Branching Out: Presentation Convents 1775-1828

Presentation Sisters in their distinctive black habits used to be a familiar sight across the country, as were their homes.

The convents they lived in were ubiquitous, often dominating towns and villages. Many of these are of simple architectural style, but all are of significance for a variety of social and historical reasons. Their location in a village, town or city had a huge impact on the development of the surrounding area as schools, housing and service industries grew up around them. They were such a common feature of the landscape that they became almost invisible.

An episode of Radharc broadcast on RTÉ in 1971 began: ‘In Ireland we tend to take nuns for granted. They’ve always been here and they always will be here’. This statement is no longer true. In 1966 there were 13,409 nuns in the Republic of Ireland, in 2000 there were 9,031 while the figures for 2021 record 4,494 religious sisters.


‘Branching Out: Presentation Convents 1775-1828’ examines the early Presentation Convents in Ireland. Some of these convents remain open, but many have closed and the buildings demolished or repurposed. It is important that we record the history of the buildings and landscapes, the material culture and the lives of the women who lived in the convents before it is too late. The exhibition offers a flavour of the early years of the Presentation Order. As you make your way through this website you will find documents, photographs, films, artefacts and oral histories which will introduce you to the early years of the Presentation Order in Ireland.


Click on images to see them in greater detail and learn more about them.

Above: Emblematic Tree of the Presentation Order. The oak tree and the acorns represent the parent house (South Presentation Convent), branch houses and their affiliations. By Jane White, a pupil of the Presentation Convent, George’s Hill, 1871
Above: Stained glass window is in Presentation Convent, Galway. The image depicted in the window is a cross radiating light and is a reminder both of Good Friday and Easter Sunday (death and resurrection). It is the symbol on the ring worn by every Presentation Sister.
Above: Sign at the entrance to Presentation Convent, Galway

In this exhibition the terms ‘Nuns’, ‘Sister’ and ‘Women Religious’ are used interchangeably, as are the terms ‘Order’ and ‘Congregation’. To become a nun took several years. Women who wanted to join the Presentation Sisters first became a postulant and then a novice before taking their final vows and becoming a professed sister. All convents kept annals, which documented key events every year, such as new novices entering the convent, their ‘reception’ into the convent community following their novitiate, and their final profession as a religious sister.

Presentation Convents 1775-1828