Divine inspiration – how a Canadian couple transformed a famine-era monastery into a home with a difference in the west

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Divine inspiration persuaded Rodney and Heather Gale to purchase a former Franciscan monastery abandoned in the countryside of Roscommon almost ten years ago. Originally from Alberta in Canada, the couple were looking for a house with character in Ireland.

They saw the abandoned Franciscan complex of Garranlahan on the “Old Glory” website, and when they went to see it, the real estate agent handed them the keys to the old building and let them take a walk by them- same.

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The former Franciscan monastery of Garranlahan More, Ballinlough

The former Franciscan monastery of Garranlahan More, Ballinlough

While on vacation here, the Gales had already been blown away by the Irish landscapes and spiritual landscapes of the Aran Islands and Skellig Michael. It was on Inis Mór that Rodney first suggested Heather buy a house here.

“The monastery had graffiti on it, broken windows and rats running around inside. The previous owners had said it was uninhabitable, ”says Rodney.

Heather adds, “So we looked around the main rooms with all this trash piled up all over the place, and then we parted and walked around on our own. We gathered in this lovely old chapel and said a prayer for advice.

“And we both felt like we should buy this place and turn it into a special home.

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A hallway with original Italian mosaic tiling


A hallway with original Italian mosaic tiling

A hallway with original Italian mosaic tiling

“We also felt that if we didn’t buy it maybe no one else would and this lovely old building would be lost forever.”

A decade later, the Gales made it a truly special home with a difference.

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Stained glass seats salvaged from a Dublin pub


Stained glass seats salvaged from a Dublin pub

Stained glass seats salvaged from a Dublin pub

They have also become totally indigenous themselves. They even sound Irish. Rodney, an equestrian veterinarian and college professor, was also transformed in his spare time into Rodney, the composer and singer of folk ballads.

He wrote his first album Pilgrims route at the Monastery.

It’s on Spotify and if you like modern folk you can hear Rodney and Heather singing Return to the bog, and another number on the “hits”. And that’s very good stuff.

As a lecturer in Equestrian Medicine at UCD Veterinary College, he has experienced both sides of the Irish property market. Two years ago he featured in a newspaper article on “micro-houses”. His home in Dublin was a converted garage at the back of a family home in Blackrock.

In Dublin he lived in the equivalent of a 78-square-foot monk’s cell, while in Roscommon he had all 6,000
m² of monastery, including the astonishing wing of the chapel, for strolling.

But it takes a certain type of couple to undertake a job like this restoration. The Gales are long-time adventurers. “We prefer to describe ourselves as pilgrims,” says Rodney.

Before Ireland, they had already left Alberta to live and teach in Mongolia, and before that in the Uyghur region of China.

“They said this monastery was uninhabitable, but the day we got the keys we took our water out of the rain barrel on the roof, lit a fire to boil it and slept there in two cots, ”says Heather.

The chapel provided a perfect hall for functions, parties and musical evenings. They even organized an art exhibition. “You can fit sixty people in without a problem,” Heather says.

While it was the Gales who came to the rescue of the old monastery, the monastery had already helped save the parish in 1849 when the first works began on the building.

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There are four double bedrooms


There are four double bedrooms

There are four double bedrooms

The Franciscans had previously ruled a monastery in the area dating back to the 1400s, but the Tudors and then Cromwell’s troops under Henry Ireton drove them out of the city and destroyed the complex.

When the monks finally returned in 1849, famine had done the worst in Roscommon. The population had been decimated and there was no education for the children. The Franciscan knowledge of agriculture and ranching was of vital help to the surviving community. It took two years to complete the construction of the monastery which was completed in 1851.

The order founded two schools in the building, for boys and for girls. The two eventually moved to new locations nearby.

But in 1972, the fall in vocations pushes the Franciscans to sell the building. It later belonged to two Americans who operated it as quirky tourist accommodation. But when Rodney and Heather first set foot there, it hadn’t lived there in years.

The couple have made many improvements here, including electrical, plumbing and heating work. “We started stripping the paint off the walls and we came across all these old coats that have been put there over the generations. We thought they looked pretty good that way. So we left it like that, ”says Heather.

Downstairs they found a beautiful mosaic floor that they were told was made by a brother from Italy.

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A quiet space in the garden


A quiet space in the garden

A quiet space in the garden

They forage abundantly to furnish their house. In the chapel there are stained bench style seats which were purchased from an unusual location. “The Swiss Cottage pub in Dublin was getting a makeover and they had taken them down. They were all crammed into a back room, so I bought them, ”says Rodney.

There is a piece of Canadian history that also fits in perfectly. “The antique hand-carved oak fireplace frame in the chapel was salvaged by my brother-in-law from a big old 19th century house in Fort Edmonton. The city was big with the Hudson’s Bay Company. After he passed away, I asked my nephew if I could buy it. He said I could get him for nothing if he had visitation, ”Rodney said.

With winged lions protruding from either side, it looks like he’s always been there. Elsewhere, the Gales have installed a selection of sturdy, eco-friendly stoves to keep the place warm.

While they found the building to be fundamentally solid, the Gales’ deliberate mix of old and new created a welcoming home.

Accommodation includes the chapel, a library, a living room, a sewing room, the traditional kitchen, the dining room, a large multipurpose room, four large bedrooms, three full bathrooms, an office and a mezzanine. The master bedroom overlooks the front gardens with original fireplace, walk-in closet and an updated bathroom. The resort features a mix of oak, pine and mosaic floors.

The outbuildings include grass, timber and storage shelters, an orangery restored last year and a chalet building. The monastery comes with three acres.

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Entrance to the Monastery


Entrance to the Monastery

The entrance to the Monastery

Now the Gales are planning their next adventure, with the intention of returning to Canada to build a micro mobile home on a trailer. “We need it to get us back and forth to see new grandchildren who are 1,000 miles apart,” says Rodney.


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