THE NEW INITIATIVE, 2005 – 2011
At its Provincial Chapter meeting in 2005 the Franciscan Order decided to develop a new initiative in relation to the lands and buildings at Multyfarnham Abbey. The proposal adopted at the Provincial Chapter meeting read as follows: ‘We propose that the new Fraternity (at Multyfarnham Abbey), with the backing of the minister Provincial and the Definitory, be given the means to work its way towards a renewed form of Franciscan living, by concentrating on Prayer, Fraternity and Mission in a new and creative way’.
In the period from 2005 to 2011 the local Franciscan fraternity at Multyfarnham Abbey have been developing a number of projects and initiatives around prayer, creative arts, communal living and support for vulnerable and isolated people. The local Franciscan fraternity have maintained a residential presence at Multyfarnham Abbey (there are currently four friars and brothers living at the Abbey), and masses and novenas continue to take place on a regular basis. On the basis of extensive consultations it is clear that a primary desire from local people in the North Westmeath area is for the Franciscans to maintain a permanent residential presence at Multyfarnham Abbey.
At the same time as the local Franciscan fraternity were developing their new initiative, discussions also took place with over 120 people in relation to the disposal of 40 acres of land (spread across three sites) and 60,000 square feet of property at Multyfarnham Abbey. The Franciscan Order did not desire a commercial return on these assets. Rather they hoped that the resources would be used for purposes which are consistent with Franciscan values and which would contribute to the economic, social, cultural and educational development of the North Westmeath area.
Significant discussions and consultations took place in the first half of 2009 in relation to future usages of the lands and buildings at Multyfarnham Abbey. This process culminated in an Open Day in June 2009 which was attended by over 100 people. On the basis of this meeting and other consultation activities the following decisions have been made by the Definitory of the Franciscan Order in relation to the disposal of the lands and buildings at Multyfarnham Abbey:
- The County Board of Westmeath GAA have been offered a 15 acre field to develop into a Centre of Excellence/Training Centre for Gaelic games in County Westmeath. The Franciscan Order believe that involvement and participation in sport, especially for young people, provides a positive and healthy alternative to other more destructive and harmful activities.
- The Lakelands Area Retreat and Cancer Support Centre (LARCC) is re-locating from Ballinalack to Multyfarnham Abbey. The LARCC Cancer Support Centre opened in November 2002 and was the inspiration and design of the late Ita Bourke, who after being diagnosed with cancer, travelled to an established centre in England for therapy and support and saw the great need in Ireland for a similar service. Along with co-founders Frank Russell and Karen Daly for almost two years they became involved in fundraising, volunteer work and research in the area of psychological support for cancer patients.
Ita’s untimely death shortly before the opening of the Centre meant it was left to the two co-founders (also both cancer patients), the newly appointed directors and staff to drive the founder’s vision forward. The LARCC Centre continues to grow and expand its services. It is led by a team of dedicated nurses, therapists, counsellors and administrators.
The LARCC Centre endeavours to give emotional and psychological help to people living with cancer and their supporters. It provides a homely supportive environment where patients and family members can participate in its courses, obtain information and experience complementary therapies. Some of the support services on offer include Counselling, Complementary Therapies, Nurse Support, Telephone Helpline, Breast Care service, Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapy, Bereavement Support & Pamper Days.
Unique to LARCC is its Residential / Take a Break Week, the only cancer support Centre in Ireland running such a programme. The purpose of the residential programme is to take clients on a personal journey of relaxation, reflection and recovery by skilled therapists, nurses and counsellors. The variety of therapies on offer and the ambience of the Centre provides the clients with the opportunity to discuss issues in a relaxed and safe environment with staff members and other attendees.
The move to this purpose built Centre at Multyfarnham will afford LARCC the chance to grow and develop as a charity and essential cancer support provider in the Midlands of Ireland. The professional team of nurses, counsellors, therapists and administrators intend to establish a range of new support services to complement the existing ones and therefore be in a position to help more cancer patients and their supporters, including children & their families affected by cancer. Larger accommodation capacity will also mean that the unique residential programme at LARCC can welcome more clients from across Ireland on a more regular basis, allowing people affected by cancer to enjoy the benefits of a week of counselling and therapies to aid in their recovery process.
- Three other wings of the Agricultural College building will be available for training, education, enterprise and counselling services. These wings comprise the Great Hall (which runs the full length of one side of the building), five large classroom/training rooms and seven other rooms which can be rented out to local groups and small businesses. These facilities will serve to make a significant contribution to the availability of training and education spaces within County Westmeath.
- A three acre site to the north west of the quadrangular buildings is being developed into applied training facilities for people interested in horticulture, organic farming and work around arts and crafts. This part of the complex is being developed by a group called Feirme an Eolais which has a particular interest in working with early school leavers, with young disabled people and with people who might be interested in practical hands-on work in areas like horticulture, market gardening and organic farming.
Planning permission for the re-development of the quadrangular buildings and for the construction of a new road into Multyfarnham Abbey and a new car park (for up to 60 cars) was secured from Westmeath County Council in the summer of 2010. Construction work began in August 2010 and the building work was completed in April 2011. The building contract was for a total of €2 million and led to the employment of 40 people during various stages of the building project.
The re-development of Multyfarnham Abbey represents an excellent example of local initiative and it will have significant economic, social and cultural outcomes and benefits. Direct activity at Multyfarnham Abbey will lead to the creation of up to 20 new jobs and there will be positive spin-offs for Multyfarnham village as many hundreds of people each year attend events and activities in the quadrangular building, in the new training and education facilities and at the GAA countywide Centre of Excellence.
At the local community level, the re-development of Multyfarnham Abbey will create a whole range of new opportunities and new spaces for many groups in County Westmeath and further afield. The whole history of the Franciscan Order in Multyfarnham Abbey (stretching back nearly 750 years) and the beauty of the church and the grounds (incorporating lifesize Stations of the Cross, sculptured in the 1940s) will significantly complement the new, modern facilities which are being developed within the complex at Multyfarnham Abbey. It is hoped that the new facilities and amenities will maintain the Franciscan charism and will continue the duty of care and service which has been to the core of the Franciscan’s work at Multyfarnham Abbey over the last 744 years.
FRANCISCAN PROVINCE OF IRELAND