Sr. Bernardine- photo by John Kelly courtesy of "The Clare Champion"

I just love seeing nuns… sort of like I love touring old churches – even though I’m not particularly fond of actually attending church! There is something ‘Old World’ about the sight of these entities and something enticing about ancient tradition, either religious or not. Being around devout people and spiritual places can transport a person out of the routine of modern life.

There are a group of nuns who make part of their living in my town running espresso stands in our local library and train depot. This particular order of nuns dress from head to toe, in a habit that makes these very young women seem like apparitions from Medieval Europe. When my son was between apartments and back home with us for a month last summer, I think buying his morning coffee from the nuns at the train station was a highlight of his day because it took him outside of the morning rush hour and gave him the feeling, for a brief time each morning, that he was coming into contact with a different world. And I must admit to purchasing a few mochas at the library just for the opportunity to interact with these “strange” creatures. My curiosity and slight fascination with nuns, probably springs from the fact that I am not a Roman Catholic, therefore I have minimal experience with them or knowledge about them, and carry no nun-related baggage. In any case, this photograph of Sister Bernardine Meskell, mother abbess of the Poor Clare Monastery in Ennis, grabbed my attention while I was glancing through The Clare Champion newspaper online yesterday. Happily, the article attached to the photo gave me an excuse to include the photo here!

The Clare Champion is a County Clare newspaper, which I have linked to my desktop, so that I may browse through it now and then to see what is going on in the Rose Cottage neck of the woods. Most of the articles in the paper are not very interesting to me at the moment, since I am not attuned to the local issues. However, now and then a photo or article will entice me to read past the title, which is what happened when I beheld Sister Bernardine standing there with her umbrella and jolly smile! The purpose of the article was to announce the launching of an interesting new book entitled, Salty Faces and Ferocious Appetites – A tapestry of stories from a Seaside School, written to mark the founding, 80 years ago, of St. Joseph’s Secondary School in County Clare’s Spanish Point. The reason for the Sister’s prominence in the article is that she not only was a student of the school from 1958 to 1963, but the book’s title comes from a story she relates within the book about her years as a boarder at St. Joseph’s. The article, for the most part, quotes her story. Sister Bernardine begins,

“The sea was magic… I particularly loved the rough winter waves and those walks by the White Strand or down the Racecourse Road coming back with salty faces and ferocious appetites. A winding trail of maroon with a hint of blue regularly moved with the coast road. I still cherish the memory of those school walks. Water always held something special for me, even the rain. During the school term in Spanish Point there was plenty of both sea and rain.”

Following this enchanting beginning to Sister Bernardine’s story, the article goes on to give her recollections, described in vivid detail and with the same joyful tone as her smiling photograph portrays, about her experiences at the school, the friends she made there, the nuns who taught her and the story of what put her on the path of becoming a Poor Clare nun. Along with the reminiscences of Sister Bernardine, another 38 former pupils and teachers are featured in this book, which celebrates the many years of St. Joseph’s Secondary School. Salty Faces and Ferocious Appetites promises to not only paint a detailed picture of this one-time boarding school, but should also give interesting historical insight into a time past in County Clare, and in Irish education in general. Needless to say, this is a book I will be on a quest for, during my next trip to County Clare!