Nuns selling 20-bed beachfront holiday home in Kerry for €649K

Number of Presentation sisters using the house had dwindled to single figures

St Michael’s, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry is being sold by the Presentation sisters.

St Michael’s, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry is being sold by the Presentation sisters.

 

A property in Co Kerry that forms part of Ireland’s social history is coming for sale on the open market. St Michael’s in Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, is a large beach-front house that was purpose-built in 1939 as a holiday home for the Presentation sisters.

In an era when vocations to religious communities were much higher, most orders had their own holiday houses. Counties Kerry, Clare and Waterford were the most popular locations.

St Michael's: "a holiday house". Below: Religious art panels

Now, after 78 continuous years in use as a holiday home, the Presentation Sisters are selling their Ballinskellig summer house. The 7,000 sq ft house has more than 20 bedrooms and direct access to the beach. It’s for sale at €649,000.

In July 2013, I went to St Michael’s to interview the four nuns who were holidaying there. At its busiest, St Michael’s housed 64 nuns in dormitories, and all of those nuns were from Kerry convents. In 1988, the dormitory space had been converted to 20 single bedrooms. These now catered for Presentation sisters on holiday all across Ireland, not just Kerry. By July 2013, the house was no longer full at any point in the summer.

Sr Eileen Leen, Sr Borgia Shanahan, Sr Anne Roche (Sacred Heart sister), and Sr Regina O’Conell at the holiday house in 2013. Photograph: Frank Miller
Sr Eileen Leen, Sr Borgia Shanahan, Sr Anne Roche (Sacred Heart sister), and Sr Regina O’Conell at the holiday house in 2013. Photograph: Frank Miller

My own great-aunt, Bridget Kennelly, a Presentation nun known as Sr Kevin to her community, had holidayed in St Michael’s long ago. It was my family connection with the Presentation community that persuaded the nuns to welcome me to document their holiday at St Michael’s, along with Irish Times photographer, Frank Miller.

Sunny echoing house

Between them, the four nuns who greeted us that hot July day had spent a collective 245 years as professed sisters. One was Sr Borgia Shanahan, then aged 93. We were shown through the sunny echoing house, and even then, it was evident that this way of life was on the cusp of fading out. We ate lunch in the refectory overlooking the lawn that led straight to the beach.

St Eileen Leen, who entered religious life in 1956, told us that the refectory had once held eight long tables, each seating eight sisters. By the time we were eating our stewed rhubarb and ice-cream, just a couple of small round tables now remained in the space.

Access to the beach from St Michael's
Views from St Michael's

The nuns who holidayed there in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s had to obey strict rules. Sr Regina O’Connell told us about having to wear six yards of serge and a wimple, even on the hottest days, and the longest walks.

They were forbidden to speak to people on the beach; they were only permitted one swim a day, in costumes that went to knee and elbow; they had to spend periods of each day in silence; and lights out were at 10pm.

Bless this house: a supply of holy water

Avoiding the public

They were encouraged to spend their time knitting, practising their Irish, and avoiding the public whom they shared the beach with. In the early days, there was no electricity, and no plumbing. They made do with candles, and chamber pots.

There were six more nuns due the day after our visit. “There’ll be a couple of young ones among them,” St Eileen told us. What’s young, I asked? “Late 60s,” she said.

St Michael’s is being sold by joint agents, Jim Burns auctioneers in Killorglin, and Sherry FitzGerald in Kenmare.

One of the large rooms used by the nuns at St Michael's
The large kitchen at St Michael's
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