Castle Oaks House Families
The first known owners of the house were the Rich's. Lieutenant John S. Rich & his family took up residence there in 1815. The lieutenant was quite pleased to have acquired such a beautiful home in an area surrounded by such rustic beauty. Castleconnell in that time was beginning to make its name as a great fishing centre, & the sport of rowing was also a popular pastime among the gentry. While the lieutenant entered wholeheartedly into both activities he nevertheless kept a low profile. gentleman of refined character, he preferred the privacy & tranquillity of his beloved Woodlands to engaging in some of the goings on of many of his contemporise in the locality. The Rich's left Castleconnell in 1836 & did not return to Castleconnell until the late 1840's. In their absence the house was leased to John Tuthill. During these years of army service Lieutenant Rich was promoted to the rank of Captain. The family remained at Woodlands until the mid 1860's. Another family with a long association with Woodlands were the Shaw's, who owned the house in the 30's & 40's. Malcolm Shaw & his family carried on the famous Shaw's Bacon Factory in Limerick city. Like all the big houses of that time, Woodlands had its own gate Lodge. Jim Coonerty who was gardener & chauffeur Woodlands there with his family during those years. The property also had its own island - Powell's Island - n the Shannon close to the Woodlands. The little island was once owned by Caleb Powell who owned several small parcels of land throughout the region. Unused for many years it became a natural wildlife sanctuary - home to swans & ducks & a hunt for coot & heron. In the early 40's Shaw's sold out the property to a Captain Dixon; but the captain never took up residence there.
Shortly after buying the house he was contacted by Mr. A. Sexton, a Limerick auctioneer who informed him of the Presentation Order's interest in his property.Eventually an agreement was reached & in June 1945 Woodlands passed into the hands of the Presentation Sisters who paid the princely sum of £2 000 for the house & its twenty five acres of land.
The Presentation Order's search for a suitable house in Ireland to establish a Novitiate began as far back as 1919. The amalgamated houses of the Order in India had been anxious to have such a house, but the time was not yet right because of the unsettled state of Ireland - then on the brink of the War of Independence. It was decided instead to open a Novitiate in Liverpool & later at Chesterfield House in Matlock, Derbyshire. But World War Two wrought disaster for religious houses everywhere. It became more obvious that war-torn England was no place to bring novices, as many of the Novitiates in England had become empty in that period. So once again the Order looked towards Ireland for a solution to their problem. Setting up a religious house in post-war Ireland was not an easy task. The cost of food, furniture & transport were high. Woodlands had been unoccupied for some time prior to the arrival of the nuns. The house was neglected, cold, damp & sparsely furnished. The Sisters had little money to go about furnishing such a large dwelling. But news of their plight quickly spread through the region, & donations of money, furniture & many other necessities began to pour in. the Redemptorist Fathers in Limerick, the Sisters of Charity & the Brothers of the Presentation Order all gave substantial donations including sacred vessels, vestments & altar linens. The people of Castleconnell were overjoyed at the prospect of having a Religious Order in the parish, & played their part too in the establishment of the Novitiate. Many willing hands were offered to help the new arrivals to get the house & gardens into shape. Nor was the task without its lighter moments. There is the story of one local individual who was quick to see the opportunity of making some extra money.
He arrived at the convent door & offered himself, his horse & cart to do a days work - he had heard from a reliable source the nuns were paying good money to anyone willing to work for them. In the evening - cap in hand - he tapped on the front door & told the young Sister who answered that he had finished the days work.
With great expectation he awaited the arrival of the Reverend Mother. When she did appear she was full of praise & thanks for the great work he had done. "God will reward you my good man," she told him pinning an Agnus Dei Badge to the lapel of his coat. The Presentation Convent at Castleconnell was officially opened on 21st November, 1945, the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary by the Bishop of Killaloe Dr Michael Fogarty, who expressed his welcome & delight for the first Presentation House to be established in his Diocese. He prayed that "young women would pour into the Novitiate as regularly & as surely as the Shannon River that passes the very door of this house." Before his departure, the Bishop planted an Oak tree in the front lawn. The tree - like Castle Oaks House Itself - has grown & flourished & become an integral part of the beautiful landscaped gardens. The gardens of the Presentation Convent were looked after in that time by Michael Flynn who lived with his family in the old gate lodge.