You feel you are with the people and carrying them too."