Daydream believer

IT could be said, in historical terms, the fall of the Irish ascendancy marked the rise of another ruling class the Catholic church.

Multi-acred demesnes became self-sufficient monasteries, convents, boarding schools, orphanages and borstals.

Many of these institutions were built from the donations of wealthy patrons, especially in the post-Famine era, when the religious orders were to the fore in alleviating a threatened meltdown of peasant society.

Despite its small size and its location in South Tipperary, Clogheen has a number of period properties and two are now on the market.

The first, Cooleville, graced these pages last week and is a 90-acre Georgian demesne on the market for offers in the region of €2.75 million.

The second, The Hermitage, is a three-storey former convent on five acres of ground which has hit the market with an asking price of €2.5m through Remax Central.

Gifted to the Mercy Order by Lady Catherine Butler of Ormond, it was built in 1886 to a design by a Sr Vaughan, a Mercy nun who, it is believed, was also an architect.

The house sits almost on the foothills of the Knockmealdowns, in the heart of hill-walking country and on the Vee route. Tall and narrow to the front, the house is faced in red sandstone and is so well built, it appears bomb-proof. It's deceptively spacious, with most of the house running back towards the mountains.

The nuns vacated the property in the early 1990s, when it was converted into a fishing lodge. In 1998, the property was bought by Anne Boyle and Phil Moloney, whose dream was to escape Dublin and set up their own healing centre in the country. As they both had full-time jobs Phil in occupational therapy and Anne a second-level teacher they had an extended bungalow in mind, but on viewing the Hermitage purchased the property without any qualms.

They completely renovated the building: hallways were carpeted, rooms given en suite bathrooms, walls painted with bright colours and communal living areas created.

What you have today is As Solas, a vibrant healing centre which can cater for groups of up to 24, with self-catering or full catering an option.

Every type of alternative treatment is covered here and Phil and Anne offer teaching courses in a number of techniques. In tandem, other groups block-book the Hermitage and there are day and evening classes taking place all the time.

This flexibility means the house, with its 11 en suite bedrooms, can function as a retreat centre, hostel or health farm, says selling agent Jim Cashin of Remax Central.

The Hermitage is a walk-in proposition as it stands, but it also comes with a four-acre site that has planning permission for development. This could be sold off separately or developed to augment any enterprise in the Hermitage. The house itself has an acre of ground which includes a number of water features, manicured lawns, an orchard and flower beds.

It's most striking feature, and of particular interest to those with alternative beliefs, is the labyrinth, created during a group workshop, which leads on to a sweat lodge.

Along with the restful meditation room (formerly the nuns' chapel), it is a good indication of the change in practice and belief in modern Ireland. And the market available to it.

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