Women’s History Month – Nano Nagle’s Bonnet

March is Women’s History Month and we are taking time to brush up on our Nano Nagle Herstory by taking a deep dive into our collection. The first object in the collection that we are going to look at is Nano’s Bonnet!

Before we get deeply immersed in bonnets, here is some bonnet terminology – the caul: the back bit that covers the hair, the headpiece: the band that goes across the top of the head, the ruffle: the front frilly bit, lappet: an extension of the headpiece (and sometimes the ruffle) beyond the earlobe.

Nano’s bonnet is made of cotton lawn, and was worn by Nano before her death in 1784. The bonnet isn’t exactly the same as it once was, as pieces have been snipped from each side of the headpiece to send to new Presentation convents, and we aren’t sure how much. To understand what the bonnet may have looked like in the 18th Century, we need to go back to other sources.

Written descriptions

The convent records from the early 1780’s describe the dress worn by Nano’s first sisters, the unenclosed ‘Society for Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart’ (later the Presentation Sisters). These Sisters, including Nano Nagle, wore:

 “…a black gown plainly made without fashion – over it they wore a black silk handkerchief crossed in front – a plain cap made round which fitted close to the head and a broad black ribbon bound tightly about the head. When going out to attend the schools they wore long mode cloaks, the hoods of which they always threw over the small black bonnets worn by them on these occasions.

We are also lucky enough to have a description of Nano Nagle by lady named Mary, a travelling companion of Teresa Mulally ( Irish educationist, businesswoman, and philanthropist). Teresa and Nano had corresponded about education, with Teresa hoping that the Sisters would come to Dublin and start schools for Catholic children there. Mary and Teresa travelled from Dublin to Cork to meet Nano in 1778. Mary describes:

The first morning at 6 o’clock entered a little elderly woman with a shabby silk cloak and old hat turned up before, a soiled dark cotton gown and a coarse black petticoat, drabbled halfway and dripping wet for it had rained heavily…she announced her name to be Nagle…”

Both accounts mentions small hats or caps worn by Nano Nagle, but neither sound like the bonnet pictured below…perhaps we need to look at images of the bonnet instead.

Nano's Bonnet from South Pres Collection

Paintings of the Bonnet

This portrait of Nano Nagle, which has been attributed to Cork artist James Barry, depicts Nano in her later years. The painting, which we believe is from life, shows a small touch of white, most likely the ruffle of her bonnet, under the hood of the cloak Nano wears. Nano has no lappets coming down the sides of her face and nothing tied under her chin. If fabric was snipped from the sides of the headpiece of the original bonnet, it was only small snips.

The Charles Turner’s 1809 engraving of Nano Nagle shows the full bonnet, pristine white with a black headpiece, large lappets coming past Nano’s ears and a very predominant ruffle at the front. Looking closely at the Turner image, how do you read that central n-shape in the ruffle – as a n-shaped gap? Many people have read the top of the frill as an n-shaped gap where the fabric of the ruffle tapers into the central headpiece at the top of the forehead.

Skip to content