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Nuns are told to pray harder after losing home in planning row

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Hiding: The Carmelite nuns hurry away from the court with the Child of Prague statue.
Photo: Daragh McSweeny

Hiding: The Carmelite nuns hurry away from the court with the Child of Prague statue. Photo: Daragh McSweeny

Show of faith: Sister Anne Marie and Mother Superior Irene Gibson

Show of faith: Sister Anne Marie and Mother Superior Irene Gibson

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Hiding: The Carmelite nuns hurry away from the court with the Child of Prague statue. Photo: Daragh McSweeny

Two Carmelite nuns will have to find a new hermitage after their Mother Superior was found guilty of breaching planning laws - but they won't find themselves homeless for Christmas with sentencing adjourned to give them five months to locate a new base.

Cork County Council objected to the dwelling at Corran South near Leap, west Cork, amid claims that it was "entirely unauthorised".

It compromised a two-storey chapel-like building and a number of small, single storey accommodation 'pods'.

An action for a breach of planning regulations for developing an unauthorised compound was subsequently taken against Mother Sr Irene Gibson in 2016.

'Harsh'

Sr Gibson had pleaded not guilty. The nuns described the council action as "cold-hearted" and "harsh".

Judge James McNulty heard outline evidence in the case last May but adjourned matters until yesterday to allow him to consider matters.

He ruled at Skibbereen District Court that there was a clear breach of planning regulations and he convicted Sr Gibson.

The judge stressed that while all faiths were respected before the court, he did not think it was a proper place for large holy statues to be displayed - with one nun holding a large Child of Prague, which is believed by some to bring fine weather.

After the judge's comments, the statue was removed from the courtroom.

The court was told that Cork County Council Executive Planner Philip O'Sullivan visited the site on Monday.

He confirmed that the unauthorised access had been closed off.

The two-storey building which locals had complained about was gone but four of the small accommodation 'pods' were still there together with a steel container, fences and signs. The nuns told the court they are now hoping to dispose of the Leap site.

Judge McNulty stressed that the council regulations must be adhered to.

"I am a great believer in the Lord provides but he will have to hurry up [with these items]," he said.

Judge McNulty said the nuns may have to pray harder so the matter can be finally resolved.

Planning permission had not been initially sought for the development.

Council officials insisted they offered the nuns every opportunity to comply with planning and did everything possible to avoid court action.

Judge McNulty adjourned sentencing until April 28.

One nun, Sr Anne Marie, who is from New Zealand, said the Leap planning wrangle would likely cost Sr Gibson €75,000.

She said the nuns had endured tremendous stress since the council commenced the enforcement action.

After the ruling, the nuns left court without comment. One departed in the rain clutching the large statue of the Child of Prague.

The nuns - part of the Carmelite Order of the Holy Face of Jesus - pray, eat and read in their cells, live a simple life and only speak for one hour each day.

Irish Independent