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Our History

Ardagh & Clonmacnois


The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy was founded by a Dublin woman, Catherine McAuley on 12th December 1831 in Baggot Street Dublin. She was a woman of deep faith and prayer who had a warm heart for people, especially for the sick, the suffering, the poor and deprived. Mercy, God's loving compassion is the Congregation's special charism. She charted out a new way in which women could play an important and integral role in Church and Society.

High Cross at Clonmacnois

High Cross at Clonmacnois


The Diocese of Ardagh, as distinct from Clonmacnois with which it is now united, takes its name from the village of Ardagh, now a picturesque village in Co Longford. St Patrick came and founded a Church in Ardagh and appointed St Mel, his nephew, as its first Bishop. Thus the history of Ardagh goes back to the dawn of Christianity in Ireland. The episcopate of Bishop Cheevers (1751-1756) was marked by the joining of Clonmacnois to Ardagh. The combined dioceses include all Co Longford, half of Co Leitrim and parts of Westmeath, Offaly, Cavan, Roscommon and Sligo. 65 Bishops have been recorded with Bishop Colm O'Reilly as our present bishop, who presides over the 41 parishes which constitutes the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.


CrossThe Sisters of Mercy have been part of the Church in the Diocese since 1861 and have carried with them the spirit of Catherine McAuley. That spirit they planted, others watered it and God himself gave the amazing increase. They live in 11 parishes now and from the beginning to the present, have been involved in Christian education of the young, adolescents and adults, in Childcare Homes, Hospital care, Parish and Family Ministry, in Visitation, Children of Mary, Parish Choirs, Sodalities, St Vincent De Paul Society. Prayer and Service flow together reciprocally in the life of the Sister of Mercy.



11TH April, 1861. - LONGFORD

Fr Philip Maguire PP of Clough donated the sum of £2000 to Bishop Kilduff to found a Convent in the Cathedral town of Longford. On 11 April, 1861 Rev Mother Mary Mercy Norris, superior of Baggot Street with Sr Bernard Maguire, Sr De Sales Fallon, Sr Gertrude Gordon, accompanied by 2 novices, established the Convent of Mercy, Longford. It was the first Convent to be founded in the Diocese since the Reformation. Their temporary Convent was in two houses on Keon's Terrace where they started an Infant School. They began life without furniture for their School and what was known as the Convent had scarcely a table.


On 24th October 1874 the sisters took up residence in the new Convent - St Joseph's - near the Railway Station. In 1861, Scoil Mhuire was established as a small Pension School, at the back of the Cathedral. This Senior Girls' Academy, as it was called, continues today as Scoil Mhuire. To help in this work, Srs Philomena McCann, Gabriel Murphy and Aquin Whelan took on this work. From the beginning, the work of visitation of the sick and poor in their homes was carried out by the sisters.

On 4th December 1886 St Joseph's Convent National School was opened. In 1954 permission was sought to erect a new Primary School to replace the old one which was no longer suitable for modern needs. To lessen the debt of almost £100,000 the Community provided a site and gave a generous contribution in cash. It was completed in 1957, an ultra-modern school was built close to the old one, which accommodates 600 pupils.

In 1961 the old Primary School was renovated and a new wing was added on, to provide a new Secondary boarding and day school. It consisted of Classrooms, Music Rooms, Dining Room, Kitchen and Toilets. With increasing numbers many spacious extensions were added over the years; and so the Mercy work continues to this day.

From the Longford mother house many branch houses were founded.

30th December, 1869 - NEWTOWNFORBES

Newtownforbes Convent was founded from Longford at the request of the Earl of Granard for the sisters to work among the poor in the area. He gave the sisters a fine 2 - storey house, formerly known as The Parson's House, as a residence, which they named Nazareth. The 3 founding sisters were - Sr Philomena McCann, Sr Gabriel Murphy and Sr Gertrude Gordon. It became independent from Longford on 29th June, 1871 and Mother M de Sales Fallon was appointed superior by Bishop Conroy. At first they taught in a small school at the top of the town. Within 3 years the Convent, The Girls Primary School, the Orphanage, Industrial School and Laundry were built. Many of the orphans were brought there because they had been abandoned; others because of the death of parent/parents. The age range was from infancy to 16 years. In the Industrial School the girls were taught knitting, sewing, painting, embroidery, lace-making and crafts.


The Orphanage was phased out in the late1960s due to diminishing numbers. The sisters continued teaching in the Girls' Primary School until it was amalgamated with the Boys School in 1994. The sisters are still on the staff in this School. Weekly Prayer Meetings have been held in the Convent for over 30 years.

In 1951 a flourishing Secondary Day and Boarding School was opened, where previously there had been a Secondary Top. The Boarders resided in a large building opposite the Convent, which formerly was The Novitiate of the Amalgamated Convents - 1920-1929. This building is now a Nursing Home. Some years after the introduction of Free Education/Transport the Boarding School was phased out. In 1992 a new Secondary School was built.

8th September, 1878 - ST JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL, LONGFORD

Longford Union Workhouse was opened in 1840 to provide shelter and medical care for the elderly and destitute of the County. The running of the Workhouse was the responsibility of the Board of Guardians who in turn appointed the Master, Matron, Teacher, Porter and other Staff. It was built to house 1000 people but in 1848 there were 2318.

In July 1878 the sisters began visitation in the Union Workhouse in Longford. On the 8th September 1878, Srs Aloysius Martin, Stanislaus Tunney and Berchmans Kirby took up residence in the Workhouse and began their work among the sick poor in the Hospital. Like many institutions of that time, it was gloomy and depressing, but the sisters took up duty with remarkable courage. They continued their work in the Workhouse down the years. Since 1924 a Chaplain has been appointed to the Hospital and Mass is celebrated daily.

In 1921 the new Free State Government removed the stigma of the "Workhouse" name and the Building then became known as The County Home. In 1952 it was renamed as St Joseph's Hospital. The old Fever Hospital was completely modernised and is now named Mt Carmel. By the late 60s the Old Workhouse/County Home building was gradually demolished and replaced by the present day St Joseph's Hospital Complex, which includes Xray Department, Casualty, Physiotherapy, Occupational therapy, Catholic and Church of Ireland Chapel, a Convent, Individual residential units and Day Care facilities.

The work of upgrading the Hospital was commenced in 1967 and through the persevering efforts of Sr Calasanctius Duffy and her devoted staff has continued on a phased basis until the present time. For the last 125 years the Sisters of Mercy have worked tirelessly and continually in this healing ministry.

31st March 1880 - MOHILL

In answer to a request from Rev Dean Eivers, PP, Mohill, 5 sisters - Mother Joseph Howley, Sr Aloysius Martin, Sr Agnes Ryan, Sr de Pazzi McDermot and Sr Stanislaus Tunney left Longford to open a new Convent in Mohill, Co Leitrim. Sr Catherine McGaver joined them later. Their "Convent" was a second storey, built over the Primary School for Boys and Girls. Sr Aloysius was appointed the superior of the Community and Sr dePazzi was given charge of the Primary School.

Mohill ConventIn November 1890 this - less than adequate School was replaced by the much needed two storey building on the opposite side of the road. The School was blessed by Rev Dr Woodlock. It was thus that St Joseph's Primary School began and still exists today.

In addition to the work of teaching, the sisters, in 1882 acceded to the request of the Medical Authorities to take charge of the Workhouse Hospital where there were, at that time, 300 patients. Srs Clare Banahan, Vincent Howley and Magdalene Fahy, nursing sisters, were accommodated in the Workhouse. Srs Patrick (Bridget) O'Sullivan, Aloysius Martin and Berchmans Bermingham taught in the Workhouse School.

This work continued until its closure by the County Council in December, 1922. Mohill Convent became an independent house in January 1886. The influence of the sisters spread all through the Parish and beyond.

In the late 40s Sr Clare Fox had a vision for Secondary Education in Mohill and in 1949 under her direction a Secondary Top was started in the Cloakroom of the Primary School. From these humble beginnings the School grew and flourished. In 1954, due to the increasing numbers the sisters gave over a wing of the Convent building to accommodate the School community. In 1963 at the request of Bishop McNamee the School was opened to boys.

In 1966, the Rynn Boys School, which had been set up by Fr Ignatius McLoughlin, amalgamated with the Girls Secondary School. In 1969 a completely new School was opened in Mohill - The Marian College, where the sisters continue to teach.

2nd February 1882 - GRANARD

The massive mound of the Motte gives a clue to the antiquity of Granard. It is the remains of a 5th Century residence of Cairbre, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. It was here that St Patrick came and left St Gusacht in charge of the Church.

GranardIn 1842 a Union Infirmary/Workhouse was built. The records of 1850 show that there were 269 males and 417 females enrolled. It was to this Workhouse, at the invitation of Dean O'Flanagan, dean of Granard and Bishop Woodlock, that the Superior, Sr deSales Fallon sent Sisters Mercy Flood, Francis Hoare and Magdalen Frost from Newtownforbes to take up nursing the poor, sick and neglected people in the Infirmary. Srs Bernard Maguire, Gertrude Quinlan and Brigid Burke taught in the Workhouse School and visited the sick and poor in the locality. Their 'Convent' was the middle ward of the Infirmary. They continued to teach in the Workhouse School in which they also taught Sewing, Knitting, Cookery, until 1922, when the Workhouses were merged into one in Longford - later known as The County Home.

The professional skills of Lace making and Embroidery were developed among the people both inside and outside the Workhouse and many homes boosted their meagre income by the money earned from their work. Springlawn House, opposite the Workhouse, was rented from a Mr Pettit, where the sisters lived for 12 years and in 1894 the sisters took up residence in the new Convent. Srs Stanislaus Rochford and Michael Clancy took charge of the town's National School. The Stables were renovated as classrooms. In 1891 the Convent Primary School was built on a site given by the sisters and was financially supported by the local priests and people. In 1978 the School was replaced with a modern School on the same spacious site. In 1990, this Convent School was amalgamated with the town Boys' School. It is now known as The Sacred Heart Primary School and is still situated on the Convent School Campus. 20th July 1891 - Granard became an independent Convent from Newtownforbes with Sr Joseph Hoare as Superior.

1942 - 47 - the sisters had continuation classes set up in the Workhouse Lodge for girls who continued School until they were 15, 16 or 17 years of age. They taught the usual subjects with special emphasis on Cookery, Needlework, Arts and Crafts.

Sept 1947 - Sr Dolores Finnegan was the inspiration behind the setting up of the Secondary School - Cnoc Mhuire. The sisters had the same Workhouse Lodge ready to receive the first pupils in September 1947; So it came to be that Cnoc Mhuire was born and opened its doors to the girls of the area with Sr Clement Siney as Principal, Sr Patrick Murphy as Manager. They were ably assisted by Sr Teresa Stack.

From 1949 the School became a Boarding as well as a Day School. Secretarial Skills, Music and Drama were an integral part of the Curriculum. In 1954 a large Assembly Hall, with Dormitories overhead containing 40 fully equipped individual cubicles, was built which was totally financed by the Community. 1959 - Another milestone in the history of Education took place when Cnoc Mhuire became one of the first Co-educational Schools in the country.
1968 - 70 - With the advent of Free Education /Transport, major expansion took place with the building of a 20 classroom block. In 1982 a two-storey block was erected - with Sports Hall, Oratory, Computer Room, Music Room and Laboratories. All sites were given by the sisters. The Mercy Education Tradition continues in Granard.


TreeThe Industry was set up in 1961 in a small room attached to the Workhouse Lodge, to give employment to young people who were facing emigration. There was no Free Education then and no Factory in Granard. This was the brainchild of Sr Paul Torpey, who began with one knitting machine and 6 lbs of wool! Out of these small beginnings sprung an ultra-modern Industry which has employed 10 workers in the factory and 20 home knitters. It supplied uniform jumpers and cardigans to at least 20 Secondary Schools throughout the country and had markets in Ireland, UK and USA for Aran Sweaters.

It was closed down in 1987. The two senior members of the staff set up the Industry on the outskirts of the town. The machinery was transferred to that premises, where the work continued for many years, known as Ard Cross Knitwear, situated in Ballinacross, Granard.


The Resource Centre was started in 1986 as a result of an invitation from the Midland Health Board to the then Mother General for a sister as a Community Worker. Sr Maeve Brady has been involved in this work since the beginning. The work has developed and expanded over the years and includes Adult Education, Home Management, Secretarial Skills, Personal Development, Womens Groups, Summer Camps, Counselling Services and Bereavement Sessions, Drop-in Centre, Carer's Course, Writers Group, Reiki Group, Reflexology Diploma Course. The Midland Health Board monitors, funds and supports the Centre in a very positive way. An outreach of the Centre has developed in The Dolmen Failte Club in Aughnacliffe, Co Longford.

19th March, 1899 - McGOEY FACTORY

The McGoey Factory or House of Industry for poor girls in the locality was established in Longford and managed by the Sisters of Mercy. About 28 workers were enrolled and Knitting, Irish Crochet etc were taught. Markets, both within the country and overseas, were secured for this beautiful and useful work produced by the girls.


Maria Edgeworth ran a School for the poor of the town. Elizabeth Ross, who resided in America had property and many connections and interests in Edgeworthstown. She sent £1000 to Bishop Woodlock and another £1000 to Bishop McNamee for the purpose of erecting a Convent in the town. Bishop Woodlock offered the proposed Foundation to the Longford Community, which they accepted.

A house, formerly Cullen's Drapery, now Quinn's Hardware Stores, was purchased, and on 4th January 1900, four sisters - Bridget Glynn, Teresa Lamb, Joachim Rodgers and Ignatius Harold left Longford to found the Convent in Edgeworthstown. They were involved in Visitation and teaching, where they began with a Pension School. When that building became inadequate a 5 acre field was purchased outside the town on which the Convent was built in 1900. The sisters took over the new National School built in 1905 to accommodate 200 pupils. This School still exists and in the year 2000 was amalgamated with the Boys School.

In 1946 Srs Rosario Deery and de Sales (Elizabeth) O'Neill, established the Secondary School which was held in one classroom of St Elizabeth's Primary School. It was co-educational and inter-denominational from the outset. In 1947, two rooms in the Manor building were used as classrooms. Before the Manor was renovated as a Nursing Home, the outdwellings were converted and used as Secondary School classrooms until 1967, when they transferred into Pre-fabs in the grounds of St Elizabeth's Convent.

With the coming of Free Education/FreeTransport, it was phased out as a Secondary School.

Ardagh & Clonmacnois continued

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