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Next time she visits the Abbey this ex-nun won't have to break into it

SEVERAL years ago I tried to break into a building. It wasn't any ordinary building, it was Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham.

The old boarding school was the place where I had been a novice nun and I was there with a film crew, making a documentary about my time with the Loreto nuns.

The Abbey had been closed for years and it showed. The grass in the front drive was a foot high. When I peered into the windows the corridors were dusty and the paint was peeling on the walls.

I looked up at my old noviciate room, and the net curtains were ripped. Loreto Abbey was just for the ghosts now.

I remember when I was a student in Loreto College, Crumlin, in the 1980s, we'd come to the Abbey to play against the boarders. We used to love playing the 'posh' girls at these matches – the Abbey girls always provided the best refreshments after the games, and we trounced them every single time.

FASCINATED

I was fascinated by the boarders and their lives in this school. They seemed happy enough, but I could never fully buy the idea that any child would be completely ok having been sent away from home to live.

I returned to Loreto Abbey then as a novice nun in 1991. I remember the day my parents dropped me off and left me there to settle into my new home with another novice nun and four fully-fledged sisters.

The building was intimidating. It had four areas – the boarding school, the main community house where 40/50 nuns lived, the novitiate and the retirement house for retired nuns.

It was a magical place – full of students, nuns, teachers and me. At night, when I was walking back from the main church over to my living quarters, I had to walk along these dark long corridors.

I would get scared, and could imagine footsteps behind me. It wouldn't be unusual for me to bump into my novice mistress, while I was running full pelt, to make my way as quick as possible back to my living quarters.

I loved visiting the old nuns in the retirement home. These women were inspirational. In my actual novice community, we had two nuns – Sr Cornelius and Sr Lorach, who were both in their 80s. They gave us lectures sometimes and they were the brightest ladies going.

The time came when I decided to leave the convent, and one of the saddest memories I have was when I walked around the Abbey, and said goodbye to the older nuns. They were so upset, they hated it when any of us 'young ones' left. And I too was very sad, knowing I would never be back in this amazing building.

CRUMBLED

Years later, the nuns sold the Abbey, but the Celtic Tiger plans of some developer to make it into a nursing home and apartments, crumbled. It would end up in NAMA.

My documentary crew and I eventually got in that day. A very nice security guard allowed us into the Abbey, and we made our way through this magnificent 18th century building.

There was one huge room filled with all the baths that had been in the boarding room. The church still had some of the pews, but the altar was bare, with only cobwebs to replace the tabernacle.

It was a sad, empty place. No students, no nuns, no noise. Just memories.

That's the way I feared it would stay.

But now I read that Loreto Abbey is to re-open, this year, as an Irish language school. At last, this incredible structure will be alive again, for education – the best use it could be out to.

I won't have to break in, the next time I visit the Abbey in Rathfarnham.

Here's hoping that the students and teachers enjoy this wonderful building, as I enjoyed all my different times there.


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