Nuns ordered to leave unauthorised compound by Cork County Council

Sr Irene Gibson, Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus, after she appeared at the district court in Skibbereen, Co Cork, yesterday, with Sr Anne Marie, from the Holy Family Carmelite Hermitage, Leap, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

A nun who only speaks for an hour a day due to a vow of silence has until December to find a new home after being brought to court by Cork County Council over an alleged breach of planning laws.

The local authority claimed that Sr Irene Gibson had constructed a two-storey cladded building near Leap in West Cork, incorporating a wooden chapel, as well as a wooden shed and timber fence and unauthorised access to the road.

Sr Irene has been a Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus for 30 years, and was joined just this week in her hermetical way of life by Sr Anne Marie from New Zealand. Those in the order take vows of obedience and poverty and the court heard that due to the vow of silence, they speak for just one hour a day.

Cork County Council had brought proceedings before Skibbereen District Court, alleging a breach of Section 154 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Solicitor for the local authority, Patricia Murphy, told Judge James McNulty that there had been a failure to comply with an enforcement notice, and that the entire settlement at Corran South near Leap was “entirely unauthorised”.

Photographs of the buildings taken in June 2018 were shown to the court and Ms Murphy said the local authority had received complaints from members of the public “in the vicinity” in relation to the settlement, which led to the initiation of proceedings in 2016.

Sr Irene’s solicitor, Letty Baker, said: “All the buildings are for religious purposes, for prayer and contemplation. Where they are living is very basic. They are selling the property and they are hoping that will remedy everything.”

Ms Baker told the court that some elements of the construction had already been removed since last year and the rest was for sale. The court heard YouTube videos showed construction of the buildings and that a site inspection carried out Monday this week showed that it was still a substantial construction.

Local authority executive planner Philip O’Sullivan said of his Monday visit: “To say that that entrance is dangerous is an understatement.”

It was explained that Monday was the day Sr Anne Marie entered the order, doubling the community to two, that the entrance was normally closed to traffic, and that 25 people had been present for what Ms Baker said was a “joyous day”.

However, Mr O’Sullivan said a large crane had been at the site as recently as April, reducing the building to one storey, adding:

This has gone on a very long time. I feel very sorry for the residents.

Ms Murphy said she liked to think the county council had done all they could to avoid bringing the matter to court and that the sale of the property would not rectify the situation regarding planning permission.

“It would be dreadful if there was a criminal prosecution against this lady. They have nowhere else to go,” Ms Baker said, adding that it had been hoped that others would join the order in Leap.

“It hasn’t worked out and they are moving on.”

Judge McNulty granted an adjournment until December 10, saying: “We are subject to the law.”

The judge also wondered if one of the many orders in West Cork or the Diocesan authorities could offer the nuns a new home, and might also consider offering a location for the West Cork Women Against Domestic Violence project, which is seeking a site for a refuge.

“Maybe they could do some great good by providing a place for a refuge and a little place for the defendants,” he said.

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