The old Convent of Mercy in Mulranny.

Former Mayo convent to be transformed into specialised arts centre

By Tom Gillespie

THE former Convent of Mercy in Mulranny is to get a new lease of life and will be transformed from ‘a place of suppression to expression’.

The new owners, Cheryl and Padraig Browne, invited locals to share their memories, some good, some not so good, of the convent, which closed 35 years ago.

For those still holding bad memories, the Brownes opened the little chapel where they could light a candle and ‘let things go’.

Cheryl said: “We invited villagers to visit the 'old convent’ before it takes a dynamic new direction. We welcomed them to come in and light a candle in the chapel to commemorate bygone times as we bring in the new.”

The convent, overlooking Clew Bay, is a detached, four-bay, single-storey, part double-pile building, with half-dormer attic, built in 1932 on an L-shaped plan including a two-bay single-storey chapel opening into a single-bay single-storey flat-roofed apse on a half-octagonal plan.

Cheryl explained: “The convent will be transformed into an art centre where we will have all kinds of workshops for the creative tourism that comes into Mayo and also for the domestic market.

“We already have a big arts studio here in Mulranny and we have been working with the community on a voluntary basis for many years with recycled materials.

“Laura Murphy has come on board with me. She is an encaustic artist - paintings and ceramics decorated by burning in colours as an inlay, especially using coloured clays or pigments mixed with hot beeswax.

“Because I really want to semi retire, Laura has come on board and she has a huge following around the world. She teaches in America, Germany, Egypt and England.

“Her big thing is creative tourism, bringing groups in for a week to Mayo. We do workshops, a little bit of touring and some quiet time. We have done that very successfully over the years. I have done it with glass in this glass studio.

“In order to meet the demands of the domestic market, because everybody in the village does not know what we are doing because we work with the Americans, the Australians all the time, we decided we would expand and create a bigger market including children and the domestic market.

“People are hungry for creativity and both Laura and I feel that helping people being creative on all kinds of levels is an extremely important thing now in this time of recovery.”

Cheryl continued: “We have bought the convent. We are going to convert it into another big studio so Laura can teach her classes there. This will be a specialist studio for the community and children, schools and colleges.

“Because I have this very sophisticated glass set-up here in Mulranny, the College of Art and Design in Dublin come and use this studio because they don’t have the equipment I have here. The converted convent will be a dedicated non-commercial studio for them.

“We have invited Conan Kilcoyne from the village, a musician who makes his own musical instruments, to join us. He just got married and decided to go to Germany or America and I said just hang on. Look at what Laura and I are doing, so he is now on board with us and we will be extending in the future to create a woodworking shop where he can teach musical instruments as well as making the instruments, from the guitar, mandolin and bodhran, and the chapel is so acoustically beautiful for voice and instruments. So we will be holding all kinds of events.

“We are very excited about this. It is a lovely thing for the future for these young people like Conan who would have had to go away, for Laura who has been living in Denmark and has come back to Ireland to work and has settled here.”

It is planned that the first workshop, with a grand opening, will take place in July.

The chapel in the old Mulranny convent.

Cheryl added: “The older community of Mulranny have been through the school with the nuns. There were eight rooms in the convent for the nuns. Many nuns came here for a holiday but some of them lived there.

“A lot of people who grew up in the village remember the nuns. But the convent was always a mystery place. It was the nuns’ home. Nobody went in to it. The only time the kids went in there was when they made their First Holy Communion and they were taken in for a breakfast, and that was really special.

“I thought before we changed the building in a whole new direction we would allow people to come in to the convent and share their memories, some of them are good, some not so good. But if they were still holding them I opened up the chapel where they could light a candle and let it go.

“This is a real transition now. My take on it is we are taking it from a place of suppression to expression. That is very much the pathway.

“Details and spaces with architectural and historical merit such as the terrazzo floors, the little chapel, the parlour and the dining room will be preserved.”