Poor Clares of Belfast

Poor Clares of Belfast

Date: 27/04/2020 15:05

In this time of isolation, take lessons from the Poor Clares on how to pass the time, be it having a game of swing ball, gardening or playing an instrument. 

The Poor Clares, or officially the ‘Order of Saint Clare’ were the second Franciscan branch of the order to be established. The Order was founded by Saints Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi in the year 1212 and have numbers of around 20,000 in over 75 different countries.  Taking a vow of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure, each sister dedicates their life to prayer. 

Present on Clifton Street, North Belfast, from 1924 to 2012, when numbers had declined to just five nuns - two Irish sisters in their 80s and three Filipinas - the nuns, for six days a week would offer prayers to the public through a metal grill. Face-to-face meetings with the Poor Clares was a rarity and family members could only visit four times a year, which makes Counterpoint's episode on their life and routine all the more special. 

When it came time for the Poor Clares to depart Belfast for other chapters, Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor spoke of the nuns fondly and stated how "the Sisters have modelled a spiritual joy and sense of peace which are the fruits of a life of contemplative dedication”. However, life was not always easy for the Order as letters written to a Dublin chapter show. Sister Colette wrote on  the 16th May, 1941, after the second major air raid - or what would later be called the Belfast Blitz - that their “garden is full of debris and one of the houses just beside our wall suffered badly – our out-house roof also and the green house. The general idea is that the Germans think this is a barracks and that we are the target for these bombs falling around us – God has watched over us wonderfully and we are leaving the convent and chapel in charge of Our Lady and St. Michael and the Infant of Prague – they will be the wardens”. Though, it would take more than dropping bombs to move the order out of their self-appointed confinement. 

For more information about the about this topic, Martin J. Magill has written the book, The Poor Clares in Belfast (1924-2012), which is available here.

Find the full version of this Counterpoint episode here.