A recently liberated convent has been redeveloped in recent weeks to become a residential center for refugees fleeing war in Ukraine, with the first arrivals now settling.
The building in the center of the historic town of Fethard in County Tipperary was home to the Presentation Sisters, who educated generations of local children for over 160 years, but declining vocations have reduced the need and last of the remaining nuns left for other convents in recent years.
It was taken over by the Fethard Nursery Committee, which was raising funds and developing a plan to house local elderly people in the convent, but realized the potential for help when Russia invaded Ukraine and the need humanitarian has become evident.
With the help of the entire community and local businesses, such as the nearby Coolmore Stud Farm with their expertise in project management, they set out to prepare the place for another contingent of short-term residents.
“We asked, could we help,” explained Liam Hayes of the local committee.
“The beauty of having such a successful business like Coolmore in the community – they stepped in. I was here one day and counted 25 traders. from a fire safety point of view and all that.”
The result is that Olena Petlenko and her children Alina (9) and Damir (4) moved into the convent in recent days and are expected to be followed by up to 50 other compatriots in the coming weeks.
Ms Petlenko’s sister and brother-in-law, Maryna and Oleg Gavrylenko, have lived in Ireland for many years. So it was a relief for all when they arrived after a four-day trip through Ukraine, Moldova and Romania and then to Ireland. .
“The war started on February 24, 2022. Planes are coming in and people have to go to bunkers,” Ms Gavrylenko told RTÉ News.
“She made the decision. It’s not safe to stay in Ukraine anymore and the Russian army everywhere, she made the decision to come to us. We’ve been living in Ireland for 20 years, me and my husband Oleg, and really the danger is still there because a lot of people are already dying,” she added.
“She had a long journey. She arrived on March 8 and stayed there for three weeks and moved into the convent for four days. [ago].
“She is very grateful to the Irish community and the Fethard community. She is so happy, safe and healthy and really appreciates it and thanks God.”
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Ms Petlenko’s husband, Yuri, had to stay in Ukraine, like most men in the country, and many refugees and migrants still have family in the country.
“A lot of families, my family, have lots of aunts, uncles. My husband’s dad is still there. People think it’ll be over soon but it’s never over. A lot of people are still there and, hopefully still alive,” Ms Gavrylenko said. .
Ms Petlenko herself, who still has little English, said she was delighted to stay at Fethard.
“Thank you very much, I’m very happy,” she said.
The Presentation Sisters themselves are delighted to see their old home repurposed, said Sr. Frances Crowe of the order.
“The sisters have been here for 160 years, still caring for the children and raising the families of the people of Fethard, and we are delighted to see such a life returning here and also delighted that the continued use will be for the community of Fethard. But it is a real plus for us and we are really happy that we were able to facilitate it,” said Sr. Frances.
Fionnuala O’Sullivan of the daycare committee said the whole “incredible” community rowed behind the work to prepare the building for habitation.
“Right down to the bunk beds, duvets and pillows, all were donated. Then our team came and dressed all the beds and just cleaned the whole place. It’s just phenomenal,” Ms. O’Sullivan.
The development of Fethard is part of the government’s encouragement to communities and local authorities to prepare suitable buildings to be used as accommodation for refugees. Just today ministers established a network of community resource forums in each area of the council, to help coordinate these plans and provide support to those doing the work on the ground.
“It’s a phenomenal story of community support at the heart of Fethard,” Fine Gael Senator Garret Ahearn said of local development.
“It’s a brilliant facility as it’s so close to secondary school, primary school, fantastic sports facility. We have post office, AIB bank, everything is here right on their doorstep at walking distance for them,” Mr Ahearn says.
“So I think in terms of integrating into the community, a rural town here in Ireland, it’s a fantastic place for them. They’ll be really welcomed by the people of Fethard and the work that’s been done over the course of that. the last few years of weeks is just phenomenal.”