Honora ‘Nano’ Nagle was born in Ballygriffin, near Mallow, Co. Cork in 1718, the eldest daughter of Garrett Nagle and Ann Matthew. In her early years, Nano enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the representative of a respectable family, who had managed to retain much of their original inheritance despite the operation of the Penal Laws.[1] These laws were a series of statues introduced from 1695 onwards which, amongst other things, restricted Catholic property ownership, religious practice, and strictly forbid denominational education.[2] It was in this political environment that Nano became aware of the plight of the Catholic poor and sought to improve their condition through philanthropy and education.


Moving to Cork city in 1754, Nano opened her first school for thirty girls in a mud cabin she rented in Cove Lane, now Douglas Street.[3] By the time of her death in 1784, she had succeeded in establishing seven schools for the education of both boys and girls, and two religious institutes in and around the immediate vicinity. This included a branch of the Ursuline Sisters, an affiliate of the Rue St Jacques monastery in Paris. The Ursulines were an enclosed monastic order whose primary mission was the education and moral instruction of the middle class.[4] Nano also succeeded in establishing her own religious community for the education and instruction of the lower class: the Presentation Sisters, with whom Nano Nagle took the habit in 1776.[5]


In their early years, both religious communities coexisted side by side at Cove Lane, on a site which was purchased and constructed by Nano Nagle. Branches of the Presentation and Ursuline order were later established throughout Ireland and in numerous countries including America, Canada, Kenya, and the West Indies, all of which can trace their ancestry to the Cove Lane monasteries.[6] This legacy of Nano Nagle has been reappraised in November of last year when Pope Francis bestowed Nano with the title of ‘venerable’, placing her on the second of four steps to sainthood.[7]


[1] Ian Crowe, An imaginative Whig: reassessing the life and thought of Edmund Burke (Missouri, 2005), p. 164; Catholic Telegraph, 23 Mar. 1841.

[2] S. J. Connolly, Religion, law and power: the making of Protestant Ireland, 1660-1760 (Oxford, 1992), p. 263; Louis Cullen, ‘Catholics under the Penal Laws’, in Eighteenth century Ireland, vol. 1 (1986), p. 23.

[3] Catronia Clear, ‘Nano Nagle (1718-1784): educator’, in Irish province of the Society of Jesus, vol. 98, no. 390 (Summer 2009), p. 137.

[4] The Congregation of Paris, The Constitutions of Ursuline Religious (Paris, 1705), available online at the Internet Archive, (https://archive.org/stream/rulesconstitutio00ursu#page/n9/mode/2up) (30 March 2014).

[5] Sr. Mary Pius O’Farrell, Nano Nagle: woman of the gospel (Cork, 1996), p. 148.

[6] T.J. Walsh, Nano Nagle the Presentation Sisters (Dublin, 1959), p. 404; Sr. Ursula Clarke, The Ursulines in Cork since 1771 (Cork, 2007), p. 153.

[7] Irish Independent, 21 Oct. 2013; Irish Times, 6 Nov. 2013; Irish Examiner, 22 Feb. 2014.