‘Hermit’ nuns brave crowds of 80,000 at the Ploughing

One of the most popular questions of the day is ‘Are you a real nun?’ says Carmelite Sr Gwen

Sr Monica (left) with Sr Gwen (right) at the National Ploughing Championships, September 24th, 2015. Photograph: Rachel Flaherty

Sr Monica (left) with Sr Gwen (right) at the National Ploughing Championships, September 24th, 2015. Photograph: Rachel Flaherty


Two Carmelite nuns left their lives of solitude and silence in an enclosed monastery for one day to meet with hundreds of people at the National Ploughing Championships.

Sr Monica and Sr Gwen, from the Order of Discalced Carmelites in Delgany, Co Wicklow, said they were normally used to their monastery that had “small space with a quiet atmosphere”, with six other nuns.

However, this was the one day of the year they were “delighted” to brave the crowds of almost 80,000 to speak and chat with people about their lives.

Dressed in their full religious dark brown and white habit, the nuns attracted plenty of questions from inquisitive children as they passed by.

Sr Gwen, who has been part of the order for more than 30 years, said one of the most popular questions of the day was “Are you a real nun?”

‘Very funny’

“A lot of children ask us that. They think we’re in dressed up in costume. It’s very funny,” she said.

“Today is very different for us but we’re delighted to be here. It’s a very positive experience for us.

“We don’t usually go outside our enclosure except for things like dentist or doctor.

‘It is very tiring’

“But we’re here to show people the Carmelites still exist. It is very tiring. We’re not used to talking so much.”

Sr Gwen said their lives were dedicated to contemplative prayer, and members of the public called daily to ask for prayers or share their worries with them.

Some of the people coming into the tent were surprised at Sr Gwen’s friendly and chatty demeanour.

“She has a great laugh, a very cheerful woman. I thought they stayed silent all the time,” one man remarked as he left the Kildare and Leighlin diocese tent where the two Sisters had a stand.

Sr Gwen said most people had been very friendly and honest with them during the day in Ratheniska.

“They say exactly how they feel. I don’t think we’d be shocked with anything,” she said.

‘Free choice’

“People think we’re imprisoned, but we’re not. It’s a free choice so we can keep prayer the focus of our life. No distractions.

“It’s not a penance to do how we live because it’s what we’re called to do. We’re hermits who live in the community.”

Sr Monica said another frequently asked question was what their daily lives are like.

“We live a life within a small space. It’s not a sterile silence but it is quiet ,” she said. “But we’re not disconnected from people. We’re not oblivious to what’s going on in the world. ”

Both nuns agreed that while they had enjoyed their busy and talk-filled day, they were looking forward to returning home.

“We’ll be tired tomorrow but it was worth it,” Sr Monica said.