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Former convent could  soon be cultural space

There was unanimous support from area councillors at their final meeting for a funding application to buy the former convent in Gort and redevelop it into a community hub.

The listed building dating from 1770 is currently being used to house Ukrainian refugees following the departure of the Mercy Nuns in 2021 after 164 years of ministry.

In presentation before Loughrea Municipal District councillors, Marian Cahill Collins, secretary of the Gort Town Team which has worked with Galway County Council to produce the Gort Town Centre First Plan – a blueprint for future development – said the three-storey, 1,400sqm building was the perfect location for a badly-needed multi-purpose remote working, cultural and community space.

An application to the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) was turned down in 2021 due to the belief by the Department that it may be donated to the public under the religious redress scheme.

When that did not happen, the umbrella group made up of up 50 community organisations, Gorgeous Gort Forum, secured in writing a promise by the Mercy Nuns that Galway County Council would be given first option to purchase it.

An application would be made in the next round of RRDF funding next October to buy the property and draw up a detailed design, which would include a performance space in the chapel which boasts stunning stained glass.

It was imperative that the building was purchased for the community or risk it following in the footsteps of a historic four-storey mill in the town that disappeared over a weekend, Ms Cahill Collins stated.

“We want to make sure this is not destroyed and save this historic building from falling into disrepair,” she exclaimed.

Chair of the Galway Town Team, Annie Rozario, who is co-ordinator of the Gort Resource Centre, said the site would be the perfect new home for the resource centre which had outgrown its current location.

Councillor Gerry Finnerty (FF) said the town was lucky that it had not already been bought by a developer.

Fine Gael’s PJ Murphy said Gort now had a sense of great positivity that was not there in previous years, and which was starting to bear fruit.

“If what you’re proposing doesn’t happen, it will be taken over by a private developer and mutilated into a form that gives the maximum number of houses and it would fundamentally destroy the architecture,” he predicted.

“It would be hard to find a more worthwhile cause to put funding into.”

Director of services for economic development and planning in Galway County Council, Liam Hanrahan, said the current zoning was for community and educational facilities so residential would not be allowed unless councillors voted through a change.

He told the meeting that he hoped discussions with the Sisters of Mercy would lead to a successful outcome.

“A donation of the building would be the most appropriate,” he remarked.

Loughrea Municipal District Cathaoirleach Jimmy McClearn said there was unanimous support among area councillors for putting the project forward for funding.

In the 2021 RRDF funding €798,000 was allocated for the reimaging of Canon Quinn Park alongside major improvements to the public realm.

The building was built by John Prendergast Smyth who later acquired the title, Lord Gort. He lived there until 1816 when he moved to the newly-built Lough Cutra Castle. It was then home to Dr W Mulville after which for two years to 1852 it was used as a workhouse for girls.

In November 1857 the Sisters of Mercy came from Carlow to establish a convent there.

Pictured: New chapter….the former Mercy Convent in Gort

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