ABOVE: Sandy Easdale handing over the “rescued” statue of St Joseph to the Carmelite Sisters, who have taken over from the Notre Dame nuns at Clerkhill in Dumbarton. Picture by Jeff Holmes
The convent chapel, where the statue was built into the walls, perched on a cliff at Clerkhill above “Wallace’s Cave” at Havoc. Picture by Bill Heaney
Monsignor Hugh Canon Kelly, left, parish priest of St Patrick’s, welcoming the Notre Dame Sisters to their new convent at Clerkhill in Dumbarton’s West End in 1911.
Sandy Easdale enjoys afternoon tea and a warm welcome with two Carmelite nuns, including Sister Theresa, right, who leads the community in Dumbarton. Picture by Jeff Holmes
By Democrat reporter
A religious statue, which was built into the exterior walls of the convent chapel in the grounds of the former Notre Dame secondary, primary and boarding school site at Clerkhill in Dumbarton’s West End, has been saved from destruction.
The statue St Joseph cradling the baby Jesus was saved from under the blade of a bulldozer and has been presented to the Carmelite Sisters, by millionaire property developers Sandy and James Easdale, who now own Clerkhill.
The brothers have applied to West Dunbartonshire Council to build a a prestigious £30 million housing development on the site which overlooks the Firth of Clyde and the Renfrewshire Hills.
The Carmelite Sisters, who were formerly housed at the Monastery of the Holy Ghost in Helenslee Road, Kirktonhill, Dumbarton, have taken ownership Craigend House, which was once part of the old Clerkhill schools complex owned and run by the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Craigend was used by the Notre Dame nuns, a teaching order, as a domestic science building and was where many of the school’s pupils had their first cookery lessons.
Sandy Easdale, a former chairman of Rangers Football Club, returned the statue of St Joseph to the Carmelite Sisters at Craigend House, where he handed it over to Sister Theresa.
The statue is of St Joseph cradling the baby Jesus and stood on the south wall of the former Chapel of the Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame., which was bult in 1911.
The chapel fell out of use in the early 1990s and the nuns applied for permission in 1996 for its demolition.
In 1998, the chapel was ravaged by fire in an arson attack and since that period, it has been repeatedly targeted by vandals.
In 2016 the building was de-listed and permission was finally granted to the new owners to demolish the building in 2021.
The grounds of St Michael’s Primary School, which was also run by the Notre Dame nuns, moved to a new site at Castlehill in Cardross Road, and is currently subject to a planning application for 85 homes.
These homes will be part a complete rejuvenation of the site which, in its entirety, has been designated for residential housing for some time.
Sandy Easdale said later that he and his brother were delighted to have reunited the statue with the Sisters, a promise that was made at a very early stage in the development process.
Mr Easdale said: “Reuniting the statue with the Sisters at the Carmelite Monastery is a nice moment for everyone involved in the development project.
“The Monastery sits immediately adjacent to the [development] site and it is important for us that the Sisters are supportive of what we want to achieve.
Sister Myra Gallagher, of the Notre Dame Sisters, after the closing ceremony for the old convent with the late Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow.
“We’ve been in close contact with the Sisters as things have moved forward and we were delighted to be able to carefully take St Joseph from the former chapel building and present it to them at Craigend House.
“The site has been in need of redevelopment since St Michael’s Primary was closed in 1998. It has been plagued by vandalism, regular fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour over that period which has distressed the Sisters on several occasions, particularly late at night.
“If planning permission is granted, the site will have a bright future with modern homes perfect for individuals, couples and families.
“There has been some inaccurate claims about our plans from a few local people but the Church and the Sisters are very supportive of the development which will be and believe it will be a real positive for the area.”
The Lennox Heritage Society are not opposed to the development but would like to see a preservation order on Wallace’s Cave, which is a hole in the cliff face below the chapel and which has been a haunt for years for drug addicts who “shoot up” there.
Sister Theresa said: “We are thrilled with the safe return of the St Joseph to the Monastery. It was a well-known feature of the former chapel building and meant a lot to those who worshiped there.
“We’re very grateful to Sandy and the project team for bringing it back to us and we’ll now place it somewhere special at the monastery.
“It was wonderful to speak to Sandy this afternoon and hear the latest news about the site. Our monastery sits as the closest neighbours to the site and we all hope to see permission granted.
“Achieving a new future for the former convent school and chapel grounds as a place for families to live would be lovely. It is heartening to hear that the Havoc Cave and meadows remains untouched and that the development will offer an opportunity to link the wider community.”
Friends and former pupils of the Notre Dame and Carmelite Sisters in Dumbarton and a view across the Clyde from the new development site.