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21 Jan 2022

Could the development of this old convent reinvent west Offaly?

Could the development of this old convent reinvent west Offaly?

The old St Joseph of Cluny convent in Ferbane

THE former convent in Ferbane can play a key role in the development of a sustainable tourism product in west Offaly, local councillor Eamonn Dooley has stressed.

Cllr Dooley was speaking following the announcement of Rural Regeneration and Development Funding which provides €683,000 for planning and design works to revitalise Ferbane through redevelopment of key sites at the town’s core that, while aiming to attract visitors, enhance the well-being and quality of life of all members of the community.

“That, along with enterprise creation and generation, environmental enhancement, remote working and the needs of the local community and voluntary sector will form core elements of the planning phase,” said Cllr Dooley.

The Fianna Fail man added: “Ferbane’s centrality to Bord na Mona and ESB operations in Offaly and the cessation of those operations has accelerated rural decline in the area over the past decade but also presents an opportunity to maximize the potential that the current focus on green and digital transitions presents. Last week’s announcement is the first step towards attaining Ferbane’s ambitious aims.”

He said the catalyst for this funding is the acquisition of St. Joseph of Cluny Convent for Ferbane’s regeneration - a significant boost to a community that has borne the brunt of the decline in peat energy generation over three decades.

“The role of Sr. Maeve and the Order of St Joseph of Cluny in ensuring that the tremendous resource continues to benefit the community deserves recognition and gratitude,” stressed the Ferbane based public representative.

“That desire for community gain was evident too from the first meeting Padraig Boland and I had with Sr. Benedict, Sr. Helena and Sr. Joseph, to explore the opportunity that the sale of St Joseph’s Convent presented for Ferbane. I want to thank the current congregation of St. Joseph of Cluny sisters and wish them many more years of service within our community,” he added.

Cllr Dooley continued: “There were a couple of other essential ingredients to the project gaining national recognition and support. The voluntary group, assisted by Offaly Local Development Company, that produced the Ferbane Community Action Plan in May 2019 and the consultative process that underpinned that document ensured that the foundation for community projects was laid when the opportunity to acquire the convent presented itself.

"Some members of that group were joined by other volunteers in registering a community-owned company limited guarantee, An Síolán that has liaised with Offaly County Council for the development of an application for Rural Regeneration and Development Funding. The group, under Chairman Brian Flynn, having explored potential funding for the ambitious project identified the current fund and the essential partnership required with the Local Authority to avail of the funding opportunity.

“The positive response from Offaly County Council’s Chief Executive, Anna Marie Delaney gave impetus to the initiative and the intensive work of Olwen Cummins, and her colleagues in the Council, in coordinating the application process was paramount in ensuring a quality proposal rooted in the regeneration of Ferbane was presented to the Department of Rural and Community Development.”

Cllr Dooley said Minister Humphries announcement paves the way for the professional development of a comprehensive Rural Regeneration for Ferbane. Phase 2 of the process will focus on the utilisation of the convent building and its environs St. Joseph’s Convent as a focal point for socially inclusive education and training programmes that underpin west Offaly’s transition to a resilient, sustainable, thriving low carbon community.

“Meetings with Joe Cunningham, Chief Executive, and Tony Dalton, FET Director, of LOETB have been extremely positive in this regard and their partnership with Garret Buckley in Gallen CS offers unique opportunities for Ferbane to establish itself as a rural centre for lifelong learning excellence.

"The inclusion of St. Hilda’s Services in the convent mix is a hugely positive development and this community’s capacity to respond positively to children and adults with intellectual disabilities is a tremendous indicator of a resilient, inclusive community. The facilitation of St Hilda’s Services at the Mary Ward Heritage Centre during the Convent’s planning phase means local people requiring their services can now access them in their own community, and I welcome the support of the St. Hilda’s organisation and the HSE for this initiative.”

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