The Presentation Sisters arrived in Dingle, Co. Kerry in the early nineteenth century (1829) with the specific remit of providing a Catholic Education for the young girls of that area. Within a relatively short period, the Sisters’ role was extended to one involving helping to feed and clothe a large number of those families which were not well-off, especially in times of serious social and physical disruption, such as during The Famine and in times of cholera and other plagues.
The current Convent building was designed by the renowned Neo-Gothic architect, J.J. Mc Carthy and was developed in phases between 1870 and 1900. In 1919, Rev. Mother Ita was elected Superior of the Convent and commissioned a number of major alterations to the Chapel in the early 1920’s; these modifications included, in 1922, twelve lancet windows from the Clarke studios depicting excerpts from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The convent was the home of the Presentation Sisters who provided education in an adjoining school until recent times. A letter from Sr. Dorothy explains the background to their decision to lease the building to An Diseart.
I am a member of the Presentation Congregation who has lived in this house for many years. As such I have a keen interest in its history and of course in its future.
Raghaidh mé siar tamall fada go dtí 1829 nuair a tháinig na siúracha anseo don céad uair and when material for our Annals was first recorded. Dingle, at that time was different to the Dingle of today. In the life story of Nano Nagle, our Foundress, we can read of the deplorable conditions in which some of the citizens of Cork lived in the eighteenth century.
Some of the people of Dingle were equally in a distressed state when the Sisters arrived on the scene. Education in its many forms was vital for the wellbeing and development of the People
Our Annals tell the story of life here, taking us through the world of Famine, world wars, the death of Daniel O’Connell, the era of the Black and Tans, stories of poverty and struggle and of the sheer goodness that is still seen in the people of Dingle.
Fast forwarding then to more recent times –a mhalairt de scéal atá ann anois. Do réir a chéile thaining laghdú ar lion na Siúracha. Chuaigh cuid acu ar shlí na fírinne, beannacht Dé lena n-anamacha. Theastuigh ó chuid eile maireachtaint go simplí I dtithe seachas Clochair mhóra.
Now, formal education is in the very capable hands of wonderful people, many of whom I had the privilege to work with. So we, as a community felt free to look outside of here and become involved in other ministries elsewhere. From our Community two sisters went to work in Slovakia during the time of Communist rule, ag obair leis na daoine ar na h-imill. Sisiters went to Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries. A few of us crossed the border into Cork? We worked with vulnerable young people who were not being catered for by our Education System and I was for a short time exiled in Dublin!
We knew that we would not always need this house. We knew that we had a lot to offer —much more than the physical structure and beautiful gardens. We asked ourselves” What can we do now so that our front and back doors can be open to welcome everyone” Did we ever consider selling the Place? No. What determined this definite decision?
It has to be our beautiful J.J. McCarthy designed chapel, seod den scoth with its Mayler windows and of course the twelve beautiful lancet windows of Harry Clarke. This sacred space has been hallowed by the prayers of our Presentation Sisters, their students and many visitors from all over the world. Early inspiration came from two well-known priests at the time, both of whom were acquainted with Dingle—Fr. Pat Moore R.I.P. and fr. Tomás O Caoimh. Their suggestions for the place included using it as a location for people visiting holy places, reminiscent of the days when travellers/ pilgrims partook of the hospitality of the monks of old. They saw where artists could gather and work in peace and quiet. Their many ideas were visionary and practical but time was not right yet for putting them into practice.
There were twelve sisters still resident in the house then. As time went by we looked at many other possibilities in conjunction with the local people—the property possibly to be used as a centre for young people of all nationalities, creeds and none, looking for a meaning in Life, in the model of Taize in France.
With the idea of having a permanent praying community in place, we asked thr Glenstal Community if they would be interested. After a very promising visit from a carload of enthusiastic Benedictines, we thought everything was solved
However, all came to naught! Back home in Glenstal, the reality dawned on the community. The project was too large an undertaking from both a financial and manpower point of view.
At this stage an t-Athair Pádraig O’Fiannachta ,of happy memory arrived on the scene. Having approached him, it was decided to consult with the Bishop. In fact we offered the property to him for diocesan use. However he felt the diocese had sufficient centres of spirituality at that time. Having exhausted all outside possibilities we fell back on the original idea of using the centre as a local resource.
A public meeting of interested people was called and there was great enthusiasm and energy evident in the group. A Board of Managemment was formed and out of that An Díseart was born.
The sisters of 1829 must look at Díseart today and give a big bualadh bos to all of you here tonight! “It’s in your hands now” they say,” our human remains are there under the copper beach, but our dreams , our hopes and our prayers are guiding you into another new phase of An Díseart”.
Díseart Visitor Centre
The Harry Clarke Windows
The Nano Nagle Room
Last Supper Fresco
Chapel of the Sacred Heart
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