In Pictures: the 147-year-old former convent set to become student accommodation
TOWARDS the end of 2019, the seven remaining Sisters of Adoration packed the last of their meagre belongings and set about finally departing a building which many of them had not left for the majority of their adult lives. Their dwindling numbers and increasing ages had simply made rattling around in the huge building and maintaining it more onerous and it was decided that they would vacate, moving instead to the St John of God Convent on Newtown Road.
This would leave a big question. What do you do with a 144 year old protected building, teeming with history in the heart of Wexford town? The answer was to come from across the Atlantic. The history of the building proving an attractive selling point, Georgia Southern University are currently in the process of finalising a deal with the assistance of Wexford County Council to purchase the imposing convent building, with a view to converting into accommodation for the some 70 to 80 students they intend to travel here each year to study at their Wexford campus situated in the old county hall.
While the people of Wexford will be well acquainted with the convent building, situated next door to Bride Street church, we took the opportunity to take a look around before the works to convert it to student accommodation begin.
From the moment you enter the building through huge wooden doors, the sense of history hits you. The enclosed, contemplative community which was established in 1875 by the late Bishop Thomas Furlong with the sanction of Rome, for the purpose of engaging in continuous adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and praying for the people of the diocese. In certain rooms it feels like being transported back in time 100 years or more, things remaining perfectly preserved.
Off the porch to the left and right there are two rooms, one larger and one smaller, in which the nuns would welcome family members and visitors. In the one to the left, our attention was drawn to a bullet hole in one of the old wooden shutters and on the wall. The story from the nuns goes that a skirmish outside in the church grounds during the Civil War resulted in a wayward bullet finding its way into the convent building.
Once you pass the two reception rooms, you're greeted by two more large wooden doors. One has a hatch which the nuns could open from the inside and speak to people outside. Beyond this point, people from the outside world rarely tread.
To say that things are basic inside would be an understatement. There are no frills and the furniture remains arranged, as if waiting for the return of the long departed Sisters. Yellowing newspapers are scattered on a large table in a room on the first floor; some armchairs loosely arranged around a large television. This was the room in which the Sisters would relax in the evenings.
At one point, the convent was home to nearly 40 nuns. As you make your way around the empty halls now, it’s hard to imagine what it would’ve been like at those times; most of the rather small, box rooms occupied and nuns coming to and from their duties. Equally, it’s hard to picture how things worked towards the end with so few. While the building is imposing from the outside, the sheer amount of rooms contained within is hard to comprehend.
There’s quite a distance from the convent’s kitchen, for example, and the refectory or dining room where the sisters would have sat around a large, again basic, table to eat their meals. Supposedly the rooms the Sisters were given when they moved into the convent, were more or less the ones that they stayed in, meaning that in some cases there was quite a distance between the handful of nuns occupying the rooms in the convent at the end. In some cases, they’d nearly have a whole floor to themselves.
Particularly striking are the beautiful wooden staircases which connect each floor and the stained glass windows which illuminate them. The building is a sheer maze and it feels like every single room has its own story to tell. In one of the bathrooms, tucked away at the end of the bath is what looks like a cupboard. When opened, however, there's a little staircase which leads into the roof of the building. Up here you can see clearly the brickwork and architecture which, if there was any doubt in the firstplace, firmly places the buildings construction in the late 1800s.
Down in the basement part of the building was where a lot of the work was done. A whole wall full of old porcelain sinks signifies the laundry room with washing machines and other bits and pieces scattered around. The kitchen contains a couple of massive cookers and an oven, as well as a smaller table, with newspapers again scattered around.
Stepping into another little room, we are greeted by two huge pressing machines and two large bins. This, we’re told, is where the sisters used to make the hosts for Holy Communion. The two large machines press the unleavened wafers into the Holy Communion that’s handed out at Mass.
Looking around the historic building, it’s clear to see the potential for student accommodation. The small single rooms one each floor are already laid out with toilet and showering facilities at central points on each corridor. There are larger rooms at the end of each corridor for socialising and it wouldn't take too much to get the laundry room back up and running for the Amercian students who will call it home for a number of months at a time.
In many ways it's an ideal solution for a building that would have been very hard to find a use for and very hard to maintain otherwise. It will breathe new life into a building that has perhaps fallen into decline. However, there’s quite a bit of work to be done to get to the point of welcoming excited American students and one would imagine that there will be very little change from the €4m estimate placed on the project when all is said and done.