Charlie McKinley and Br Edward Dowley.
Nestled against Ards Forest and Sheephaven Bay, the tranquil retreat of Ards Friary will celebrate 50 years of its official anniversary today, Sunday.
Ard Mhuire Capuchin Friary, the centre that replaced the stately Ards House, was officially opened on November 13, 1966.
This week the Donegal Democrat met with one of the builders who worked on the construction of the house, Dunfanaghy man Charlie “Archie” McKinley, and also one of the current Brothers, Fr Edward Dowley, who resides in the highly regarded retreat centre.
Charlie was in his early 20’s when he worked for contractor, PJ McLaughlin from Longford, who was tasked to build a new friary opposite the old Ards Estate House, formerly the home of the Stewart-Bam family.
He spent two years working on many facets of the construction and was the person to place the cross on top of the new church roof.
Charlie said he looks back fondly at his times working on the historic site where they often worked a 16-hour day and played football against the Capuchin Brothers every lunchtime.
“It is funny that the 50th anniversary will be on a Sunday as well, as the first service was on a Sunday on November 13 in 1966. It took place at one o’clock. I know that because I kept a diary of the dates, and and I went to play football in Letterkenny afterwards,” Charlie explained.
He said Ards was a hive of activity back then as the old Ards House was a Capuchin school with up to 40 brothers studying there at the time, while up to 40 men worked on the new construction directly opposite
He recalls Fr Godfrey, Fr Nicolas and Fr Hilary were in charge at that time.
“I must say, the students, the brothers I should call them, they were more than good to me,” Charlie said.
He said they got so friendly that they even asked his mother and family to come and see the new friary before it was officially opened.
“I must say I enjoyed my two years working here. I was 23 then and we played football twice a day and worked long hours. It never stopped,” he added.
“I started on Wednesday, 6th of May 1964. I remember the office was up on the hill and I was working beside the chapel. That first night I worked to 10 o’clock. I didn’t know why but I got asked to stay on. We got asked on a lot of nights would we stay on so I would stay until 10 pm. That was a 16-hour day,” he stated.
He recalled that at the height of the construction both he and his colleague Michael ‘Teague’ McFadden mixed many tonnes of cement in a day.
“One day me and Michael put thirteen tonnes of dry cement through the mixer when they were doing the floors. That was steady going. It would take people a month to do it now. I remember the 100 weight bags on my back was like a feather because you would be so used to lifting them but it was hard work back then”.
The good natured work continued, but it also saw Charlie have a serious accident when he fell over thirty feet through three floors of the old Ards House.
He suffered a broken collarbone and other injuries, but was lucky not to fare worse after one of his colleagues, who also fell, landed on top of him
Charlie says he still has great affection for Ards and loves to visit and will attend the 5.30pm service this Sunday.
The current residents of Ard Mhuire are Guardian Brother Richard Hendrick, Brother Edward Dowley, Brother Vianney Holmes, Brother Boscoe Connolly, Brother Kieran Shorten and Brother Vianney Holmes.
Important to celebrate
Brother Edward Dowley say it is important to celebrate the anniversary especially in the memory of those who have served and studied at Ard Mhuire in the past.
He said the function of the friary is primarily as a retreat centre and they are looking to continue and expand their work in the future.
“There were a lot of students came through here in the past, especially in the old house.
“When the building was finished in 1966 there was a move to centralise studies, so a lot of Orders took their men to Dublin to different seminaries and Maynooth and places like that.
“So then after it had been built, I think it was 1970 or so the last students were here. The proposition was “What to do with Ards?”.
Two men, Brother’s Simian and Albert, built up the whole retreat side of Ards and it became a retreat house and that what it has remained and continues and we still have groups coming here”.
As well as the religious services, retreats and conferences it host nowadays, many people also enjoy day trips to walk the stunning coastline and grounds of Ards Friary, capped off with hearty refreshments in the popular Coffee Dock overlooking the bay.