Come gather ’round people, for the times they are a-changin’

A light at every window: The Presentation Convent pictured by Eamonn Keogh on new year’s eve 1999

These photographs poignantly illustrate the rapidly changing face of Killarney and highlight how the town has moved so very dramatically in a different direction in just over two decades.

On the eve of the arrival of the millennium year, shortly after darkness fell on 31st December 1999, photographer Eamonn Keogh captured this historic and beautiful photograph of the Presentation Convent, in the shadow of Pugin’s St Mary’s Cathedral.

It was, then, a landmark building bustling with life, with a bright light flickering softly in every window while, in the warmth inside, the congregation of Presentation Sisters busily made their final preparations to ring in a new year and a new millennium.

On the manicured lawns outside a little later that night, the nuns lit candles to illuminate the dark of night and happily posed for a photograph as they pledged to continue to shine a light on the community and pray for those in need as the town and country entered a whole new era.

Lighting the way ahead: The Presentation Sisters pictured on 31 December 1999, front from left, Sr Vincent, Sr Scholastica, Sr Declan, Sr Rupert and Sr Kathleen with, second row from left, Sr Attracta, Sr Liguori, Sr Borgia, Sr Francesca and Sr Mary and, at the back, Sr Peter,  Sr Joan and Sr Margaret.
Picture: Eamonn Keogh

Twenty three years on, time has sadly, devastatingly, caught up with the Presentation Order, the beautiful building has long since been vacated and it now stands in darkness and in stillness awaiting those who recently purchased it to unveil their plans for a new beginning.

With numbers dwindling dramatically over the two intervening decades, and ill health impacting on the lives of so many of the sisters, a decision was taken in November 2021 to close the doors of the convent for the final time under the watch of the disciples of Nano Nagle.

The two last nuns residing there left to join other communities in Kerry, marking a real end of an era for a tradition that had been part of the Killarney landscape for over 230 years.

Since the first sisters arrived, in 1793, to establish a convent and school, the Presentation Order played a hugely significant role in educating and supporting generations of children – and their families – in Killarney.

It was the first community outside of the founding sisters in Cork and their mission was to expand and continue the work of Nano Nagle to provide education to Catholic children, which was forbidden at the time by the Penal Laws.

In 1800 a primary school was established and, by 1826, over 350 pupils were enrolled. In 1875 the current Presentation Convent was built.

The feature chapel in the Presentation Convent

The three-storey traditional stone, listed building, now close on 150 years old, includes a six-bay double height Gothic Revival style chapel which is of significant historical importance with many of the original features of the building, both internally and externally, still intact and protected.

In 1948 a secondary school was founded, with the current St Brigid’s Presentation Secondary School building commencing construction two years later. This building is still in use with a further extension added in 1984 and a whole new school complex in the pipeline.

The landmark Presentation Convent in Killarney was built in 1875

Last October, the landmark 26-bedroom Presentation Convent ­– on a prime town centre site of 1.422 acres – was offered for sale with an estimated price tag of €1.5 million and, it is widely reported, the final price agreed was closer to twice that.

Internal features include impressive ceiling heights, original fireplaces, an original chapel with stained glass windows, an original marble altar, pitched pine pews, striking original fireplaces and an extensive original Italianite tiled floor on the main hallways and in the chapel. There is also an 1830’s bellows organ in the chapel which predates the actual building.

In sharp contrast to 23 years ago, tonight the building is in darkness but, hopefully, the new year will bring news of a whole new lease of life for the much-loved Presentation Convent, a real part of Killarney history which has, and always will have a very special place in the hearts of so many people.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Dylan (1964) It’s the talk of the town. Happy new year to all our readers, advertisers, contacts, colleagues and friends