Celebrating Nano Nagle on International Women’s Day

As we gear up to celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to shine a spotlight on a remarkable woman whose legacy continues to inspire and uplift generations: Nano Nagle!

Nano was a trailblazing figure whose tireless efforts continue to inspire generations of women around the world.

Nano Nagle lived during a time when Catholics in Ireland faced severe persecution under the Penal Laws, which restricted their rights to practice their religion and participate in society. Despite these challenges, Nagle remained steadfast in her Catholic faith and sought ways to serve her community within the limitations imposed by the law. Nano herself was born into a wealthy and influential Catholic family in Ireland.

Now, let’s talk about names – Nano Nagle might sound like a character straight out of a fairy tale, but her real name was Honora Nagle. Her father gave her the nickname of Nano and it stuck! Her father, Garrett Nagle, was a landowner, and her mother, Ann Mathew, came from a prominent Cork family. The Nagle Family were a powerful Catholic family who held lands in Cork city and in North Cork. They were of Norman descent, having arrived in Ireland after the Anglo-Norman conquest of the country in the 12th century.

She may have had all the comforts of life, but Nano couldn’t turn a blind eye to the struggles of those around her. The stark contrast between her privileged upbringing and the harsh realities of poverty in her community ignited a fire within her – a determination to make things better for everyone, one act of kindness at a time.

“Not words, but deeds”

Nagle Family Motto

Ireland in the 18th century was under British rule. The Penal Laws discriminated against Catholics in various aspects of life, including education and land ownership.

Nagle received her early education from Hedge schools, as formal education opportunities for girls were limited at the time. However, her experiences growing up instilled in her a lifelong love of learning and a commitment to education as a means of empowerment.

We imagine that Nano spent an idyllic childhood playing along the banks of the Blackwater with her two brothers and 4 sisters, She then went to live in Paris with her relations, where she enjoyed the social life of that great city. A number of events in Nano’s life opened her eyes to the plight of the poor. She saw people dressed in rags standing outside the door of a church in Paris in the early hours of the morning when on the way home from a ball. Moments like these inspiried Nano and she decided to lead a life of service.  The death of their mother and her sister Ann’s premature death in the late 1740s strengthened her resolve to help the poor.  At a time when formal education was largely inaccessible to Catholics, Nano established schools that welcomed children of Cork City.

“My Schools are beginning to be of service to a great many parts of the community”

Nano Nagle to Teresa Mulally, 29 September 1776

Nano Nagle became known as the “Lady with the Lantern” due to her habit of walking the streets of Cork at night, carrying a lantern to visit the sick and needy. This act of compassion and solidarity became emblematic of Nagle’s commitment to serving others and became a symbol of hope.

In 1775, Nano Nagle founded the Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart, later known as the Presentation Sisters, a religious congregation devoted to education and serving the community. This was a groundbreaking initiative that allowed Nano to ensure its continuity beyond her lifetime.

This she did in defiance of the orders of Fr. Moylan; Nano said she would leave Cork if he opposed her wishes. Nano was joined by Elizabeth Burke, Mary Ann Collins and Mary Fouhy. She was 57 years old when she took her vows and became a sister. By 1783 there were four professed sisters and four novices in training in the new religious order and Nano had built a new convent for them on Douglas Street. Nano was very much ahead of her time and wanted her sisters to have a role in society.

The Presentation Sisters went on to establish schools and convents across Ireland and beyond, carrying forward Nano’s mission of social justice and empowerment.

“We have found a valiant woman”

Bishop John Butler of Cork 26th September 1772

In 2000, Nagle was voted Irish Woman of the Millennium, “in recognition of her importance as a pioneer of female education in Ireland. Nano Nagle was declared venerable by the Catholic Church in 2013, marking a significant step towards her potential canonization as a saint.

The Continuing Work of the Presentation Sisters

Today, the Presentation Sisters continue Nano Nagle’s legacy of empowerment and social justice, actively engaging with communities and addressing contemporary challenges. One such example is the work of Sister Jo at the Cork Migrant Centre.

The “Person of the Month” was awarded to Sister Jo in November 2023 in recognition of her selfless contributions and remarkable impact on the community. It is a tribute to her boundless generosity, resilience, and unwavering commitment.

Originally from Ballinacarriga, Dunmanway, she was inspired by the legacy of Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Sisters. Her missionary work took her to Peru in 1978 for the Cork and Ross Mission, and later to Presentation missions in Ecuador and also Peru, where she worked for 20 years.

“We did serve in some very dangerous places whilst doing our missionary work,”

Sr Jo

In 2006, the Presentation Sisters set up Cork Migrant Centre in Cork City.

Cork Migrant centre is all about creating safe spaces for migrant families, children and youth to experience well-being and integration. It’s a space for capacity building, creating social networks, social connections, knowledge and skills with a focus on families living in direct provision residence. And Sr Jo has been a key shaper and developer of these programmes!

In conclusion, Nano Nagle’s legacy lives on through the dedication and compassion of women like Sister Jo, who continue to champion the rights and dignity of others. So let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate the incredible contributions of women around the world. Together, let’s work towards a future where every woman and girl can shine bright and reach their full potential.

In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day we also have a new exhibition in our lecture space titled: ‘Mna ar n-oidhreachta’. Step into a world where legends of old meet the revolutionary spirits of modern times. This captivating showcase delves deep into the vibrant tapestry of Irish mythology and history, spotlighting the remarkable women who have left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness.

You can discover the inspiring story of Nano Nagle and the incredible work of the Presentation Sisters by visiting our museum at Nano Nagle Place! Explore interactive exhibits, artifacts, and immersive displays that bring their story to life!

Happy International Women’s Day!

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