History of the Building

The building within which the Clare Museum is housed was originally a Sisters of Mercy school and chapel. The congregation came to Ennis in 1854 at the invitation of parish priest Dean John Kenny. Row House, on the site of the present Temple Gate Hotel, was adapted for the use of the Sisters. A former occupant was Charles O'Connell, cousin of Daniel O'Connell, who was a frequent visitor to Charles’ home during his 1820's campaign for Catholic Emancipation. The sisters soon became involved in teaching.

A new convent was built in 1861 to accommodate the growing number of sisters, and Row House was incorporated into it. The section occupied by the Museum galleries was constructed as a primary school in 1865 and the final portion of the convent complex - a chapel and classrooms - was erected in 1869. As well as schools, the order had an orphanage and several small industries on the site.

Sisters from Ennis convent established foundations overseas:
United States: Connecticut - 1872, California - 1859 and 1963
Australia: New South Wales - 1875
New Zealand: Hokitika - 1878

In Ireland, branch houses and schools were also set up in Killaloe and Spanish Point, along with Colaiste Muire in the town of Ennis. The sisters acted as administrators and nurses in the workhouses in Ennis, Corofin, and Roscrea.
In 1994, declining numbers of nuns and dry rot in the building resulted in the congregation selling the convent to Ennis Urban District Council. The following year the main convent building was demolished, with only the present section surviving. The sisters now live in smaller accommodation, but their work continues and many of the schools which they founded still flourish.

Development of the Museum and building
The surviving section of the convent building, formerly St Xavier's School and Chapel, was scheduled for inclusion in the Derelict Sites Register, and was transformed from a dilapidated building into a major cultural resource.

The Museum was developed by Ennis Urban District Council in association with Clare County Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Financial assistance of £1,000,000 was received from the Department’s Cultural Development Incentive Scheme under the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994 - 1999. The character of St Xavier's School and Chapel has been retained and the new Museum development has been carried out in accordance with the character of the building prior to redevelopment. The combined floor area of the building at present is 7,500 square feet.

The museum galleries with its Riches of Clare exhibition opened to public in October 2000.

Since 1999, Shannon Development and later Tourism Ireland rented a ground floor unit in the building for use as a Tourist Office, while the lobby area of the museum is frequently used by the Arts Office for exhibitions.

St Xavier’s chapel was used as Clare County Council’s meeting chamber until the new County Council building was opened at New Road, Ennis, in 2008. Two other rooms – the O’Curry Room and the Westropp Room – we both used as meeting rooms for both the Council and Community groups and occasionally for museum exhibitions and activities.

Since 2009 Limerick Institute of Technology has used the vacated Council chamber and both meeting rooms as a lecture theatre and offices as part of their Ennis campus.

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