Mountrath in Laois has truly begun a new chapter, with the official rebirth of the Brigidine Convent and school as a vibrant community hub.
With a bustling Christmas market outside in the grounds, an audience in the hall clapped the moment as Sister Mary Sheehy representing the Brigidines, handed over a ceremonial key to Martin Meade chairman of Mountrath Community Forum.
Inviting everyone to give the forum a "resounding bualadh bos", the Sister said they knew the convent and school were in safe hands.
"Isn’t it wonderful to see such festive activities and life and energy here this afternoon, I think it’s marvellous,” she said, to a round of applause.
“We are delighted that after over eight years of the building being unoccupied, that it has now been taken over by Mountrath Community Forum, and there are a number of activities and clubs, social groups, training courses, cultural and sporting activities starting here, including the Men’s Shed and Mountrath Country Markets.
"We congratulate the forum on their vision in embarking on such a comprehensive project, and we are aware of the amount of work done, haven’t they done a wonderful job. We know your enthusiasm will continue into the future. We wish you every blessing and success and we look forward to new life and hope in the future," she said.
Earlier Geraldine Moore secretary of the forum, recalled the great contribution made by the Brigidines to Mountrath for 200 years, from their initial “leap of faith” in opening a convent there from Tullow in 1809.
“The greatest leap of faith the Brigidine community has maybe ever taken is in giving this gift to the community of Mountrath and for that I thank them most sincerely,” she said.
Fr Joe Brophy said it was "a powerful moment, such a sacred moment, that what was begun over 200 years ago is continuing today".
“The sisters worked for nothing, they got their cheque and it went into the communal fund, they worked every hour God sent. It is a testament to think that this lovely building is no long needed for education because the department have taken up where the sisters left off. We pray that the spirit will continue to dwell in us, we say thanks for all up to now, and we look forward to the future, Lord keep going there you’re doing mighty, and we’ll give you a hand as well,” he said.
Over 60 volunteers have been working in the hub in the past few weeks to ready it for its new life.
Though it has lain closed since 2009, the buildings are in sound shape and groups moving in immediately include Mountrath Foroige, Red Cross and scouts.
The men's shed and Mountrath School of Music will also be bas3ed there, with many more organisations to join them.
Santa also visited on Saturday, along with many past pupils who enjoyed reminiscing about their education while touring the school.
Musical entertainment was provided by Camross Comhaltas and the Cosy Cafe Ensemble.