THE SECRET to living well into old age is frequently debated, but a nun in Limerick who turned 100 recently has a few theories of her own.
Sr Eileen Doyle, who lives at Mount St Vincent on O’Connell Avenue, celebrated her belated birthday party at their grounds last week, as their former convent closed its doors to the public for the last time before being handed over to its new owners.
The building, which housed a number of social justice organisations on a pro-bono basis, including Doras Luimni, the migrant support group, and the Children’s Grief Project, has been sold to Mary Immaculate College for an undisclosed sum.
The South Circular Road campus, which is situated parallel to the Mount, intend to use it to accommodate their postgraduate faculty.
Sr Eileen is one of 19 nuns who remain living on the grounds of the convent, and is regarded as the “matriarch” of the group, with the youngest aged 72; the majority are aged in their 80s, and two other nuns are in their mid-90s.
Born on July 22, 1913, she recently received a letter of congratulations and a cheque from President Michael D. Higgins to mark her centenary. Those who live to 101 and beyond also receive a commemorative coin.
Originally from Wicklow, and the first principal of Ballynanty school since its foundation, she believes that hard work, prayer and eating lightly has helped her live a long and healthy life. “I work hard, I think that keeps me going. I eat lightly, but still I eat enough. I was 21 when I joined the Sisters of Mercy, after training in Mary Immaculate as a teacher and I entered the convent then. I think this is a good place to be now,” she told the Limerick Leader.
She maintained that it is her interest in all subjects and staying “intellectually stimulated”, especially her interests in gardening and art which has kept her in good stead. “It’s a blessing from the Lord too, long life,” added Sr Catherine.
One of a family of nine, she has survived all her siblings, and while she has lived in Limerick for most of her life, she lived in America for 11 years, teaching in Florida and Alabama.
Last year she visited her primary school, Scoil Naomh Bríd, Talbotstown in the foothills of the Wicklow mountains, as the oldest surviving pupil of the school, and despite her advancing years, can still vividly recall her time there.
While figures of people aged 100 or more at the present time are not currently available from Government departments, the Department of Social Welfare and Protection said the Centenarian Bounty - awarded to those aged 100 or more to Irish people living in the State and abroad - was presented to 379 people in 2011, with 132 awards issued up to May 2012.
Reflecting on her time in the Mount, she said: “Oh gosh, yes, I enjoyed the Mount. I lived in that house for about 20 years, I loved it. We’re very lonely and sad that we had to break this up, because they were all doing so well.”
The order was established in Limerick in 1838, and the convent was built in 1861. However, about five years ago the dwindling numbers of sisters found that the convent was “too big and expensive to maintain” and offered the premises to projects they had a keen interest in, while a new modern living premises was built adjacent to the convent.
Doras Luimni, a support group for all migrants living throughout the Mid-West, was initiated more than a decade ago by Sr Ann Scully of the same religious order, who felt that due to a wave of immigration “Limerick needed to be prepared and people needed to be welcomed”, said chief executive Karen McHugh. They will move to their new offices on O’Connell Street.
In recent years, the former convent also house a day care centre for the elderly, which has also closed permanently.
“You have all been so dedicated to your work,” said Sr Norah to Doras staff, “You never cared about over-time or under-time, but put your heart into it. We were privileged to have you on the campus. Your work is an inspiration to all of us.”