Recent Research — Irish Convents

First, a note. Posting here is going to continue to be sporatic until after the new year. You never know when I’ll post, but it will probably only be once a week or so. However, I am lining up guests for January, and hope to be in the swing of things with the start of 2012!


Sometimes research leads you to abandon a promising plotline.

I was writing my Beauty and the Beast story and realized that the Beast’s aunt needed to be in the story. So I threw in an older middle-aged woman, and made her slightly cantankerous and bossy but with a heart of gold, and then I realized she was a dreadful stereotype. So I tried to think of a distinctly Irish-type character who was not a stereotype.

That’s when I thought about making her a nun.

Yeah, so among the Irish, having a nun for an aunt is kind of stereotypical. Even I have one. (Well, she was a great aunt.) But not all of us are Irish, are we? And my experience reading in fiction certainly does not include many nuns.

I wish Aunty Peg were still alive, because she would have been a girl during the time I am writing this story. She would remember what it was like. I know what nuns and convents were like when I was a girl; I very much had an Irish upbringing, despite being born in the United States.

I even stayed in a convent for a week when I was 11. We were in the midst of moving during the Christmas, and Sr. Gabriel was one of the only nuns who stayed behind that year during their annual trip back to Ireland. So we stayed with her in the mostly-empty convent. We ran around through the graveyard, played in the choir loft of the adjacent church, peeked into the convent chapel, and drank kettlefuls of tea. You can’t even imagine how fun it was.

This took place in the late 70s, after Vatican II, so the 20th century changes to convent life had already taken place. Reading the Vatican II summaries was interesting, but didn’t have what I needed. Since I didn’t have Aunt Peg, I interviewed my mom to find out if nuns back then were free to move about the community, which I needed in the story. And according to her, they always went about in twos, and were pretty restricted outside the convent. (Although within the convent was another story.)

So it looks like my nun character might not work out. I think I need to dig up some letters or diaries to be certain, or maybe find a nonfiction book. Or maybe I’ll just write her to keep the story going and make any adjustments later. She wouldn’t be the first character I’ve written and thrown away.

Most likely, I’ll morph that character again. She needs to come from a wealthy Irish background. Any ideas?

5 thoughts on “Recent Research — Irish Convents

  1. I’m curious, what interactions would the nun aunt have to have with your Beast? I’m wondering if it would be possible for the aunt to make good use of a faux-stache and men-clothes to steal away from the convent
    could she be the spirited descendent of a wealthy military lineage. Just shooting out the first things popping into my mind.


  2. Basically calls her in to act as hostess for his unexpected guests. Ireland isn’t known for their impressive military lineages, so I’ll think about your other suggestion.

    Another Irish stereotype I thought of is the distracted matron with a slew of children. That popped into my mind as well. Most of them could be grown except a few young teen daughters … maybe.


  3. What about a motherly spinster? You rarely them in literature, probably because everyone thinks a motherly person must have tons of kids, but not all motherly people marry, or have tones of children. My big sis loves to mother people, but she hasn’t been able to have children. She worked at a daycare for awhile because she really loves kids.

    On a side-note, I love your memory of staying at convent when you were a kid. I’m not Catholic or Irish, so you’re right that I find that aspect interesting.


    • Cool! When you grow up with it, it seems so ordinary, but everyone’s experiences are so different after all.

      Now that you mention it, one or two of those nuns were quite motherly! Especially Sr. Bernadette! And Sr. Xavier was like another grandmother.


  4. I would like to second Chicory’s remark. Convents are a little mysterious and fascinating to those who’ve never been around them At All! And the nun idea is a good one, I’d say. Definitely not overdone.
    Though, if it won’t work, it won’t work. You have to make sacrifices when necessary!
    Could she be the widow of a rich merchant? How high toned is your Beast’s family?
    Something very colorful, and maybe even flamboyant, in a refined, elegant fashion. I don’t know if it’d work or not, but I don’t think that’s been overused either.
    She wouldn’t have to be his aunt, either, if you wanted to distance her a little. Maybe second cousin thrice removed, that he always used to like, and knew he could count on in a pinch. And since she’s alone in the world, and doesn’t approve of the men who want to marry her for her husband’s money; she’s bored, and jumps at the chance to spend some time helping out a favorite family member.
    Oh, goodness! My imagination runs away with me, what?
    Thanks for sharing about staying in the convent. That will be filed away for inspiration. I’ve never been in anything nearly that grand, but it sounds just so positively thrillingly fun.
    Lucky kids!
    Have a great day!


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