This photograph shows a crowd gathered to listen to Fr. Hubert Quinn, the Provincial of the Franciscan Order, delivering the opening address of the Ter-Centenary celebrations of the Poor Clares Convent in Nun's Island in 1929.
The Irish Poor Clares were established in France in the 1620's, and came to Dublin in 1629. They moved to the Dillon Estate in Lough Ree some years later, where many daughters of Galway families joined them. They were able to follow the rule of St. Clare until 1641, when their monastery was burnt, and the majority of the nuns took refuge in Galway. It was comparatively safe, and it was natural that Galway families would wish to protect their daughters. Their request to the city read as follows: "The petitioners humble pray that you may be pleased to graunt them sufficient roome for building a monasterie and roomes convenient thereinto, a garden and an orchard, in the next illand adjoining to the bridge of Illanaltenagh". The Corporation voted by a majority to grant their request on July 10th, 1649.
"In this yeare, after the said Corporation of Galway soe granted them the aforesaid Island Altenagh, the said nuns built thereon a good and large and spacious house with other conveeniencyes with the cost of two hundred and odd pounds sterling of the sisters portions, in timber and other materials, all of which or the moste parte thereof was lost by the usurpation in Cromwell's tyme, when the Towne of Gallway was surrendered to him." A Cromwellian named John Morgan took over the site, but the nuns eventually managed to return. Some time later, a branch of the river adjoining the property was given to them in perpetuity by one James Reagh Darcy. A document of 1690 refers to "The Royall Streame on the river of Galway betweene both the Islands... legally conveyed... to the Religious Order of St. Clare in Gallway and their successors forever".
They were however burnt out again in 1691, but managed to remain in hiding, staying secretly as a community under the plea of keeping a boarding house in Market Street. In 1825, they returned to Nun's Island (which seems to have been so named around that time), and they have been there ever since. In 1892, they were able to adopt enclosure once more, and to follow the full rule of St. Clare, and their contemplative life.
The seclusion of the monastery gives these sisters the space to pray, to do penance, and to support in faith and in solidarity others in their various walks of life. In this way, they reach out and touch the lives of others, creating a kind of mutual bond between the nuns and the people of Galway. Many will remember when the nuns had to ring their bell because they were starving, and Galwegians would respond by bringing them food. Today, the numbers in the convent are growing, with the admission of several new postulants in recent times.
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