Nano Nagle (1718-1784)

Tercentenary Exhibition

Map of Cork City (1750) (1750) by Charles SmithThe Library of University College Dublin

Introduction

In the eighteenth-century, Cork was a busy seaport, with merchant ships lined up along the quays.Though landowners and merchant families were wealthy, there was also much poverty. It was this poverty that attracted the attention of one Irish woman, who decided to found schools to improve the lives of the destitute. That woman was Honora (Nano) Nagle.

Portrait of Nano Nagle (c. 1760-1775)The Library of University College Dublin

Background

In 1718, Nano Nagle was born into a family of wealthy Catholic landowners, in Ballygriffin, County Cork. As a consequence of the penal laws, and the lack of education provision for Catholics in Ireland at the time, Nano was sent to school in France. On returning to Ireland, she was determined to somehow establish schools for the Catholic poor. How she achieved this can be seen in her surviving letters, digitised by UCD Digital Library.

Interview with Professor Deirdre Raftery, School of Education, University College Dublin (2018) by Thomas AherneThe Library of University College Dublin

Letter 1: Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons on 17 July 1769 (1769-07-17) by Nano Nagle and UCD Digital LibraryThe Library of University College Dublin

In the 1750s, as Nano became aware of the complete lack of educational provision for poor Catholics in her home city, she decided to found a ‘poor school’ in a rented cabin in Cove Lane, Cork.

Nano Nagle extract
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Within two years, Nano was providing education to more than 200 pupils in Cove Lane, and a further 200 pupils in the North parish of the city. By 1769, Nano had seven schools in Cork.

Letter 7: Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons, Ursuline Convent, Paris on 28 September 1770. (1770-09-28) by Nano Nagle and UCD Digital LibraryThe Library of University College Dublin

In 1771, Nagle completed years of planning to establish a convent. She brought four Irish-born Ursuline Sisters to Cork, and funded the building of a convent for them at Cove Lane, near her first poor school.

In an atmosphere of hostility to Catholics, the nuns worked quietly. Their boarding school for Catholic girls became very successful, and the congregation quickly grew as young Irish women entered the Ursulines.

'...we are in a country...cant doe as we please’

South Presentation Convent, Cork (n.d) by Unknown and Professor Deirdre RafteryThe Library of University College Dublin

Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Nano Nagle’s next foundation was a community dedicated solely to the education of the poor, which she commenced in 1775.The congregation became known as the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Their first convent was South Presentation Convent, also at Cove Lane, in Cork. A new foundation from Cork was made in 1793, in Killarney, marking the start of a period of expansion in Ireland.

Letter 17: Nano Nagle writing to Teresa Mulally, Dublin on 31 January 1783 (1783-01-31) by Nano Nagle and UCD Digital LibraryThe Library of University College Dublin

Although Nano’s primary apostolic mission was the provision of education for girls, women also benefited from her charity. Upon finishing work in the schools each day, Nano visited the poor and tended to the sick. These encounters inspired her to establish a home for aged and destitute women, not long before her death in 1784.

'...I am building the house I spoak to you…as I was not able to build it at my owne expence'

Letter 11: Nano Nagle writing to Teresa Mulally, Dublin on 29 September 1778 (1778-09-29) by Nano Nagle and UCD Digital LibraryThe Library of University College Dublin

In Dublin, Teresa Mulally wanted to establish a convent and school at George’s Hill, in the city centre.

Nano agreed to assist Miss Mulally. However, Nano died in 1784, before the final plans for the Dublin convent were worked out.

The Presentation Convent, George’s Hill, was established in 1794 and many more Dublin convents and schools would follow.

Presentation Convent, Waterford (1906) (1906) by Unknown and Professor Deirdre RafteryThe Library of University College Dublin

Following the founding of George’s Hill, convents were established in Waterford (1798), North Presentation Cork (1799), and Kilkenny (1800). After the turn of the century, the rate of expansion nationally was rapid. By the mid-19th century, over 50% of all Irish convents were Presentation foundations.

Presentation Convent, Crosshaven (1880s) (1880/1890) by Unknown and Deirdre Ní LuasaighThe Library of University College Dublin

Global Foundations

The Presentations also made many foundations around the world, starting in 1833, when a small group of Sisters left Galway, to make a foundation in Newfoundland. Foundations were made in England (1836), India (1842), America (1854), Tasmania (1866) and Australia (1873). The Order spread to other parts of the globe in the twentieth century, and are now represented in twenty-four countries worldwide.

World map, inscribed with words by Nano Nagle (2018) by Laura GallagherThe Library of University College Dublin

'...if I could be of any service in saving souls in any part of the globe. I would do all in power.' [sic]

Digitisation at UCD Digital Library (2016) by UnknownThe Library of University College Dublin

Starting the Nano Project...

Professor Deirdre Raftery, UCD School of Education, and Sr Marie Therese King, Archivist (NE Province), George’s Hill, at the start of the digitisation of the letters of Nano Nagle, UCD Digital Library (2016-2017).

Interview with Professor Deirdre Raftery, School of Education, University College Dublin about using the Nano Nagle letters (2018) by Thomas AherneThe Library of University College Dublin

Interview with Professor Deirdre Raftery, on the uses to which the Nano Nagle letters may be put, by researchers.

She's a Woman of Welcoming Heart
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Presentation Sisters Congregational Archives, Cork

Convent Collections Logo, UCD Digital Library (1905-07-08) by University College Dublin and Deirdre RafteryThe Library of University College Dublin

Credits: Story

Collections held by Presentation Sisters Congregational Archives, Cork and George’s Hill Archives, Dublin, and Presentation Archives San Francisco.

Letters originally owned by the Ursuline Sisters Archives, Cork, are now deposited at the Presentation Sisters Congregational Archives, Cork. The contribution of the Ursuline Sisters is gratefully acknowledged.

Images © Presentation Sisters Congregational Archives, Cork, and George’s Hill Archives, Dublin.
Text © Convent Collections, UCD Digital Library.
Published by UCD Digital Library

© All rights reserved. Material published here may not be reproduced without permission from University College Dublin, the Presentation Sisters Congregational Archives, Cork, George’s Hill Archives, Dublin, and Presentation Archives San Francisco.

Acknowledgements
Professor Deirdre Raftery, UCD School of Education (Project Director, Convent Collections)
Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Ursuline Sisters, Ireland
Dr Anne O’Leary PBVM
Rosarie Lorden PBVM, Congregational Archivist, Presentation Sisters Congregational Archive, Cork
Marie Therese King PBVM, Archivist, George’s Hill, Dublin
Sr Karen Kent OSU, Blackrock, Cork
Rachel Foote, Presentation Archives San Francisco
Deirdre Bennett, Laura Gallagher (Postgraduate Researchers, UCD School of Education)
Catherine KilBride
Dr Catriona Delaney
Thomas Ahearne
CultureArk
Margaret Lantry
David Gunning
UCD Library: Dr John B. Howard, Julia Barrett, Audrey Drohan, Órna Roche, Daniel Montes, Peter Clarke, Josh Clark

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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