A landmark Dominican centre, known for its youth retreats, outreach work and “oasis of calm” in Cork city, is to be put up for sale in September.
Ennismore Dominican Centre in Montenotte, with its extensive gardens, woodland walk, ancient trees — one of which is 400 years old — retreat centre, meditation centre and conference rooms is visited by thousands of school students each year.
Over Covid lockdowns, the centre provided a much-needed place for locals to walk in on the northside of Cork city, which has no other significant green spaces nearby.
The centre also houses refugees.
Although a retreat centre, Ennismore has reached out to the community, welcoming everyone and providing programmes to help youth, people in direct provision, those struggling with addiction and anyone who sought its counsel.
Despite dwindling numbers and fading interest in many religious institutions, Ennismore has found a way to stay relevant, responding to the needs of modern society, welcoming all faiths and none, holding meditations, horticulture classes, and weekly conversations on theology, philosophy and justice.
“The decision to close is not ours,” Father Stephen from the Dominican centre, who has lived and worked at the centre for 11 years said.
“It’s a blow to us. It’s not the local Brothers' decision.
“It doesn’t make sense to us why we’re closing because we’re thriving. And Ennismore is unique. There is no other residential retreat house in Munster now, we’re the last man standing.
“The three goals of the Dominicans in Ireland were 1. outreach – we have that in bucketloads. 2. a link with third-level institutes — we have strong links with UCC and WIT. 3. Young people — we have the biggest youth ministry in the Irish province.
“It begs the question, why is it being closed when the place is doing so well?”
The 2021 Provincial Chapter of the Irish Province of Dominicans, as part of its rationalisation of personnel and services, voted to close Ennismore Retreat Centre, Fr Stephen said.
Currently, there are seven Dominicans resident in Ennismore which is also home to refugees from Ukraine and Syria.
“I’m here 11 years. I’ve been promoting school groups, meditation groups, and housing refugees. Many people use the oasis of quietness here. The feedback we’re getting is that it’s a great loss.
“Many people coming here say it’s an oasis for them, it’s a place they found their sanity. People with mental health issues come here, we do addiction studies here.
“A young lad from a direct provision centre said to me a few weeks ago “I can breathe when I come to Ennismore.”
He’s living in a room with four other guys. He’s been through a difficult journey coming to Ireland. For them, the closure is quite depressing.
“The ETB [Education and Training Board] is marvellous and they will find other places for them. But the location here and the space is unique.
“The kids on school retreats often joke with us coming off the school bus, they say ‘hey, where are the cows?’ But behind that innocent comment is something quite profound, it feels like being in the countryside here yet we’re in the middle of the city.” Once sold, the Dominicans at Ennismore will be transferred to different priories throughout Ireland.
“We’re trying to get the refugees rehoused,” Father Stephen said.
“We have one Ukrainian lady, she’s pregnant with three children. We can take them until December but where do they go then? The option they were given was Citywest [hotel in Dublin], so they’ll be in a hotel room with three kids and a newborn baby. She can have the baby here and stay for a few weeks after the birth but where will they go then?”
‘For Sale’ signs are expected to be erected at the centre from September.