Carmelite Sisters' Holy Family Hermitage in Cork on market for €25,500

Maybe it’s the vow of silence that makes Reverend Mother Irene Gibson quick witted, or frustration at hearing a judge quip she needs to pray harder and obey planning laws, but her tongue is sharp.

Last week the Sunday Independent approached the nun at the West Cork property she owns, and at which she lives with another Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus, Sr Anne Marie, but Mother Irene made it clear she was in no mood to entertain guests.

I followed up with a phone call.

“I was hoping to speak with Mother Irene, please.”

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Her reply was curt.

“You better keep hoping because she’s not available.”

She abruptly hung up.

The site has been the subject of a protracted planning dispute and a colourful court case that saw a statue of the Child of Prague ordered from the courtroom in Skibbereen by Judge James McNulty last Tuesday.

He convicted Mother Irene of breaching the Planning Development Act but deferred sentencing until April to give the nuns an opportunity to arrange new accommodation in Youghal, East Cork.

A man in his 70s offered the nuns a home there but is currently running repairs on it. As a result, the Carmelite Sisters’ Holy Family Hermitage is now for sale and advertised to prospective buyers online. The asking price is €25,500. There is said to be one interested party but the sale will come at some loss for middle-aged Mother Irene.

She paid €32,000 for the land at Corran South, near Leap. It had been a garden centre 19 years ago, before the nun bought it, but Cork County Council said that had also been an unauthorised development.

Mother Irene invested another €50,000 on works carried out to the site in an attempt to convert it into a community of religious Carmelite nuns before falling foul of planning rules.

It was the subject of five individual complaints about structures at the property. None of the complainants were in court last week but some neighbours told the Sunday Independent they were concerned about the impact the hermitage would have on property values.

Most were supportive of the nuns and recognised efforts made recently to improve the site.

They were happy at the removal of an unsightly two-storey building previously used for saying Tridentine Mass – old Latin Masses said by a priest facing the altar instead of a congregation.

Locals said 10 to 15 cars would park outside the grounds on busy Sundays when Masses took place.

At present the site is made up of four sheds and a storage container. These are hidden from the road by a fence, decorated with signage and a statue of the Virgin Mary adorned with the words “Ave Maria”.

One of the signs maps out the nuns’ daily horarium. The routine includes a 4am rise, regular prayers, masses, dinner at 12.30pm and a lunchtime siesta.

“With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts,” it reads.

In front of the fence is a clay bank and a pathway leading down to the nuns’ compound. Some of the clay is fresh and has been put there to seal off an unauthorised entrance that had been created to access the site.

A little stand houses an honesty jar for passers-by to pay for homemade jam kept at the entrance. The ‘For Sale’ sign is a new addition.

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