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.
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.
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!
Thanks to Finbarr Barry for sharing a great story that brings history alive.
What did you know about Nano Nagle before being approached for the project?
I knew she was the founder of South Pres and she had a huge relationship to Education as an educator and that her remains were in a tomb at South Pres.
How long did it take to form the concept and general idea?
I arrived at the concept rather quickly, over a period of a few weeks.
Water is hugely represented in your piece, was that your choice or a requested brief?
It was my choice, in many respects I created the brief for myself by considering the history of Nano Nagle herself, the South Presentation order in general and its worldwide influence on education in society. With regards to the water element I used the 3 major locations throughout Nano’s life all linked to water; The Blackwater, The Seine in Paris and the Lee in Cork.
Water of course is very much a spiritual significance in terms of it being a fundamental life-force. Water also comes into play in her travels. Nano traveling from Cork to the world, travel back then of course by sea and land to the furthest out reaches of the world.
It is also site specific, water is used to create a harmonious and peaceful presence. So the element of water present within the work links to that physical element.
Have you work anywhere else in a place similar to Nano Nagle Place?
Yes, in Christchurch Cathedral, the Aumbry in The Lady Chapel.
The Crematorium, Rocky Island, Cork – the Crematorium doors and panels.
Portlaoise Parish Church- a Tabernacle and curved glass reredos.
Cross at the entrance to CUH – Prayer Room – Tabernacle.
O Connors Funeral Home, Northgate Bridge, Cork – Large glass panel behind coffin area.
Have you other work locally?
CUH, Xray Dept,
Mercy Hospital – Emergency dept,
CUMH – Beths Bed
What would you like people to take away from this piece?
I would hope that the pieces would help link a connection in people’s minds to Nano Nagle Place and as the peaceful and spiritual experience.
So many reasons to become a Member of Nano Nagle Place