Nano Nagle 1718 - 1784

Eight kilometres from Mallow is the newly established centre in honour of Nano Nagle foundress of the Presentation Order of Sisters. This centre attracts widespread devotion annually. Nano Nagle was born on that location in Ballygriffin in 1718, the eldest of her family. Like many others from landed families who had held onto the Catholic faith she went to school in France. Under Penal laws imposed by England the practice of Catholicism and Catholic schools were outlawed and if people wished to be educated in Ireland they would have to covert or conform to the new Protestant religion. The Nagles had many important connections in France and her life in Paris was very comfortable and enjoyable without a great deal of heed for the plight of the poor around her or at home in Ireland, but her conscience is said to have been awakened when she saw the poor citizens of Paris waiting for Mass on a cold morning as she went home from an elegant ball.

On her return from France she lived in Dublin for a while with her mother, but the deaths in quick succession of both her parents and her beloved sister Anne caused her to return home to Ballygriffin and later to enter a French convent where she was persuaded that her life would be more usefully employed among her own people and in her own country where the light of education was barred to Catholics under the Penal Laws. Aged thirty one she came back to Cork City in 1749 and started her first school in a mud cabin. Her dealings had to be kept secret even from her own family and she was in danger as she was operating an illegal school. By the time John Butler became Bishop of Cork and Francis Moylan ordained in Toulouse returned to Cork in 1863 she was operating several schools.

By this time Nano was beginning to feel that she needed help from outside and Francis Moylan approached the Ursulines in Paris on her behalf, but being aware of the dangers attendant upon Catholic education in Ireland they did not respond favourably. Eventually they accepted four postulants who returned to Cor5k in 1771. Nano built a convent for them but was disappointed when she discovered the Ursuline Order was a confined one and the Sisters would not be able to go out to the schools and teach. Moreover as time went by it became evident that the Ursulines were interested in educating the middle classes and the well off and Nano’s mission was to help the poor. She left the Ursuline to operate in the convent she had provided and expanded her cottage to accommodate her followers. At the end of 1777, Nano and her companions were confirmed in their Religious Profession.

She continued her daily rounds from school to school and her nursing of the sick and the poor and established a home for the elderly poor. She was never without money problems but she persevered and her tiny figure continued to patrol the lanes of Cork to help the needy and in those dark and destitute lanes she was known as the Lady of the Lantern.

Nano died from tuberculosis, Monday April 26, 1784. According to Sister Rose’s account, “On her deathbed Mother Nagle gave to her daughters the following injunction: ‘Love one another as you have hitherto done.’ As her legacy she bequeathed to them the treasure which she prized above all the wealth of the earth – the love of the poor of Jesus Christ. She bade her Sisters ‘Spend yourself for the poor.’

In the years since Nano’s death, the Sisters of the Presentation Order have carried her spirit around the world in a variety of ministries.