Op-Ed by Sylvia Wohlfarth-Bottermann, Anti-Racism Development Worker with Cork Migrant Centre

The vision of the Diversity Academy was to develop a space where diverse users of our site could come together in creativity to express aspects of their cultures and address issues that are important to them. Diversity Academy was an artist led, community craftivism project where participants created a collaborative artwork. This pilot project, supported by Cork City Council Arts Office, built upon the incredible community cohesion and capacity building activities already undertaken by Cork Migrant Centre, The Lantern Community Project, and Nano Nagle Place. Diversity Academy for the first time brings participants of these organizations together in creativity and solidarity.

The aims of the project were to use as an inspiration the example of Nano Nagle who empowered people through making; to take museum collections out of the archive, particularly our beautiful early 19th century embroidery samplers, to act as starting points for crafting/creative activities; to teach new skills so that there is a shared venture in the participants learning something new together, along with harnessing artistic expression, with the aim of encouraging new social bonds.

A key aim was to allow participants a platform to steer the course of this creative/craftivism venture, which was led by artis Ann Metchelink. Along the way, other artworks were created! Creativity and Change artists Helen O’Keeffe and Claire Coughlan created a ‘graphic harvest’ of the craftivist sessions, giving visual expression to what has been a special and at times emotional experience for everyone.

Nano Nagle Place would like to acknowledge the generous support of Cork City Arts Office Arts in Context Funding 2022

In this tour of Nano Nagle Place we explore what Christmas was like in Cork City when Nano lived here in the 1750s-1780s

During the lockdown we asked our team to consider which objects they had missed. Here they are talking about their favourite objects in our museum.

Gerry – Penal Chalice

Agnes –  Nano’s Walking Stick

Paul – Portrait of Nano Nagle

Nuala – Nano Nagle Icon

Tom – South Pres School Register

To celebrate Cork Heritage Open Day, which celebrates the built heritage of Cork City, we created this 3 minute whiz through the key architectural styles at Nano Nagle Place … enjoy!

Cork Migrant Centre (CMC) (a Nano Nagle Place (NNP) project) and Cork Printmakers unveiled a significant Black Lives Matter artwork in response to the killing of George Floyd at Nano Nagle Place in the summer of 2020. They wanted to mark that tragic event and also to express their own experiences of racism in Ireland. Working with artist Kate O’Shea, they created 3 stunning murals for front windows of Nano Nagle Place. The launch featured short dance performances, spoken word and hip-hop plus speeches from the artists themselves.

The messages contained in this impressive artwork were created by young people of CMC Youth Initiative, a group which nurtures the resilience of young teenagers living in or just transitioned from Direct Provision centres in Cork. This collaborative artwork by CMC Youth Initiative is a means of creatively expressing their emotions following the murder of George Floyd in America and the recent global surge of the Black Lives Matter movement. Here in Ireland, many young people – not just those from refugee and migrant backgrounds – feel a sense of isolation at times in a country where racial abuse and institutional discrimination is not being tackled effectively.

The artwork was created over a matter of weeks, in collaboration with artist Kate O’Shea of Cork Printmakers and the teens’ mentor DJ Stevie G.
The young artists are: Aaliyah, Amaka, Clare, Colman, Daniella, Elton, Eman, Esther, Ethen, Faith, Isabel, Josh, Josias, Julie, Kimberly, Kimberly, Lilian, Mia, Mira, Muzi, Nanette, Nanette, Rachel, Reem, Sarah, Shaun, Shewa, Sumaya, Ugonna. Through Zoom and WhatsApp brainstorming, the teens were encouraged to generate ideas through drawing, painting, and writing. The resulting artwork features a mixture of graphic design, portraits, text, and words of solidarity from these young people, culminating in a simple but strong message:

“Black Lives Matter – End Direct Provision”.

The artwork also includes contributions from the Climate Youth Artivists, who use their own creativity to provoke change on a number of issues. Recent and ongoing work by them includes the much publicised “Black Lives Matter – End Direct Provision” mural that went up this June on the prominent Sullivan’s Quay.

For the last few years, a number of young people from migrant communities and Direct Provision have been working on multiple artistic projects such as the Hip Hop Teens, led by choreographer Andrea Williams and Stevie G. This has seen an output of numerous high-profile dance performances along with an exhibition and short film at last years’ Indie Cork Film Festival in conjunction with The Glucksman and Shane O’Driscoll of Cork Printmakers.

The launch of this artwork comes in the wake of a recent CMC Youth Initiative Against Racism webinar, where a number of these articulate young people and their mentors engaged frontline service providers in a conversation about positive change for multicultural Ireland. The group has already received proactive communication from several significant bodies, including the Ombudsman for Children, who delivered their own Direct Provision report on Tuesday, 7th July 2020.

The young artists and their mentors had this to say about working on the artwork:

“My name is Elton Sibanda from Drishane Castle. This piece of art was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests all over the world and it was also inspired by the equality of black people and white people.”

“My name is Ugonna Dur from Cork. My picture was inspired by the diversity of humans and how we all have the same colour blood. My other picture is in Japanese and when translated into English means ‘we are one person’, meaning no matter the differences we are all still one species: human.”

REM, young artist, said: “I’m trying to show kids protesting peacefully in painting not in real life; unfortunately, they are used to racism through experience.”
Cork Youth Artivists, said: “The system that causes the climate crisis is inherently racist. Justice must be achieved in all ways and all of us have the power within ourselves to challenge authority and demand change.”

Dr Naomi Masheti, Coordinator of the Cork Migrant Centre (at Nano Nagle Place), said: “Today this visual signalling of solidarity with BLM movement puts into action the words of the founder of Nano Nagle Place, Nano herself – ‘Deeds not just Words’ and that is the message we are sending out to individuals, organizations and policy makers. And for the young people here today ‘Young Black Lives Matter: Decisions that affect them should have their voices front and centre.”

Kate O’Shea, artist, said: “I feel very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to work with the words and drawings of an incredibly articulate group of young people. This is their artwork and their words which I helped to put a structure to. It is important that these voices are given prominent platforms within our cities. It is time to listen to these voices and those who have spent years struggling to End Direct Provision in Ireland.”

Aideen Quirke, Director Cork Printmakers, said: “Following the youth webinar organised by Cork Migrant Centre, myself and the team at Cork Printmakers have been spurred into action to tackle the issue of racism and discrimination faced by young people and their families and loved ones in Ireland. As part of Cork Printmakers ongoing partnerships with Cork Migrant Centre and Nano Nagle Place, we are delighted to be involved with this artwork and will continue to use creative means to take action on the #BlackLivesMatter and #EndDirectProvision campaigns. We have been really inspired by the stories and words of these young artists, but also angered by the discrimination faced by people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. By collaborating with these young people, we hope to express solidarity and support with this campaign and call for everyone to join us in making Ireland a safe, creative space for young people, irrespective of their background.”

Stevie Grainger, DJ and mentor, said: “This is an amazing project from Nano Nagle Place that gives a voice to those who need to be heard most, the young people. It’s a wonderful extension of the work myself, Andrea, Naomi & all the mentors do with the teens and it was incredible working with Kate and Aideen of Cork Printmakers and also the young crew at Climate Youth Artivists.”

This video captures their dance performance during the launch event.

With great joy, the European Museum Forum shares the decision by the Council of Europe on the winner of the Council of Europe Museum Prize 2022 which they have awarded to Nano Nagle Place (Cork, Ireland). The museum was selected by the Culture Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) at a meeting today.

Nano Nagle Place not only commemorates the educational and religious work of Nano Nagle, who founded schools for the Catholic poor in Cork at a time when it was illegal, but equally it continues the same mission to provide support and care for people in need. The charity which runs the museum continues the order’s educational and spiritual work through the Cork Migrant Centre, providing services for asylum seekers and refugees, and the Lantern, which runs community education and development services.

According to committee representative for the Museum Prize, Roberto Rampi (Italy, SOC), “despite being rooted in the specific religious tradition of Roman Catholicism, with nuns still living on the site, there is a strong sense of caring based on need, not on doctrine. Nano Nagle Place has a very strong and coherent mission which is in line with the Council of Europe’s human rights values and principles”.

Nano Nagle Place CEO Shane Clarke said “It’s a huge honour to win the Council of Europe Museum Prize. Nano Nagle was a true European. Having spent her youth in France, she also looked to Europe for help and inspiration when she invited the Ursuline Sisters to come to Cork. Nano Nagle addressed the needs she saw before her in the 18th Century, and at Nano Nagle Place we continue in that spirit, addressing the societal issues before us today. We are both moved and proud that the Culture Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have recognised our twin missions of celebrating the daring endeavours of Nano Nagle in the past, while continuing her work to address new societal issues in the present”.

Being an important part of the European Museum of the Year Award scheme, the Council of Europe Museum Prize is awarded to a museum which puts particular emphasis on European perspectives and the interplay between local and European identities, on a commitment to and presentation of key values of democracy, human rights, inter-cultural dialogue, of bridging cultures and overcoming social and political borders.

The prize forms part of the European Museum of the Year Awards. Recent winners of the prize include the Gulag History Museum in Moscow (2021), the National Museum of Secret Surveillance “House of Leaves” in Tirana (2020) and the Museum of Communication in Bern (2019).

More details are available here: https://www.europeanforum.museum/en/emya-twentytwo/nano-nagle-place/  and https://pace.coe.int/en/pages/museumprize

This year Nano Nagle Place is marking 250 years of continual use as a convent. As part of our summer exhibition, we worked with seamstress Sam Wynn to recreate styles of habit that we did’t hold in our archive.

Using a book of rules that described how much fabric was to be used in the habit, and how it was intended to look, Sam was able to remake the habit which the Presentation Sisters began wearing in 1805 until it was modified 1943, when the decision was made to remove the train at the back of the skirt. Along with this oldest style of habit she made a postulant’s dress, which we also didn’t have the oldest version of, a 1950s habit, and a post Vatican II habit.

Hear Sam talking about her work on Changing Habits here …

Nano Nagle Place welcome some new faces to our front windows!

The residents of one of the oldest parishes in Cork, South Parish, are celebrating local lifelong learners through the launch of a photographic exhibition. South Parish Learning Neighbourhood, as part of Cork Learning City, launches its Faces of Learning photographic exhibition, consisting of a series of striking black and white portraits by photographer Eddie Hennessy.

These are portraits of local learners who recognise South Parish as their own ‘Learning Neighbourhood.’ The exhibition features an inclusive mix of people who have embraced the idea of lifelong learning and have participated in courses and learning events locally.

Paula Mc Carthy, principal of St Johns Central College and chair of South Parish Learning neighbourhood said “South Parish Learning Neighbourhood is one of Cork’s newest learning Neighbourhoods and we are delighted to be launching our new Faces of Learning Exhibition. This exhibition celebrates lifelong learners of all ages and abilities from our neighbourhood. The people featured all have a learning story to tell and these stories combined have a powerful inspirational impact for others.”

Cork is an UNESCO Learning City, which means the city fosters and celebrates lifelong learning and social inclusion. The Learning Neighbourhoods Programme is integral to making Cork a Learning City and there are currently five areas in Cork that identify as Learning Neighbourhoods: South Parish, Mayfield, Ballyphehane, Knocknaheeney and The Glen. Each neighbourhood has an ongoing commitment to learning, providing inclusive and diverse learning opportunities for whole communities through partnership and collaboration. The programme is a collaboration between Cork City Council, UCC, MTU Cork and Cork Education and Training Board (CETB).

South Parish Learning Neighbourhood is one of Cork’s newest learning Neighbourhoods. Situated in a historic part of Cork’s city centre the neighbourhood benefits from having lots of great learning locations including Cork City Library, MTU Cork Crawford College of Art & Design, Gael-Taca, Meitheal Mara Teoranta, O’Sho, Nano Nagle Place, The Lantern Community Project, Cork Migrant Centre, Cork Centre for Architectural Education, Notes to Cork, Munster Literature Centre, Sean Carroll & Sons Silversmiths, Cork Flower Studio, Altrusa Literacy Scheme, Food Forest and St John’s Central College.

Everyone is invited to view the exhibition at a range of public venues throughout South Parish over the coming weeks and months. Posters will appear on Notes to Cork billboards and in shop windows on Douglas Street, and Nano Nagle Place will host an exhibition of The Lantern Community Project’s ‘Crochet Ladies’ across their front windows.

Nano Nagle Place is delighted to be taking part in Douglass Week, an online commemoration celebrating the 175th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ visit to Ireland, and the role this visit played in his own life and journey. As part of this commemoration, we are delighted to be collaborating with the Museum of Literature Ireland and hosting their magnificent ‘Douglass in Ireland’ exhibition in our front windows! If you missed it you can find MoLI’s digital edition of the exhibition HERE!

Frederick Douglass remains one of the most influential figures of the American abolitionist movement. Douglass had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and realised education represented his best chance of achieving freedom. He secretly taught himself to read and write and escaped slavery at the age of 20, absconding to Massachusetts. Between 1845-1846 he traveled to Ireland where he met Daniel O’Connell and lectured to packed audiences.

Although born a century prior to Douglass, Nano Nagle an 18th century Irish woman, held a similar belief that education was the key to breaking out of the cycle of poverty and championed social equality for the poor Catholics of Ireland who were suppressed by the Penal Laws.

Nano Nagle Place are proud to connect Nano Nagle and Frederick Douglass, two pioneers for education and social justice and bring their legacies to a 21st Century audience, thanks to the MoLI’s eye catching exhibition. Although our doors may be closed, you can visit the windows in our front plaza to see this wonderful exhibition and learn all about Frederick Douglass and his groundbreaking work.

“The Museum of Literature Ireland is delighted to partner with Nano Nagle Place on the presentation of our exhibition ‘Frederick Douglass in Ireland’. The exhibition was produced in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the African American Irish Diaspora Network, and introduces visitors to the story of Douglass and his famous visit to Ireland in 1845. 

One of the major figures of the American Abolitionist Movement, Douglass’ important account of his own life, the ‘Narrative’, sits centrally in the canon of slave literature and also underwent a second edition while he was in Ireland. Douglass retained fond memories of his trip here, during which time he met with one of his hero’s, Daniel O’Connell, and spoke regularly to thousands of Irish supporters. 

His work remains essential and important both in the United States and in the changing Ireland of today – this exhibition is the first in a planned series of exhibits at MoLI that will explore major political and philosophical works with connections to the island.”

– Simon O’Connor, Director of the MoLI

Cork Migrant Centre and CMC Youth Initiative have an incredible line-up of online events  Make sure to visit www.douglassincork.com to check out all the wonderful events happening from the 8th to the 14th of February to commemorate Douglass Week.

We are delighted to share our new App and Virtual Tour with you. Both were made by Cork company DigisoftTV and were funded by the Heritage Council’s Accessibility Grant.

The virtual tour makes the site accessible to those who cannot visit. Try it out HERE!

The App has a wonderful audio descriptive tour for blind visitors or those with any visual impairments. The tour is given by our board member and Lyric FM broadcaster Evelyn Grant.

You can directly download the Apps from the relevant stores here:



We wish to acknowledge the generosity of The Heritage Council for funding this amazing project

Cork Migrant Centre Youth Initiative nurtures the resilience of young teenagers living in or just transitioned from Direct Provision centres in Cork. The charity provides free maths grids, homework clubs, and visual and performing arts workshops.

One such workshop is the Hip-Hop class which is comprised of 15-20 young asylum seeking/refugee/migrant youth aged 13-16.  The classes are facilitated by Stevie G, who has a wealth of experience running hip-hop workshops for the vulnerable population in Cork. He is assisted by Andrea Williams, a professional dance instructor who runs her own hip-hop club in Cork.

We got in touch with the mentors of CMC Youth Initiative to ask them about their experiences working with the teens and their thoughts on the BLM movement.

Photo by Clare Keogh


Q: How did you get involved with CMC?

Stevie G: About 3 or 4 years ago there was a meeting called, and various people in the community were asked to volunteer. I had good experience working with teens so it was logical that I helped take this project on!

Andrea: I was invited by Stevie G and Naomi [Masheti, Coordinator of Cork Migrants Centre] who had already been doing some projects with some of the girls. It was more or less 3 years ago. I had a full-time job at the time so I would finish work and come to the centre to be with them and have dance classes. I fell in love straight away with the girls.

Q: What does a typical afternoon with the CMC teens look like (before lockdown)?

Stevie G: We meet up and shoot the breeze and have fun for about 15 minutes, then we get to work, which is also fun! Sometimes it’s a bit mad as Andrea is usually the teacher trying to control them all, but we somehow manage and we certainly miss it now. She is an amazing teacher.

Andrea: It depends a lot on the days, as in the beginning we had 10/15 girls but then the numbers went up with some of the Direct Provisions centres joining us. The maximum I once had in the room was probably nearly 40! They are amazing and have an infinite source of energy which we have to keep up with!

I’m there to teach but I always end up learning from them too. It’s a constant exchange of experiences, hopes, dreams and culture. I called them my baby’s.

Q: Have you had any engagement with the teens during lockdown and what has that been like?

Stevie G: Andrea has done some online zoom dance classes, and we’ve also done some art projects with Shane O’Driscoll of Cork Printmakers and now we are doing a Black Lives Matter mural at Nano Nagle Place with Kate O’Shea steering it with the kids! It’s been good to keep active! Some of them were involved in our CMC Youth Initiative Against Racism too so these last few weeks have been crazy busy! We also visited Millstreet and Macroom to deliver the laptops for the Laptops for Lockdown fundraiser to some of the kids, which was great!

Andrea: Yes, I try to check on them, we also had few online classes and they were also involved in some other art projects with other mentors from the centre. We always keep contact with them and try to make them feel needed and valued.

Photo by Clare Keogh

Q: How do you think the teens have benefited from the after-school programme?

Stevie G: It’s been amazing. When Rayaa first joined us she was about 10 or 11 and even the older ones, like her sister Aaliyah, was only 13. Some of that group have been with me solidly for 3 years and Andrea for nearly all of that time too and the change and maturity has been incredible, and their confidence and self-esteem has definitely benefited. They are all really creative on multiple levels. Andrea and I used talk about this all of the time when we were with them every week, the change has been remarkable.

Andrea: I think they have massively benefited from the program in a sense that is a secure, fun environment where they learn from me, Stevie and the other mentors but they also feel free to create and be themselves.

Their confidence has improved so much, I remember in the beginning most wouldn’t speak or share their opinions but now they feel empowered to speak, create and be what they are, Awesome teenagers!

The key I think is to make them feel comfortable and let them know that they are not any different from other teenagers.

Q: Have the teens taught you anything important during your time with them?

Stevie G: We have both learned a lot about the various backgrounds that these teens have, and it’s helped us understand more about the complexities of their various situations. The two of us are in music and the arts so are pretty tuned in, but we both have learned so much from these youngsters.

Andrea: I think the biggest lesson I learned from them is resilience, how not to give up from your dreams even when all the odds are against you. How to be strong when that’s the only thing left for you to do. They always have a smile for you and that’s what I love about them the most.

Q: Do you have a standout memory/moment from working with the teens?

Stevie G: Our first big show at Africa day in Fitzgerald’s Park was very special but overall I think the best memory was when we first welcomed the guys from Millstreet to a summer camp last year with GMC Beats, and all of the kids from all different backgrounds created original music, dance and other magic for 3 solid days.

Andrea: Besides the laughter and some emotional moments, what stands out for me was a day a group of girls just openly start talking with us about some unfortunate situations that happened to them in life and they felt no one cared. I felt I was doing something big because they trusted me enough to share those, they felt I cared. In general, I have very proud moments with them I will cherish forever.

Q: What is a message you think is important to highlight given the current BLM movement to the people of Cork?

Stevie G: We need to listen to our young people. We need to give them a voice. And we all need to work together and stand strong against hate while continuing to practice and preach love through music, art, dance, conversation and listening.

Andrea: I think people need to acknowledge that racism is not only an American problem, and this is the time for action. With Ireland growing to be a very multicultural country it’s important people see multiculturalism as a normal thing.

In 10-20 years there will be a large number of mixed kids and they need to feel this is their country too. There is no longer a space for intolerance and only education will provide that, it starts at home and schools.

Photo from Stevie G’s Instagram

To find out more about Stevie G and Andrea’s work with the CMC teens, follow them on their social media. To start (or continue) your anti-racism education, follow the link below to a list of resources put together by the Cork Migrant Centre Youth Initiative.

Antiracism Resource List 1

Did you know that Nano Nagle is related to Prince William through two lines of decent to his mother’s family, the Spencers. Read on to find out more!

The Nagle Family had a vast and varied history long before the arrival of Honora Nagle in 1718. One very illustrious link is the connection between the Nano Nagle and those who are related to Lady Diana Spencer. It is not just on one side of the Nagle Family but two!

First to Nano’s Mother’s Side:

Elizabeth Poyntz, Lady Thurles

Elizabeth Poyntz married the Viscount of Thurles, Thomas Butler in 1608 to become the Lady Thurles. This was her first marriage and from it they had three sons and four daughters. Alas, it was a union that would end in tragedy with the untimely death of Butler in 1619.

Lady Thurles remarried after her first husband’s death and one her of son’s from that marriage , a George Mathew,  had a daughter, Frances Mary Mathew, who, in 1723, married John Ryan, a member of one of the few remaining landed Catholic families in County Tipperary at the time in the townland of Inch, in the civil parish of the same name, which he had built in 1720. Nano Nagle was another of her Mathew descendants, being a daughter of Garret Nagle and Anne Mathew.

It is through her first marriage that a line between Lady Elizabeth Poyntz and Princess Diana can be traced.  Lady Thurles’ daughter Mary Butler married George Hamilton, a descendant the 3rd Duke of Abercorn, James Hamilton, whose daughter, Cynthia, married Albert Spencer, the 7th Earl Spencer. This couple would go on to be the grandparents of one Lady Diana Spencer who was born in 1961 and would go on to marry Prince Charles of England in 1981.

Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin

Then to the Nagle Family of Ballygriffin – Nano’s home

Another link that could not be ignored while we searched through the Nagle and Spencer families was a connection between the Lombard family in Lombardstown, Mallow, Co. Cork. One of the well-known members of the family married David James Nagle from Ballygriffin in Mallow, Co. Cork. Later, they would have a granddaughter by the name of Honora “Nano” Nagle. Their great granddaughter married an Edmond Roche of Trabolgan whose son went on to become the first Baron of Fermoy and this man’s great granddaughter Frances Roche married John Spencer the 8th Earl Spencer and in 1961 their daughter Diana was born, 20 years later she would go on to become the Princess of Wales.

Of course it’s not just the shared lineage that should encourage William and Kate to visit. Their sense of social justice and belief in the power of education to change lives is a shared value system with William’s relation, Nano Nagle.

Read more here

Karl Grabe was the backbone behind our ‘Changing Face of Cork City’ photography exhibition. We are delighted he could write this blog for us all about how his love of photography began, and some stories behind his photographs of Cork in the 1980’s.

My Photographic Background

My father was a keen photographer when I was growing up. He also took colour cine films from 1964 and thankfully all these films have survived, there are some clips of Cork at CorkCam.com. He is probably the reason I became so interested in photography while I was still going to school.

I’ve been taking pictures since I was 12 when I bought my First Camera. It was a “Diana” plastic toy camera, even the lens was made of plastic! It didn’t take great photos but it was great fun in a time when very few people had cameras.

It cost 10 Shillings in Lehan’s grocery shop on Rossa Ave (now Centra) in Bishopstown. It used 120 roll films which I got in the chemist shop on Uam Var Avenue. The kind man in his white coat showed my how to insert the film and wind it on after taking a photo. The camera could take 16 black & white photos and I remember, when I brought the film back to the chemist, the cost of processing the film cost more than the camera itself! Straight out of the chemist I took my first photo in 1969 of Uam Var Avenue. The sheds in the photo probably belonged to the builders as the houses in the estate were still being built.

My Other Cameras

I also used a 1950’s Lordox 24×36 camera during the ‘70s, a camera my father passed onto me. Two of the photos in the exhibition, of the slide in Fitzgerald’s Park, were taken by Wolfgang using this camera. It was a proper camera and you had to use a separate light meter to set the exposure and shutter speed. Then in the early 1980’s I bought an Olympus OM10 SLR camera and most of my photos in the exhibition are taken with my OM10 with its standard 50mm lens or a Tamron 80-210mm zoom lens.

I mostly used colour negative film but also colour slide film. Slide film had the advantage that it cost less, as no prints were produced. However a slide projector and screen were needed to view them properly. It was also possible to develop slide film at home using a development tank and I did this for a number of films. This reduced the cost further combined with purchasing the slide film in bulk rolls. The rolls were cut into 36 exposure lengths and I inserted them into film cartridges.

The photos I took during the ‘80s were forgotten about in drawers and it was only around 2010 that I bought a film scanner in order to preserve them and view them on a computer.

However I also had many film negatives & prints from my father dating from the 1950s and so I started scanning these first. As I mentioned, two of Wolgang’s photos are in the exhibition – the two of the slide in Fitzgerald’s park with my younger brother.

I then continued scanning my own photos. Some of the slide film photos had never been put in slide mounts so I was seeing them enlarged for the first time! To date I’ve scanned about 25,000 photos, most of which are family pictures but many of Cork also.

My Photos in the Exhibition

Zoom lenses were particularly useful for taking candid photos of the characters on the Coal Quay. However it involved standing in the middle of the street and I would be quickly spotted by the sellers. So instead I would go along with a friend and pretend to be taking a picture of them and at the last minute, point the camera towards the people I was trying to photograph.

The Coal Quay was one of my favourite photo spots as it was part of the old Cork and I wanted to record it. I also liked taking old buildings especially those that I thought might be demolished. In particular Merchants Quay got my attention as the buildings there had been derelict for some time. In the middle of Merchants Quay was a hairdresser and we can just imagine the conversations with the customers while it was still in business.

Patrick’s Hill was another one of my favourite places for taking photos and using a telephoto lens allowed me to capture a good section of Patrick’s street in one photo. I was using a Tamron 500mm mirror lens on Patrick’s hill when I spotted the 3 girls whose photo is in the exhibition. It wasn’t a zoom lens so it wasn’t going to be possible to recompose the picture as they approached. So I only had one shot at it.

Patrick’s hill is at such a steep angle that the street itself formed part of the background helping the coloured clothing stand out even more.

Apple Computer Photos

I was working in Apple Computer Cork in Hollyhill from 1983.The facility then had a workforce of about 230. The plant was manufacturing the Apple IIe computer at the time. It was a home computer but at nearly IR£2000 with a screen and disks it wasn’t affordable by most cork families. However, Apple had a ‘loan to own’ scheme so all employees were given an Apple //e to take home. I’m sure many a Cork family became competent using computers because of this and perhaps helped Cork get started on the road to becoming Ireland’s Silicon Valley. These early computers weren’t very powerful of course, by comparison today’s smartphones are thousands of times more powerful and at a fraction of the cost.

The photo in the exhibition is from 1984 when the then new, all white, Apple //c was first manufactured in Hollyhill. It was similar to the IIe, in the foreground, but was designed to be portable. The lady is testing a //c, checking things such as the keyboard keys, the built in diskette drive, correct colours on the monitor etc.

My Photography Today

Photography has moved on considerably since my first 1969 plastic camera and now everyone, from primary school children upwards, has a digital camera in their smartphone. Smartphones take great detailed photos but there’s one thing missing – a zoom lens. Even though I have a digital SLR, I mostly use a pocket Canon SX720HS which has a 40x zoom lens.

Cork city is changing fast and I’ll still take pictures of Cork but also scenery and wildlife. Looking back at my ‘80s photos of the demolished Merchants Quay buildings I wonder if things have improved much when I see neglected buildings like the ones on North Main Street recently in the news. There are also flood relief plans that would see major disturbance to the historic quay walls. Hopefully we will see Cork modernise but keep as much of the old city as we can.

Luke O’Brien photographed some cracking nights at Sir Henry’s nightclub in the 90’s and early 00’s. We were delighted to be able to include his photo’s as part of our Changing Face of Cork City exhibition in 2019.

I remember that first time I walked up those infamous stairs. A typical Saturday night sometime around 1995.

The stories and rumours had the place painted as some strange universe amongst some of the older teens I palled around with. It would be a while before I started photographing the place, as for now it was all about the music and becoming part of a movement that many of us cherish.

I was photographing friends in varying pubs and clubs around the city for many years. In 1998 I had started studying photography in St. Johns Central College on Sawmill Street and thus began my photographic journey through the energetic night scene that was massive at that time.

It was shortly after I started studying that I sort of fell into becoming the photographer in Sir Henry’s. I was using the camera in the club and capturing some pretty sweet nights. After getting to know some of the staff and DJs, I started getting permission from the legend Marq Walsh to come up into his DJ box in the Annex.

Soon after I had the run of the entire complex, slipping between numerous rooms. I loved the warren of corridors leading people on crazy journeys, from the main room filled with all the house heads, Gregg and Shane at the helm,  across to the backbar and to Stevie G who always had time for people. Their collective love for music along with the perfect storm of everything great about our city, created an atmosphere known throughout the globe and for many of us it was almost our home!

I have countless memories from nights spent on that main room floor, nights in the backbar, nights with Marq. Throughout my time spent in Henry’s I captured some magical moments. Some memories are resigned to history, and others seem to have been witnessed by more people than could ever have been in the venue. A great example would have been the Sonic Youth gig that possibly had a crowd that would have easily filled a stadium. I was just that bit too young to have been there but I did witnessed some cool producers/DJs absolutely lift the roof. Callum Walker, Kerri Chandler, who played a few amazing gigs before the club closed. Micky D out in the backbar with Stevie, the list goes on.

Gregg and Shane with Callum Walker

For me though it was always the same heads, in the same spots, all different yet all united. It was the crazy types that knew no bounds, it was the manky floors and the woefully inadequate bathrooms, it was the overcrowded DJ boxes and stages, those wonderful deep conversations and the love that resonated out across the city. The club meant different things to everyone.

It was the first disco for entire generations, it was the beating heart of Saturday night entertainment. No matter what you looked like or what background you came from, every Saturday night Henry’s was the place to be. Almost tribal really for those that heard the drum beckon.

Kerri Chandler doing his thing late 90’s early 00’s

Saturday night in Cork had many faces. I was also in Zoe’s for a time and several pubs including Doyles/The Factory (now Soho) and one of the pubs we went before those legendary stairs. I took countless images and together they have become an archive of youth culture, the dance movement and the late night antics of most of us growing up. Some images and negatives were beyond repair when I finally got around to digitising them. I tried my best to keep them as original as possible and didn’t use any editing tools really that I wouldn’t have had free access to in the 90’s. I met some wonderful people from all walks of life and still reconnect with so many people and others have been doing the same since I put the vast majority of the images up onto social media.

They are not just my photos, but they are our collective shared memories of a time before phones and technology exploded. The selfie wasn’t a thing and really only a few of us ever ventured out with cameras. Those allowed me to take shots allowing everyone an unfiltered insight into our recent history. We were part of something greater than any singular soul. A collective tribe dancing our way towards the millennium bug!

Junior Cert Night 2000

Almost everyone of a certain age really wanted to get into Henry’s. Junior Cert night for a lot of teens was the first steps into the scene. It also allowed us to experiment and get into places we couldn’t have on a normal Saturday night! The energy was always the same though and love filled the air, along with excitement and a host of other emotions.

The sticky floors became a thing and so did the regular characters, those hardcore clubbers who never missed a beat. Every memory a faded smoke filled hazy dream! I really enjoyed it all immensely. The late nights and early mornings coming out of the Grand Parade hotel after a wild weekender (in which there are too many to mention). Yet if you were there the stories have become legendary. It wasn’t a different time, just the beginning of a newer age. We saw the first mobile phones, those meetups outside the Capitol diminished, before we knew it times had changed and a new wave of entertainment filled the void. Yet for us who were there it’ll always be nostalgic. It will always be our spot, our place to forget the mundane, our home on South Main Street, Sir Henry’s.

Sweat Birthday Party!!

Those of you who have visited the museum at Nano Nagle Place might remember watching a video about Sister Evelyn Flanagan of the Presentation Sisters who works in Cebu City in The Philippines. Here Miriam O’Callaghan, a SERVE volunteer, talks about the impact of Sr Evelyn’s work and that of the SERVE volunteers, who have been working with the Badjao tribe.

Sr Evelyn in Cebu City

The Story of the Badjao Tribe

By Miriam O’Callaghan

Having just returned from the most amazing experience of my life working in solidarity with the Badjao Tribe, I would like to tell you a little about these incredible people; their history, cultures and values.

The people of the Badjao tribe are a nomadic sea faring tribe. The men of the tribe are skilled fishermen specifically the art of pantana fishing (spear fishing). They traditionally lived on house boats moving through the sea wherever was needed, to fulfil their fishing requirements. The Badjao are also talented divers – diving for pearls. To this day, these activities still play a major part in the lives of the Badjao people. They collect the fish and pearls and sell them at the main markets in Cebu City. These activities are traditionally their main source of income.

However, due to increasing piracy around the 1960’s the Badjao people were forced off the water and onto land. They found a new home at Alaska Beach, Mambaling in Cebu City. They built wooden houses suspended over water in which they could tie their boats to. This style of house suited the tribe’s people very well as it provided easy access to their boats.

Miriam O’Callaghan, a SERVE volunteer, at Alaska Beach, Mambaling in Cebu City with a Badajo friend

The tribe has a very rich culture. They are known for their non-confrontational nature and values of respect. They are governed by a Chieftan and a group of elders. In 1997, when Sister Evelyn – a presentation nun from Galway – stumbled upon these wonderful people; it was the Chieftain whom she met. The Badjao tribe had developed an unsavory reputation in Cebu, owing to their participation in begging within the markets and city. The Chieftan recognized that it was only through education this chain of poverty, which his people faced, would be broken.

Sr Evelyn began educating the members of this tribe. At this early stage, 97% of the tribe were illiterate. The Presentation Sisters purchased one of the Badjao houses to use for the school. In 2003, current teachers, Annie and Edwina, were employed by the Presentation Nuns. The impact these two wonderful teachers would have, was beyond anything one could imagine. This is also the year SERVE began working with the tribe; the strong Irish-Badjao connection which continues to grow to this day, was born.
In 2005, a devastating fire destroyed the entire Badjao community. Another challenge was added to the very long list they already faced, but the spirit of this tribe far outweighs any obstacle they encounter. Both the people and school moved into tents situated along a slip road. Annie and Edwina carried any classroom supplies needed on their backs with them each morning and evening. They understood the importance of education and so they ensured the school would continue no matter what.

Teachers Annie and Edwina

Sr Evelyn among others, fought tirelessly to precure land for the Badjao to rebuild their lives. With the help of SERVE volunteers, the Badjao people built brick, quad style houses which now house 140 families. Their traditional suspended wooden houses were also rebuilt and still house over half the tribe’s population today.

Sr Evelyn also gathered sponsorship, solely from Irish people, which was used to build the “Nano Nagle Childcare and Learning Centre” inside the community. This was officially opened in 2008 and is the home of education inside the Badjao community. This building has been the foundation for their success. It’s clear to see with 315 High School Graduates and 23 University graduates that education is now at the fore front of their community. Inside the Nano Nagle Centre, three of the five teachers are themselves Badjao, a clear display of the success to all whom enter.

As is typical of the SERVE programme; we ran workshops in art, music, dance and drama during the past month. The majority of us are education students, yet, from day 1 to day 29 we were shocked at the level of enthusiasm, participation and genuine eagerness to learn; the scale of which we have never encountered before. This is across the board. We, as SERVE volunteers, assisted in the 6 Montessori sessions, the adult literacy and adult development classes, computers class as well as working in solidarity with the Badjao on a community development project. This year’s project was the painting and refurbishment of the 8 market stalls. We also ran a gender equality workshop for the Montessori parents, an anti-bulling workshop for the high school students, held a cultural bonding day and a sports day. Through every single activity, every single one of them showed their outstanding character. We built relationships and friendships which will last a lifetime. The positive impact these relationships have on both parties is indescribable.

SERVE 2018 Volunteers with the Badjao Nano Nagle team and Sr Evelyn

My lasting impression of the Badjao people is of their welcoming nature. They welcomed us each and every day into their community with open arms. As we entered the community gates, people both young and old would warmly greet us; smiling, waving, hugging or high fiving; we loved it all. They welcomed us into their homes too, but most incredibly, they welcomed us into their way of life. They showed us their traditional method of building boats. They taught us to speak bindajao; their language. We got the opportunity to witness the dowry for a marriage being given as well as being included in their cultural dance at the pre-wedding celebration.

They are a testimony to the human race and how we should be. At no point did they show any distaste or hostility towards us, at no point did they refuse our engagement or their own participation. Everyday their smiles are what greeted us and sent us on our way. They grasp any chance to grow and learn with both hands, making the most of every moment and opportunity. Despite the challenges they face with regards to both living standards and receiving their deserved respect from their peers, they continue to hold the most positive and beautiful outlook on life. Everything they do they do for each other, with the goal of creating a better future for their family and community. I’ve never experienced a more interconnected community, they can only be described as one big family, all looking out for each other as you would expect only family would. A family which they wholly made us feel a part of.

The link between SERVE volunteers and the Badjao community is a special one. It’s indescribable to be honest, the impact which this partnership has on both parties. All I can say is I left not only feeling welcome, I left feeling as though I was part of the Badjao family.

If you are interested in volunteering with SERVE you can find all of the information here!


In April 2018 in Cork city women from all over the world gathered to celebrate the birth of a woman who inspired each one of them to become a Presentation Sister. This is their founding story …

Presentation Sisters on Nano Nagle Bridge
Presentation Sisters on Nano Nagle Bridge

Three hundred years ago in 1718 a valiant woman was born in north Cork. She was born to a wealthy Catholic landowning family at a time when to be wealthy and Catholic was a difficult position. The Penal Laws, which had been introduced at the end of the 17th century, had the express intention of dismantling the Irish Catholic power base. Under these laws Catholics would become too poor and too ignorant to present any challenge to the status quo in an Ireland now ruled by the Protestant ascendancy.

Nano’s family sent her away to school on the continent (an act that at the time was itself illegal). When Nano returned home to Ireland after twenty years abroad she was horrified by the ignorance and poverty of the Catholic underclass. She made up her mind to make a difference and secretly opened a Catholic school near her home on Douglas Street, in the South Parish of Cork City. Thanks to her determination and the backing of her family she was soon running seven schools across Cork City, unusually for the time, five of these schools were for girls. Nano was empowering the women of Cork through education to practice their religion with pride and better their lives through skilled work.

In 1775 Nano founded a new and quite radical religious order to continue her work, the Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart, later the Presentation Sisters. Their first convent was on Douglas Street, where a Presentation Convent still stands today. This religious order was tasked with educating poor children across the city of Cork and tending the needs of the poor, just as Nano ‘the Lady with the Lantern’ had done for many years. Nano’s sisters were not ‘enclosed’, they could leave the convent to perform their works of education and charity. Nano’s order at first struggled, but in the years after Nano’s death her congregation went on to found convents and schools across Ireland and across the world.

Students from Presentation School Middleton lead the procession with the spectacular lantern they made in art class
Students from Presentation School Middleton lead the procession with the spectacular lantern they made in art class

Last week, sisters from New Zealand to Zambia, India, Rhode Island and Manchester among many other places made their way to Cork. In a sense they came home, to where the story of the Presentation Sisters began. They visited the newly regenerated buildings of the South Presentation Convent and schools, now called Nano Nagle Place, a beautiful heritage, education and spiritual oasis in the heart of Cork City. They visited the many charitable projects that the Presentation Sisters are still engaged in across the city.

On Wednesday 25th April Cork’s North Cathedral was brought alive with the story of Nano by children from Presentation Schools. The sisters then set out across the city led by a beautiful lantern. They walked in the footsteps of Nano as she made her daily journey across the city to visit her schools. The sisters stopped along the way to reflect on Nano, at Nano Nagle Bridge, at St. Finbarre’s South, Nano’s parish church. The walk culminated in the beautiful Goldie Chapel at Nano Nagle Place were more Presentation students celebrated the work of the order throughout the world

Nano's story brought alive by Presentation students in Cork's North Cathedral
Nano’s story brought alive by Presentation students in Cork’s North Cathedral

A celebration of Presentation communities all over the world in the beautiful Goldie Chapel at Nano Nagle Place
A celebration of Presentation communities all over the world in the beautiful Goldie Chapel at Nano Nagle Place

It was a week of emotion, devotion, reflection and remembrance. It will live on in the memories of all those who were a part of this special celebration.

At Nano Nagle Place we are celebrating the tercentenary of Nano Nagle’s Birth this year. The year, 2018, marks another important centenary that will be remembered across Europe, the end of The Great War. While peace came to reign in much of Europe after the armistice, Ireland entered a period of violent conflict now known as The War of Independence or Anglo-Irish War.

The first shots of this war might be said to have been fired in Easter 1916 when a combined force of Irish Volunteers and The Irish Citizen Army mobilized an armed revolt which lasted just one week. This revolt was immediately labelled ‘The Sinn Féin Rebellion’ (although, ironically, Sinn Féin had had very little to do with it). In the wake of the Easter Rising and the subsequent execution of the leaders, along with the internment of many combatants, Sinn Féin became a rallying point for nationalist politics. Sinn Féin began contesting elections in 1917 and in December 1918 they contested in the general election where they secured a landslide victory. Had there been a ‘swing-o-meter’ then, they might have broken it, winning 46.7% of the vote. The newly elected Sinn Fein MPs refused to take up their seats in parliament in Westminster, instead they formed their own Dáil Éireann.

A Dáil sitting in the Round Room of the Mansion House in 1921
A Dáil sitting in the Round Room of the Mansion House in 1921

The new Dáil met on 21 January 1919 in the Mansion House, Dublin where they declared independence and ratified the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. On the very same day, two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed in the Soloheadbeg Ambush by members of the Irish Volunteers acting on their own initiative. Although the ambush had not been ordered by the Dáil, the assembly soon came to recognise the Irish Volunteers as the army of the Irish Republic and the Soloheadbeg Ambush as an act of war against Great Britain. The Irish Volunteers changed their name to the Irish Republican Army. With this escalation of events the Irish War of Independence or Anglo-Irish War began. It was a guerrilla war, which in the beginning took the form of the IRA capturing weapons and freeing republican prisoners. When the British Government outlawed both the Dáil and the IRA in September 1919 the conflict intensified.

Cork City and County were one of the epicentres of the conflict. The RIC and British Troops were bolstered by new armed forces, the Black and Tans (so called for the colour of their uniforms) and the Auxiliaries. The IRA waged a violent guerrilla campaign that focussed on ambushing of the various British forces and attacking RIC barracks, causing many isolated barracks to be abandoned. For many of these IRA attacks there was a reprisal by the Black and Tans or Auxiliaries, who were not bound by strict army discipline. Attacks and reprisals became so chronic in late 1920 that Martial Law was declared, designed to subdue and control the civilian population with strict curfews and military checks.

A photograph of the Barry family from the turn of the centry
The Barry family who lived at 33 Nicholas Hill. From left to right Daniel (Christopher), Ursula, Edward, Thomas, Agnes, John and Baby Edward. Thomas (centre) was in the IRA during the War of Independence and he and his brother John (right) found themselves on the wrong side of the Black and Tans.

This was the state Cork City found itself in when Finbarr Barry’s grandfather John and great uncle Tommy lived on one of lanes bounding Nano Nagle Place, Nicholas Street. Here Finbarr takes up the story:

“Tommy was in the “Old” IRA and back then a curfew was put in place and no one was to be on the streets after a certain time at night. But one night Tommy and my grandfather John were out on the South Mall in Cork when the Black and Tans spotted them and gave chase. Tommy and John ran up the South Mall, turned into Parliament Street went over Parliament Bridge, along Georges Quay, and turned up Dunbar Street, all the time being pursued by the Black and Tans. The lads ran and ran, turned down Douglas Street, up Nicholas Street and ran in home at 33 Nicholas Street.

Tommy had a revolver and some ammunition with him, in order to hide it from the Black and Tans he put the gun and the bullets up the chimney in the front room and they ran out into the back garden, climbed up over the high wall at the end of the garden and dropped down into the gardens of the Presentation Sisters which was at the back of the house. Here they hid behind the sisters’ grave stones from the Black and Tans. ‘The Tans’ kicked in the front door of the house looking for the lads but never got them.

Later that night their mother Agnes lit the fire in the front room not knowing about the gun and bullets and there were a number of small explosions but thankfully no one was injured except the two boys … when their mother got her hands on them!”

John and Tommy were very lucky indeed to get away, perhaps Nano had something to do with it!

The front of 33 Nicholas Street
The Barry family home at 33 Nicholas Street today.


The Back of 33 Nicholas Street
The back of 33 Nicholas Street today. This is the wall the boys jumped over to hide by Nano’s tomb. It now backs onto our Contemplative Garden.


Thanks to Finbarr Barry for sharing a great story that brings history alive.

Read here about the first sitting of the Dáil and the Soloheadbeg Ambush

John Borgonovo here describes how Cork earned an international reputation for armed resistance against the British Empire

The landscape of North Cork has not changed much since the eighteenth century. It is still a pastoral region of rich land and large farms. Beech trees pose on the horizon with the nonchalance of cavalier aristocrats. High estate walls of cut limestone line the long, straight, quiet roads connecting the spacious market towns of Mitchelstown and Fermoy in the east to the racecourse and former spa town of Mallow in the west. The river Blackwater is an impassive central presence. The Ballyhoura and Galtee mountain ranges swing a wide arc to the north and the Nagle mountains border the south of the wide river valley.

This region is still known as Nagle country in memory of the noble Nagle family whose branches extended through the centuries over a number of demesnes in this fertile river valley. Honora Nagle (who was known affectionately as Nano by her family) was born in this region in 1718, into the comfortable Nagle holding at Ballygriffin. She was the eldest child of one of the many Nagle men who were called ‘Garret’. Her mother was Ann Matthews, from a proud Catholic gentry family in Tipperary, who, like the Nagles, were of Anglo-Norman descent.

Carricagunna Castle in Nagle Country

When the poet Edmund Spenser (1552/3-1599) came into the Blackwater Valley as part of the Elizabethan colonial plantation of Munster in the 1580s he was disgusted by the Anglo Norman families such as the Nagles and the Mathews. In his vituperative tract, A View of the Present State of Ireland (1596) Spenser famously describes these ‘Old English’ families such as the Nagles, as having forgotten their civilised Anglo roots buried in Ireland since the twelfth century and now these families, had become ‘almost mere Irish’; that is nearly purely Irish and close to barbarous: “They are degenerated and grown almost mere Irish, yes, and more malicious to the English, than the very Irish themselves.”

Some scholars insist, with quite subtle reasoning, that the dialogue enacted in Spenser’s View of the Present State of Ireland should not be taken as proof that Spenser was actually in favour of the ‘scorched earth’ policy which the text seems so firmly to recommend. However, Spenser’s View rehearses strategies to ensure a complete subjugation of Ireland and points to the successful defeat of the Desmond Rebellions which was secured with the destruction crops and livestock, resulting in widespread famine:

Out of every corner of the wood and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked Anatomies [of] death, they spoke like ghosts, crying out of their graves; they did eat of the carrions, happy where they could find them, yes, and one another soon after, in so much as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of water-cresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast… in a short space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentiful country suddenly left void of man or beast: yet sure in all that war, there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extremity of famine …

Within two years of having penned his View, Spenser was forced to flee his North Cork estate at Kilcolman near Doneraile, (along with his holding at Rennie on the banks of the Blackwater) due to the threat of the mere Irish and almost mere Irish forces which were led by Aodh Mór Ó Néil/Hugh O’Neill and Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill/Red Hugh O’Donnell. Following the defeat of O’Neill and O’Donnell at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, the Blackwater Valley subsided into decades of peace. The passionate colonial vision that Edmund Spenser imagined in his tower on the rock at Rennie receded from any potential realisation and the power of the extended Nagle family continued to be quietly asserted as they ran their estates from a plethora of Nagle houses and castles. Spenser’s eldest son, Sylvanus, (known to the Nagles as Sylvy) joined the ranks of the ‘almost merely Irish’: he married Ellen/Elinor Nagle a daughter of David Nagle of Monanimy and converted to Catholicism.

There was hardly a corner of seventeenth century Europe that was untouched by wars motivated by, or at least strongly inflected with sectarian religious animus. By the 1640s Ireland was in turmoil again with the advent of the army led by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Edmund Spenser’s grandson, (Sylvanus’ son, William,) made a direct plea to Cromwell when his estates were confiscated by the New Model Army, claiming that he had renounced being a Catholic and reminding Cromwell that he was the grandson of that Spenser: “who by his writings, touching the reduction of the Irish to civility brought on him the odium of that nation.” Cromwell had evidently been impressed by Spenser’s View and restored grandson William to Kilcolman. The Cromwellian confiscations encroached on the power of the Nagles and the region saw new English Protestant settlers become established (such as the ancestors of the writer Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) who established Bowen’s Court at Farahy, near Kildorrery). Yet the Nagles were able to benefit relatively quickly in the power shifts which brought about the re-establishment of the monarchy and the Stuart King Charles II (1630-1685) to the throne.

James II of England (1633-1701). This is the man whom Richard Nagle followed to St Germain en Laye near Paris where he became Secretary of State and War
James II of England (1633-1701). This is the man whom Richard Nagle followed to St Germain en Laye near Paris

One of the most prominent of the Irish nobility who had supported the cause of the House of Stuart was Sir Richard Nagle (1636-1699), who was head of the Blackwater Nagles in the 1680s. Richard Nagle had been a prominent Jacobite since the 1660s, and a national leader of the Catholic aristocracy and gentry in Ireland. In 1686 he wrote a famously defiant open letter to the Viceroy of Ireland, Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell (1630-1691), decrying the deal that Charles II had made with the Westminster Parliament for the restoration of his throne whereby lands owned by Catholics in Ireland were to be passed into Protestant ownership. A little over a decade later, Richard Nagle was elected Speaker of the House in the Irish Parliament, which recognised the Stuart King James’ ‘divine right’ to the Irish crown and rejected William of Orange’s claim which had been sanctioned by a Westminster parliament. In 1689 Richard Nagle was knighted by King James and appointed Attorney General to Ireland and he is believed to have written the famous act which sought to return to the original (Catholic) owners the lands confiscated and settled in the seventeenth century plantations. King James stayed as a guest of Richard at Carrigacunna Castle in Nagle Country while on his way to Dublin. On James’ defeat to William at the fateful Battle of the Boyne in 1690, Richard Nagle followed the defeated King James to France and became the Secretary of State and War at the court in St Germain and he founded the branch of Nagles of Cambrai.

As the Nagle families had fought for King James in ‘Cogadh an Dá Rí’/The War of the Two Kings’, they retained their property under the treaties of Limerick and Galway whereby defeated Jacobites (supporter of James) were given terms of surrender. During Nano’s girlhood years, four branches of Nagles (including her own branch at Ballygriffin) were settled in the Blackwater Valley and the leadership of the region’s Catholic interest remained in their hands for the first half of the eighteenth century. The Nagles held a geographical territory that was one of the last bastions of elite Jacobite culture outside the western province of Connaught. The prosperity, indeed the survival of minor Catholic families in the area, depended on the security of the Nagles, who leased them land on generous terms. The security of this Catholic enclave was strengthened by marriages to the nearby South Tipperary Catholic gentry (such as the Matthews). There was no other region in the south, north or east of the island that had a comparable network of Catholic and nominally apostate, crypto-Catholic landowners. The affluent Catholic landowners of the western county of Galway are the only other group anywhere in Ireland to succeed in protecting the old Irish-speaking Catholic landed class under the restrictions of the Penal Laws and the encroachment of increasingly thriving middle class interests. In the 1750s the Nagles married into this affluent Galway society and into the Catholic gentry of the Dublin region, achieving a position of influence and connection unequalled by any other Catholic family in Ireland.

Paradoxically, the Nagles were surrounded by the largest Protestant gentry presence in the country. The extended Nagle stronghold in the Blackwater has been described by the scholar, Breandán Ó Buachalla, as “an island of Catholic hegemony in a sea of Protestant ascendancy.” The heart of the Blackwater Valley is about six miles from Mallow, which in the eighteenth century was a large centre of English settlement, with sporting attractions and spa waters which drew many visitors. Within five miles of Mallow there were some fifty seats, including the large estates of the ultra-Protestant Whigs who included the St Ledgers, Brodricks and the Kings. Perhaps inevitably, the Nagles attracted the wrath of the ruling Protestants of the area but it was fortunate that the clan could count on the wily powers of Joseph Nagle, who had been a lawyer before the 1704 Penal Law proscription on Catholics entering the profession.

Nano's cousin Edmund Burke (1729-1797), studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas, circa 1769 or after
Nano’s cousin Edmund Burke (1729-1797), a painting by the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas, circa 1769 or after

The political assaults by the Cork Ultra Whigs on the Blackwater Nagles which continued throughout the eighteenth century and the detail and scale of the effect of the numerous Penal Laws against Catholics must remain to be discussed. Nano’s kinsman, Edmund Burke (who as a young boy lived with his uncle Patrick Nagle at Ballyduff for six years) described the context of the Penal Laws which circumscribed every political, social and cultural facet of Nano’s life as:

A machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.

Yet we can end this description of Nano’s family background by noting that her father’s brother, Joseph Nagle (c.1676-1757), who was Nano’s chief benefactor, managed to defend and maintain not only the local power of the Nagle family, but also made successful interventions on behalf of the landed Catholic interest on a national scale. In one of the few letters that we have written in Nano’s hand she describes her uncle Joseph (perhaps with some modicum of pride but certainly with unquestionable accuracy) as: “the most disliked by the Protestants of any Catholic in the Kingdom”.

Nano’s childhood in Ballygriffin is perhaps not easy to imagine in that she was a daughter of a landowning family that had held tenure for centuries yet was surrounded by a powerful hostility that threatened this long-established position among the elite. The most powerful members of Nano’s family lived in the Stuart Court in exile on the Continent yet this association with an ancient Royal lineage that held the most claim to be rightfully considered Kings of Scotland, England and Ireland, had of course earned those Nagles who had remained in Cork pride of place among the anxieties of the Protestant Whig population of South Munster. Other fears of these South Munster Ultra Whigs were inspired by their proximity to the long Cork and Kerry coastline, with its many deep harbours. This was the nearest Irish landfall to the European continent from where a force might land; a force potentially led by recently exiled officers from the Irish regiment in the French army, comprised of men from Catholic gentry families such as were dependent on the Nagles, as well as rank and file Catholics from the Munster region.

This coastline facilitated a lucrative business of smuggling contraband goods and passengers as well as enabling the legitimate business of Munster Catholic merchants to flourish in trading overseas and members of the Nagles began to participate in maritime trade. If the increasing wealth of the Cork Catholic merchants did not greatly disturb the Munster Ultra Whigs, they were certainly worried by how powerful political families such as the Nagles, continued to develop business networks and financial power bases in continental Europe. Other dangers, as perceived by South Munster Protestant interest, included the close relationship between the Stuart court and the Cork Catholic clergy and hierarchy, and the potential that this clergy, (largely educated on the continent), posed for leading the Catholic populace in revolt. Prominent among these manifold threats to the peace of mind and tenure of the Cork Whigs was the all-pervasive engagement of the Cork Jacobites in the production of poetry; for this Irish language poetry was profoundly political in content and performance and it effected to keep a sense of resistant cultural identity, to catalogue grievances and to nurse hopes for a restoration of the Gaelic cultural and political order.

Nano's father Garret Nagle, note the ship seen through the window behind the sitter - perhaps a reference to his frequent journeys to the contient
Nano’s father Garret Nagle (d.1746), note the ship seen through the window behind the sitter – perhaps a reference to his frequent journeys to the continent, for political business or trade

While the fertile and tranquil landscape of Nagle Country might in some ways have been an idyllic place in which to be a girl, the air was thick with menace and intrigue. However much as Nano’s parents may have wished to protect her from an awareness of the threat to her relatively privileged life it was impossible to disguise the imminent danger as even the schooling that Nano received was deemed illegal. The Penal Law code which had been enacted in 1695 declared that: “No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm” upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. As her cousin Burke was to describe it, the Penal Laws’ “declared object was to reduce the Catholics in Ireland to a miserable populace, without property, without estimation, without education.”

Yet the oral history of Nano Nagle records that she was educated at a local hedge school (that is an unlicensed academy). The evocative Irish names for these schools include scoil chois claí, (school by a ditch) scoil ghairid, (school by a hedge) scoil scairte (a school within shouting distance). We do not have any record of who taught Nano, yet it is not fanciful to consider that she was taught by a Master O’Halloran who ran a hedge school nearby in the ruins of the Nagle tower at Monanimy which had been one of the original strongholds of the Nagle clan in the Blackwater valley and the site of the wedding between Sylvanus Spenser and Ellen Nagle.

Nano’s cousin, Edmund Burke, eleven years younger than her, attended O’Halloran’s school when he lived with the Nagles at Ballyduff. A classmate of Burke’s was a certain Richard Hennessy whose family leased lands from the Nagles. Richard, like many other sons of the Catholic ‘informal gentry’, would become an officer in the Irish regiment of the French army before retiring to Cognac and opening the distillery that still bears his name. Historians have coined the phrase informal gentry to describe this materially impoverished class who yet considered themselves well-born and proud descendants from a cultural, social and political elite. Nano and her sister Ann were more secure in their wealth and more advantaged in their connections than Richard Hennessy, yet their journey to pursue their education and live a sophisticated and free social life in Paris would also have involved subterfuge. Like Richard’s move to France, Nano and Ann travelled by being trafficked by smugglers on a cargo ship from one of the Cork or Kerry harbours: and that chapter is the focus of another post.

Huge thanks to Dr Katherine O’Donnell, Assoc. Prof. in the History of Ideas, at UCD School of Philosophy, University College Dublin for this fascinating insight into Nano’s early life and the world of the Nagles in the Blackwater Valley. Katherine has published widely in the intellectual history of Ireland; the history of gender and sexuality; and the aesthetics and political theory of Nano’s cousin, Edmund Burke (1729-1797).
Contact: Katherine.ODonnell@UCD.ie

It’s most likely that Nano Nagle would have been unfazed by the snow that blanketed Cork City in early March 2018. She walked the streets of Cork during the 18th century, when Ireland was in the grip of the ‘Little Ice Age’. Winters were far harsher than they (usually) are today.

Nano moved to the city in the 1750s. In doing so she missed the biggest freeze up Cork had ever seen. From Stephen’s Day in 1739 till 4 January 1740 the river Lee froze over. It was one of the sharpest frosts in human memory and was known as ‘the hard frost’. The people of the city took advantage of the extra space the frozen river afforded and ‘tents were fixed on the River Lee from the north strand to Blackrock and several amusements were carried out there [sounds like great fun], which continued even after the commencement of the thaw [sounds rather dangerous]’. We don’t have any illustrations of that ‘frost fair’ but this one of London at a similar date gives an impression of what went on. It was said that they even walked an elephant across the frozen river Thames.

Image of a London Frost Fair with Tents and Swingboats from the Museum of London
A London ‘Frost Fair’

This great frost was the harbinger of a terrible drought that continued into the harvest of 1741. The famine this caused killed about one quarter of the population at the time. The impact on Cork city and county was particularly bad – and the death rate might even have been higher than that of the ‘Great Famine’ one century later. Cork institutions like the North Infirmary (founded 1744) and the Poorhouse/Foundling Hospital (founded 1747) were most likely prompted by the suffering experienced by the poor in the early part of the decade.

When Nano came to Cork in c. 1750 she came to work with and for the poor, founding schools for catholic girls (and later boys) who may not otherwise have got an education, and ministering to the poor and sick. Nano lived in Cork city for the rest of her life, at first with her brother Joseph, on Cove Lane, and from the 1760s in a small house on Douglas Street. Nano would have seen the river Lee ‘freeze up’ in January 1767 and in January 1768 would have seen the city blanketed in 6ft of snow.

In the late 1760s Nano began a new venture by which she aimed to secure the future of her schools and charitable works after her death. She set about founding an Ursuline convent by arranging for Irish girls to be trained in an Ursuline house in Paris and began the building of a new convent in the ground behind her house. That convent building still stands at the heart of Nano Nagle Place today.

The original door of the convent Nano built for the Ursuline Sisters.
The original door of the convent Nano built for the Ursuline Sisters.

Not long afterward, in 1775, Nano founded her own order ‘The Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred heart of Jesus’ (later the Presentation Order). She did so on Christmas Eve 1775 and the following day held a feast for the poor to celebrate. One month later, on the 31st January 1776, the city was again blanketed with snow. Nano set about building a new convent on Douglas Street for her sisters in religion. Work started in August 1777, but like the best Grand Designs episode, the project was hampered by delays, including another unseasonable snowfall in May 1779! The sisters finally moved into their new house in July 1780, but did so in the middle of the night to avoid drawing attention to their endeavours … during Penal times building convents was a highly illegal business.

Nano died in April 1784. In the centuries that have followed further snowfalls have covered the simple graveyard in which she was buried – a state to which it has beautifully returned here.

The Sisters' Graveyard under snow, 1 March 2018
The Sisters’ Graveyard under snow, 1 March 2018

We’re delighted to share this video of Nano Nagle Place, featuring MC Ger Canning, blessings by the three Bishops of Cork and speeches by Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese, Congregational Leader of the Presentation Sisters Union Sr Mary Deane and Chairman of the Nano Nagle Place Board Jim Corr.

You might enjoy reading about the launch in both The Irish Examiner and The Irish Times

When we tell the story of Nano Nagle founding her schools in Cork in the 1750s, we mention that there were three free schools in Cork city for poor children. These were Church of Ireland charity schools called ‘The Blue Coat School’ just off Tower Street, ‘The Free School’ at St. Fin Barre’s, and ‘The Green Coat School’ next to St. Anne’s, Shandon.

The foundation stone of the ‘Green Coat School’ was laid on 6 March 1715. The founder was Reverend Maule, rector of Shandon, who stated that the children attending should ‘be real objects of charity residing in or near the parish of Shandon, and between the ages of 7 and 12 years.’ The school was to cater for 20 boys and 20 girls.

The school consisted of a central block with two wings that projected south and fronted onto the street, this street is now known as Bob and Joan’s Walk. The central block in turn was soon echoed just behind by another charitable building, Betridge’s & Skiddy’s Almshouse, the first stone of which was laid in 1717. The Green Coat School was demolished in 1955 but Skiddy’s Almshouse remains, having been saved from demolition in the 1960s by the Cork Preservation Society.

Reverend Maule, Rector of Shandon, later Bishop of Meath. He was founder of the Green Coat School and wrote a book about the project Pietas Corcagiensis
Reverend Maule, Rector of Shandon, later Bishop of Meath. He was founder of the Green Coat School and wrote a book about the project Pietas Corcagiensis

But what about Bob and Joan? Well, from the opening of the Green Coat School in 1716, a statue of a school boy and a school girl, in their Green Coat School uniforms, adorned the gates of the school. In true Cork fashion, they were immediately given names and those names, Bob and Joan, are recorded in the book Reverend Maule wrote about the school in 1721.

And wonderfully, you can still meet Bob and Joan if you go and climb the tower of Shandon Church, where the two lead statutes now live, surveying Shandon Street from the first-floor window.  And having met them you can continue up and survey the city, including Nano Nagle Place, from that amazing vantage point.

But what has this all to do with Nano Nagle? Well, Nano began to open her schools in Cork because she saw that there was no educational provision in Cork city in the Catholic faith. The Penal Laws forbade Catholic schools and even forbade travelling abroad to be educated in a Catholic school. Nano’s wealthy parents had sent her away to be educated. Against the law. And Nano brought her education back to Cork and shared it with poor children in her ‘free schools’. This too was against the law.

Both Nano Nagle and Reverend Maule brought education to children who were ‘real objects of charity’ in eighteenth-century Cork. Bob and Joan represent those children, frozen in time for us to meet today.

Read more about the Green Coat School here on Cork Past and Present

Plan to visit Bob and Joan yourself by visiting Shandon Bells.

Read more about the work of Nano Nagle here.

Nano Nagle was born in the 18th Century at a time when Catholics were oppressed by the Penal Laws. Nano worked tirelessly throughout her life to make sure young Catholic children had access to education and made sure to take care of the poor and sick in her community.

Discover the inspiring story of Nano Nagle at our award-winning museum in Nano Nagle Place.


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