Firhouse Parish History
by Maire Uí Mhurchú
Firhouse Carmelite History (1827-2017)
1827: The Carmelite Sisters from Clondalkin formed a Convent in Firhouse in a house of this name, which was owned by a Mr. Smith.
1828: On 20th March Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, dedicated the Convent Chapel. This event marked the beginning of a long service by the Sisters to the Parishioners of Firhouse which has lasted until today.
Their existence as a contemplative order was banned by the Penal Laws as they were ‘productive.’ To comply with the Law the Sisters built the original school at Firhouse and although a contemplative order they taught all subjects.
1851: The Board of Education took over the school. The Sisters continued to teach Religion.
1868: A new two teacher school was built at a cost of £631.7s.10½d. This served the local community until 1954.1954: The Carmelite Sisters provided a site and a four teacher school, now known as Scoil Carmel, was built . This was later extended to 6 classrooms. In September 1975 a new extension was built consisting of ten classrooms, Remedial Room, Kitchen, Library and Assembly Hall.1973: On 1st January 12.30.p.m. Mass was introduced as a Parish Mass.1974: On 1st January 11.30.a.m. and 6.15.p.m. Masses were introduced.
1975: On 1st November Firhouse Parish was constituted and Fr. Noel Madden appointed Administrator. Meanwhile the Carmelite Oratory served the local community. In the absence of a Parish Church the parishioners attended the Convent Masses at 9.00.a.m. and 10.30.a.m. These Masses were celebrated by the Fathers from the Carmelite College in Terenure, who have been the Convent Chaplains since 3rd December 1882. Among the Carmelite Chaplains was Fr. Lamont, then well known as Bishop Donal Lamont. Previous to 3rd December 1882 the Dominican Fathers were the Convent Chaplains.
1977: On 1st May Scoil Treasa, a second sixteen room primary school was blessed and opened.
1977: On 16th October the Mass Centre was transferred to Scoil Treasa.
1979: The 27th May – the momentous occasion of the opening of our new Church. Its title “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” is in recognition and appreciation of the Carmelite presence in the parish for nearly two centuries.
Read More about the Firhouse Carmelite Monastery (now closed)
When the new housing estates were built and the population increased the parish of Bohernabreena, Firhouse was constituted and the Convent Chapel served the local community. There were two Masses every morning, at 7.30 and 9.30 during Lent; and for other special occasions, there was also an evening Mass. On Sundays there were four Masses. Baptisms also took place in the Convent Chapel on the first Sunday of every month. The Chapel was small and, as the number of Baptisms increased, we had to have two ceremonies in the afternoon: one at 3 pm and the other at 4 pm. This continued until the new Parish Church was opened in 1979. The Sisters sold Baptismal Candles and they also made the little white garments for the Baptism. This provided an opportunity for the young parents in the area to call at the Convent and meet the Sisters.
Baptisms also took place in the Convent Chapel on the first Sunday of every month. The Chapel was small and, as the number of Baptisms increased, we had to have two ceremonies in the afternoon, one at 3 pm and the other at 4 pm. This continued up until the new Parish Church was opened in 1979. The Sisters sold Baptismal Candles and they also made the little white garments for the Baptism. This provided an opportunity for the young parents in the area to call at the Convent and meet the Sisters.
By degrees our relationship with the new local community grew. We were so appreciative of the people who would drop in on a regular basis to ask if we needed anything in Town. One sector of the community in particular stands out for us: the children. In those days it was quite safe for the children to cross the road and during school holidays and free days there was a constant stream of little visitors coming to the door. “We just came to see the nuns”. Some of the friendships formed in those days have lasted up to the present time.
One year, 1973, the First Communions were held in the Convent, but the Chapel proved to be too small to accommodate the families. So, from then on all the children are invited to come to the Convent the week after the First Communions, all dressed in their finery, and they meet all the Sisters.
In 2001 the Sisters decided to demolish the old Convent and build a new house. The former school in the convent grounds was renovated and the Sisters lived there for about two years while the new house was being built. It was sad to see the old Convent going but the new house and Chapel are very nice. The former school is now in the third phase of its life, this time as a Pastoral Centre. Its new name is ´Cherith´.
We very much appreciate the goodness and loyalty of the local people and they are forever in our thoughts and prayers.
Relics of St. Therese Return to Firhouse Carmelite Monastery
On Thursday, 16th April, the Relics of St. Thérèse made a return visit to the Carmelite Monastery.
The grounds of the Convent were decorated with bunting and freshly planted pansies peeped up around the gardens. Inside the Chapel the excitement and anticipation was barely contained as the Sisters prepared for 10 am Mass on Thursday morning.
The little grey van carrying the casket, expected at 4pm, arrived early around 3.45pm, catching everybody by surprise; but the Chapel soon filled up and the congregation filed past. The Convent remained open throughout the night and the Sisters and a few visitors kept vigil. There was a most beautiful relaxing atmosphere and nobody wanted to leave, even the smallest children seemed to sense something special was happening as they sat and watched with eager eyes.
Next morning 10 am Mass was celebrated by Fr. P.J. Breen, O.Carm, and once again the Chapel was filled to overflowing. He gave a final blessing for all who had roses and as the congregation held up the roses it was apparent that, despite all the recent sad disclosures, a deep faith still prevails.
As the Sisters walked ahead of the little van to the Monastery gates with the congregation walking behind, people tried to hide their emotions and all too quickly The Little Flower was on her way to bring peace and contentment to Delgany. St. Thérèse of Lisieux died on the 30th September 1897 and is fulfilling her promise to “spend my Heaven doing good upon earth”.
The Nuns and I
I started to teach in Firhouse in 1955 in a brand new school. The Principal, Mr. Pender, told me that our school was originally located in the convent just down the road. As time passed, our school grew and grew and eventually we had to move one class back to the old school. I was the one who had to teach there as I was the last in.
It was only then that I learned that my new neighbours, the nuns, were different. YOU COULD NOT SEE THEM! They were enclosed . . . whatever that meant.
I was sent down with fourth class, and set up shop. The first morning there was a knock at the door and there was John Murphy, the nuns’ workman. The Prioress wanted to see me in the sacristy. John kept an eye on the kids while I went to the sacristy. There was nobody there so I had a look around. A voice from nowhere said “Good morning Mr. Caulfield, I am Mother Mary, how do you do?” It suddenly became apparent what “enclosed” meant! This was my first meeting with the nuns. Little did I know that it was the beginning of a very close friendship that would last nearly sixty years and, in fact, still does.
Gradually I got to know the Sisters and began to understand what a powerhouse of prayer they were, and became drawn spiritually to their way of life. I started to encourage the pupils to visit the church on their way home from school. Then Canon O’Donnell, our Parish Priest, told me of the Children’s Sodality which was held on the second last Saturday of each month. This was very special as vocations had started to decrease and the convent was in danger of closing. The Sodality was a great success and Sisters Marie Bernard, Gabriel, Raphael, Marie Rose and Sister Michael entered the convent within a few years. I was back in the old school when Sister Marie Bernard made her final vows. I remember seeing her enter the church dressed as a bride. The goodness of the sisters, their humility and holiness encouraged me to attend the Sodality every Saturday from then on.
This was the start of a wonderful relationship between Scoil Carmel and the Carmelite Sisters. When I became Principal, the Scoil Carmel parents organised one major fundraiser each year called the “Bring and Buy Sale.” The nuns spent many hours making stuffed toys and quilts to be raffled and sold at this event.
Then we started to bring the First Communion children in all their finery down to see the nuns. This was a great day for the school and for the sisters. Each child was given a little gift and a holy card. I am happy that Ursula Martin, our present Principal, has kept up this tradition.
Though I could go on and on with stories, I’ll recount just a few. One morning John Murphy, the nuns’ workman, came up to the school in much distress. The nuns’ only cow had died. I felt that it was incumbent on us to try to do something about it so I consulted our chaplain, Fr. Hastings. He advised me to inform certain people in the parish and the cow was replaced within days. This shows the high regard the community in Firhouse had for the Carmelites.
My next story is much different. One morning shortly after I became head of the school Mr. Whelan, who lived in the gate lodge, came up to me in a great excitement saying “The Paper Ligah is coming.” It took us a long time to figure out who the Paper Ligah was. At last we decided it must be the Papal Legate, Cardinal Agaginian, who was coming to see the nuns; and we were to do a guard of honour for him. Our Archbishop had declared the Patrician Year and though this was not supported by the rest of the Hierarchy in our Island of Saints and Scholars, the Pope did support it and sent Cardinal Agaginian over, and he was coming to see our Carmelite Sisters in Firhouse.
All our own children and many, many more children in the parish were dedicated to Our Lady by the nuns. As I said, they were enclosed, which meant you were prevented from seeing them by a grill covered by a curtain, though I well remember Sr. Patrick lifting a corner of the curtain to see our Susan’s Communion dress, which Betty had made. Then things changed. First the curtain was removed and then the grill. I felt wonderful to put faces to the voices we knew and loved so well.
This is only a tiny glimpse of the goings on between the nuns and me and indeed the parish. I did not go to bid farewell to my friends when the convent was closed. It was very difficult to come to terms with the end of an era steeped in so many wonderful memories. Their going will be mourned for many years to come and Firhouse Parish will miss them.