The former house of Mr Needham Thompson, purchased by Thomas Fegan for the Mercy Nuns, had to be altered and renovated to suit its intended purpose as a home for poor and distressed women and orphans.
The Sisters moved in on 27 August 1879 and Mass was celebrated there the following day. Tom Fegan went on to provide beds and other necessities and when cash was needed over the years, he was again not found wanting.
Still it was a struggle as the number of residents – and the consequent funds required to maintain them – increased. The people of the town contributed generously to collections, raffles and bazaars.
In 1898 when it became apparent that the building was inadequate to cater for the numbers seeking admission, Thomas Fegan (yes, again!) erected a purpose-built Home in the grounds (photo). This was a solid three storey building in a commanding position with an excellent view of the mountains leading down Carlingford Lough. Rooms and dormitory accommodation on each floor opened off a central corridor. The children occupied their own section at one end of the building. The original Refuge became a Convent for the Sisters.
In a few years the Home was to accommodate seventy to eighty women and up to thirty children. Their only alternative would have been the Workhouse. Here the young and the old lived happily together, each helping the other – the elderly passing on the wisdom and experience of the years, the young with youthful enthusiasm and energy brightening the days of the old. Although Spartan by today’s standards, the residents had shelter, food, clothing, security, care when sick and a comforting presence when dying.
With no money to employ lay staff, the Sisters did the cooking, cleaning, caring, laundry, helped by some active residents and older children.
In 1906 Thomas Fegan died and his funeral mass was in the chapel of the Home. His Will included a bequest for the future upkeep of the Home he had so richly endowed. Bit by bit improvements were made and in 1939 a new sitting-room was provided and a new chapel built.
Over time with improvements in living standards generally and better Social Services, a new type of resident was admitted – older and more feeble. This necessitated the employment of lay staff. The 1970s saw modernisation and progress. A lift was installed. Holidays were arranged for residents. The children especially enjoyed the Chalet in Omeath, purpose-bought by the Sisters, where they could easily and safely enjoy the peace and beauty of Cooley.
In 1977 a new purpose-built Home for the children, called Orana, was opened on the adjacent site. Though entailing a sad separation of young and elderly, it afforded an opportunity to completely refurbish the Home to modern standards. Provision for married couples was incorporated into the renovations. A woman’s bastion had been breached! The Sisters of Mercy in the diocese met the shortfall costs (after grant aid from various agencies) of