Sr Benedict O’Beirne – an indomitable spirit devoted to farming and faith

An Appreciation

St Benedict in his rule says that to work is to pray, and Sr Benedict followed this teaching and combined it with the work ethic she had inherited from her parents.

St Benedict in his rule says that to work is to pray, and Sr Benedict followed this teaching and combined it with the work ethic she had inherited from her parents.

 

Sr Benedict of Kylemore Abbey died in Moycullen on September 17th, at the age of 90.

Kylemore is world famous for the beauty of the setting and the magnificence of the castle. Built by Mitchell Henry between 1867 and 1871 it was bought by the Benedictine nuns escaping from Ypres in 1920. It was here in this rugged terrain that Sr Benedict spent her life toiling in the Lord’s vineyard.

Born in Cambridge in 1928, Mauveen O’Beirne spent her childhood there until, on the eve of the second World War, she was sent to Kylemore to continue her education.

Although her parents belonged to the Church of England, Mauveen was not baptised, and it was only at the tender age of 14 – perhaps with the gentle persuasion of the nuns – that she was baptised a Catholic.

It appears there was no major objection on the part of her parents who at this time had moved to Ireland and were living at Kilmessan, Co Meath.

Harry, her father, had farmed in Canada in his youth, and in 1939 he bought Kilcarty House and about 200-odd acres for £1,500 and the family settled there. Mauveen looked after the various animals while her father did the tillage and so it was that farming became the main occupation of her life. She became involved in the local farming bodies and took up horse-riding, hunting and point-to-points.

Before leaving school she made up her mind to become a nun and join the Sisters in Kylemore but her father had other ideas. He insisted that prior to doing any such thing Mauveen should acquire some qualification. He himself had been lecturing in law at Cambridge University. Mauveen tried agriculture in UCD but left early on as Kylemore School did not teach science and she could not catch up.

Much to her father’s delight she then opted for law and for the next 10 years he tutored her except for the final year which she spent in Cambridge. Mauveen was called to the Bar in 1953 but never practised and remained at home on the farm until 1957, when she entered Kylemore as a nun.

In 1962, now known as Sr Benedict she made final profession and remained in the Abbey for 55 years.

St Benedict in his rule says that to work is to pray, and Sr Benedict followed this teaching and combined it with the work ethic she had inherited from her parents.

At first she looked after the kitchen for the boarders, toiled in the walled garden and helped on the farm where there was a farm manager. Cows had to be milked by hand and butter churned. Soon, however, she was put in charge of the farm which she ran for 40 years.

From pedigree bulls calves were reared, and silage was cut and hay made. The daily round extended into night but with inexhaustible energy Sr Benedict, with minimal help, got the farm into reasonable shape.

She joined the local IFA and brought her experience to bear on the surrounding area.

All this was a hidden life driven by faith and an indomitable spirit. Challenges were made to be met and no effort was spared to care for God’s creatures entrusted to her.

The future of Kylemore’s farm may be in jeopardy but the memory of the Cambridge don has already entered into Connemara folklore.