A newly-published book gives a rare insight in images and words into the daily lives of those who inhabit the only Cistercian monastery for women in Ireland.

The book, A Year in the Life: Glencairn Abbey, focuses on the community in Co Waterford, with proceeds from it going towards a building project there.

The women’s lives are described as a true living monastic journey, fulfilling the motto of St Benedict ‘ora et labora’ — to work is to pray.

Monastic life at Glencairn Abbey calls the Sisters to prayer seven times a day.

Abbess Mother Marie Fahy leads the women to pray, starting their first vigil at 4.10am.

Sr Kathleen enjoys cutting the grass of the abbery grounds and can get up to great speeds on her ride-on lawnmower

“Like other Cistercian monasteries, we have a close relationship with the land — farming and working with the soil.” says Sr Mairead McDonagh. “Most of the crops in our garden are organically produced, as far as it is possible. During the summer months it is the time for silage and hay- making. I often fall asleep at 9pm listening to the hum of the silage machinery in the fields around us.”

“One of my favourite jobs is to walk out and open the monastery gates,” Sr Angela Finegan adds. “In the stillness and simplicity of early morning, as the world is beginning to wake up, it is easy to know the presence of God holding all things in being. We make life so complicated when God is pure simplicity, pure love, and in these moments I feel great gladness in knowing I need nothing more than Him.”

Sr Agnes O’Shea was Mother Abbess at Glencairn Abbey prioer to Mother Marie and celebrated her diamond jubilee in 2013. She lso served as novice director for more than 20 years.

Founded in 1932, this was the first monastery for women in Ireland since the Reformation.

Prior to that, the building was in private ownership. During the Middle Ages, it formed a portion of the episcopal lands held by the Celtic monks of Lismore.

August 2016 saw the reconstruction and completion of an accommodation and refectory area for the community.

It was then discovered that the west wings of the monastery — listed buildings of architectural and archaeological significance — were in urgent need of repair.

This followed the demolition and reconstruction of the west cloister and the refurbishment of several windows, which are currently being sensitively conserved.

Sr Michelle and Sr Mairéad clean solar panels on the newly-renovated living quarters at Glencairn Abbery. The new panels generate energy from daylight, saving on the monastery’s electricity outlay

The current phase of works also includes new guest accommodation and the provision for a new visitor centre and facilities at the monastery.

A Year in the Life: Glencairn Abbey contains 160 pages. The hardback coffee table book retails for €24.99 and is published by the Columba Press, Dublin, with photographs from Killarney-based photographer Valerie O’Sullivan.


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