The friary in Athlone.

Ukrainian housing use for former Athlone friary

Accommodation facilities at the former friary in Athlone are to be used "in the short term" to house people fleeing the war in Ukraine, the Franciscan Province of Ireland has confirmed.

The first of the Ukrainian residents have started moving in to the town centre facility, and this process is expected to continue over the coming days.

It's understood that adaptation works were carried out on the premises recently in order to prepare it for its new use.

The friary accommodation is separate from the Franciscan friary church, which has been kept open with the help of local volunteers and has maintained a reduced schedule of religious services since the last remaining friars moved out of Athlone in early January.

The church was initially due to be kept open until June of this year, to await the appointment of the new Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. Fr Paul Connell will be ordained as bishop on June 18, and the current arrangement at the friary church will now continue until August.

The Franciscan order previously indicated that the views of the new bishop will ultimately determine whether or not the continued use of the friary church for religious services is possible.

In a statement issued to the Westmeath Independent on Tuesday morning, the Franciscan Province of Ireland said the use of its Athlone facility to house people displaced by war was in accordance with its tradition of "providing services for people who are experiencing present-day challenges".

The statement read: "In recent months we announced the closure of our Friaries in Clonmel and Athlone. Since then, we have been contacted by various organisations who wished to discuss the ongoing occupation and use of both friaries.

"In keeping with our tradition, we were keen to explore the possibility of both properties being used to provide services for people who were experiencing present day challenges.

"We are pleased to confirm that, in the short term, the Friary in Athlone is being used to provide much-needed accommodation to Ukrainian nationals who have been displaced by the ongoing war.

"As we have done so many times in the past, we ask the local community to support us and all those involved in this project," the statement concluded.

At the time of writing, no details were available on the timeframe for the use of the accommodation by Ukrainian nationals or the number of people due to be accommodated at the friary.