Agnes Morrogh-Bernard (1842-1932), Foxford in Co. Mayo

Agnes Morrogh-Bernard, the foundress of Foxford Woollen Mills was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England on February 24th 1842. Her father John was one of the Morroghs of Glanmire, a prominent Catholic family in Cork.

Shortly after her birth Agnes and her mother returned to Cork and lived there untill 1849, when her farther inherited the Bernard Estates. They moved to Kerry, and her father became John Morrogh-Bernard and landlord of the estates. He looked after his tenants by providing work for the women, and so Agnes learned in her early years that people must be allowed the dignity of earning their own living, and it was from her parents that she acquired her deep sense of self sacrifice, charity, and humility, and the reason for her devotion to helping the poor.

She was educated at home by her Mother until 1854 and was then sent to Laurel Hill Convent in Limerick for three years. It was during this time that she realised she wanted to spend her life in a religious order. She went home to Sheheree House for a year, before going to Paris in 1858 to complete her education in Daimes Anglaises Convent. When she returned home in 1860 she had already decided she wanted to become a nun.

She celebrated her 21st birthday on February 24th 1863, and on July 2nd 1863 she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of charity. Mary Aikenhead had established this order in 1815, with the intention of sending the sisters out among those who needed help. As well as the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, a fourth vow asked for devotions to the poor, which appealed to Agnes and her desire to work with the underprivileged. She spent six months as a postulant and after a two year testing period she was professed on January 16th 1866.

Shortly afterwards she was given a teaching post in Gardener Street School and some months later was sent to Kings Inn School. Her Father died in October 1866. In October 1869 Agnes suffered a serious illness, and after a period of convalescence she worked for a short while in a Convent in Donnybrook. She was appointed ministress to Mountjoy St Convent and later to Lakelands Orphanage.

In April 1877 Agnes now known as Mother M Arsenius Morrogh-Bernard arrived in Ballaghadereen, Co Mayo, to become Rectress of a new Convent. She worked hard helping the poor and trying to relieve poverty and, it was around this time that her Mother died.

During her years in Ballaghadereen it was stressed to Agnes that a Convent was needed in Foxford and, so in 1890 with the help of a friend and assistance from the local Sergeant a house was found and on December 9th 1890 Mother Morrogh-Bernard and one sister came to live in Foxford.

On her arrival Agnes decided that the small spinning and weaving business in Ballaghadereen could be transferred to Foxford but on a larger scale, and in 1892 the Woollen Mills were founded. Over the next few years a school was built and in 1893 she got a grant so training could be given in the domestic and farming areas of the community.

She also encouraged sports and music, and in 1897 she set up the Brass and Reed Band which today is still the pride of Foxford. Thanks mainly to her efforts a handball alley was built in 1901.

As the years passed and money became more plentiful she had houses built for employees of the Mill. The music school was built in 1923, and the Convent Chapel on her arrival in 1925, both of these can still be seen in Foxford today.

Up untill her death in 1932, Agnes continued to improve and update the Mill and the town itself.

By Rosaleen Snee Gaughan

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