When you rise to pray at 3.30am, that chill morning air can be hard to bear.
But Cistercian monks in Portglenone have installed underfloor heating in the monastic church where the seven common daily prayer sessions are held — and have slashed their carbon footprint as a result.
Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey on the banks of the River Bann is a typical 1960s building — plenty of concrete, brick and glass, though not much insulation — but the monks have managed to cut their heating costs by more than £7,000 a year by switching to a wood pellet boiler powered by wood grown in Northern Ireland.
The monastery houses 70 Cistercian monks and, as an active cultural centre, welcomes several thousand visitors a year.
The monks had been struggling with the ever-rising cost of heating the many buildings housed within the abbey.
A 350kw wood pellet boiler was installed in the monastery in March 2009 and it is now the only monastery in Ireland to use pellets, known as brites. The boiler provides all the heating and hot water requirements including the underfloor heating in the monastic church — where, at 3.30am every day, the community of monks comes for the first of their seven daily prayer times.
Father Aelred Magee, who led the monastery in the move to renewable energy, said: “Having made the move, I would not look back as we are benefiting from substantial savings on our energy bills. I would certainly recommend a wood pellet boiler and brites to anyone who is considering an alternative way of having their heating and hot water supplied.”
Paula Keelagher, the market development manager for brites, said: “We are delighted that brites are working well for the monks and helping them to reduce their carbon footprint by offsetting 38 tonnes of carbon and 141 tonnes of CO2 in just the last year alone.”