Copy of letter from Nano Nagle to Miss Mary Angela Fitzsimons 17 July 1769


Copy of letter from Nano Nagle to Miss Mary Angela Fitzsimons 17 July 1769


Penal Laws, Catholicism, Ursulines, Nano Nagle, education, poverty, poor, eighteenth century


Letter written from Nano Nagle, Cove Lane, Cork to Miss Mary Angela Fitzsimons, Ursuline monastery, Rue St. Jacques, Paris.

The first part of the letter discusses Nano Nagle’s search for candidates for the Ursuline monastery in Paris. She has recently succeeded in acquiring two new candidates, Ms. [Mary Augustine] Coppinger and Ms. Shea, to train as novices in the French monastery. While their families showed some opposition, owing in part to their decision to train in France, they have reluctantly given their consent.

The letter also charts the beginnings of Nano Nagle’s poor schools in Cork city. Nano anticipates that these schools will prepare its pupils for ‘saving souls in any part of the globe’.


Nano Nagle


Ursuline Convent archive, Blackrock, Co.Cork


Sisters of the Irish Ursuline Union




Caroline Maguire, National University of Ireland, Maynooth


Property of the archive of the Ursuline Convent, Blackrock, Cork












Cork, Ireland
Paris, France

Original Format

Handwritten copy of original letter.
Location of original unknown, lost in the 1900s


‘As it is always a real pleasure to me to hear from you, I am much obliged to you for both your kind favours; in the first there was enclosed your note. I can't help saying that if I could be jealous at anything you did in my regard, it would be at [your] not writing in a more friendly manner; as, be assured, you may command anything in my power.


I cannot express how much I suffered on your account, as I was sure your uneasiness must be great, at not hearing of the arrival of the young ladies I mentioned. They were to depart in the first vessel that sailed to Havre. When I wrote I thought everything was settled. But it has pleased God to order things otherwise—which in all appearance has turned out a fortunate occurrence, for by the delay there are two subjects more such, as one might ambition in every respect. I shall say nothing of their merit as that will speak for itself. I am not acquainted with Miss Coppinger; I have seen her, but it is on the amiable character Mr. Doran gives her I depend. And I am afraid I shall not have the pleasure of seeing her again before she goes, as the measles is like a plague here. Though not mortal, yet it is dangerous to grown persons; and Mrs Coppinger told me it was the only disorder she dreaded, as her daughter is subject to a whizzing in her chest. She and her father are greatly pleased at her choice of a state of life, they are so pious.


I wish Mr. Shea was so well pleased at his daughter's inclination; he has not as yet given his consent. He says it is a sudden thought; he does not know it long, though she has been thinking of becoming a religious more than twelve months. She is a person of incomparable sense and very sedate and of an age to know her mind—she is past twenty—so it is not very probable she will change. I believe Mr. Moylan has so much influence over him he will prevail.


Miss Coppinger's parents won't let her go until her Aunt Butler approves of her resolution to which—by what you mention of her good intentions to this foundation—she will immediately give her consent. And it was thought proper not to press Mr. Shea for his consent, to show him she still persists to his knowledge longer than a few days as he at first imagined. She is their darling child; all this objection is to her going to France, for they are too good Christians to hinder her from being a nun. There is one comfort I have in these two young ladies, which is [that] they seem so much attached to their families they could not think of being anywhere but here.


I am sorry Miss Coppinger cannot see the schools, as I think no one can have an idea of their use unless an eye-witness. As you wish to have a particular account of them, I will tell you how I began. I fancy I mentioned to you before that it was an undertaking I thought I should never have the happiness of accomplishing. Nothing would have made me come home but the decision of the clergyman that I should run a great risk of salvation if I did not follow the inspiration. This made me accept of a very kind invitation of my sister-in-law to live with her.


When I arrived I kept my design a profound secret, as I knew, if it were spoken of, I should meet with opposition on every side, particularly from my immediate family as in all appearance they would suffer from it. My confessor was the only person I told of it; and as I could not appear in the affair, I sent my maid to get a good mistress and to take in thirty poor girls. When this little school was settled I used to steal there in the morning — my brother thought I was at the chapel. This passed on very well until one day a poor man came to him, begging of him to speak to me to take his child into my school. On which he came in to his wife and me, laughing at the conceit of a man who was mad and thought I was in the situation of a school-mistress. Then I owned [that] I had set up a school. On which he fell into a violent passion and said a vast deal on the bad consequences which may follow. His wife is very zealous, and so is he, but interest blinded him at first. He was soon reconciled to it. He was not the person I dreaded would be brought into trouble about it. It was my uncle Nagle, who is, I think, the most disliked by the Protestants of any Catholic in the kingdom. I expected a great deal from him. When he heard it he was not angry at it; and in a little time they were so good as to contribute largely to support it.


And, by degrees, I took in the children, not to make a noise about it in the beginning. In about nine months I had 200 children. When the Catholics saw what service it did, they begged [that] I would set up schools at the other end of the town from those I had, for the convenience of the children, to be under my name and direction; and they promised to contribute to the support of them. With which request I readily complied; and the same number of children that I had were taken in; and at the death of my uncle I supported them all at my own expense.


I did not intend to take boys, but my sister-in-law made it a point, and said she would not permit any of my family to contribute to them [the schools] unless I did so. On which I got a master and took in only forty boys. They are in a house by themselves and have no communication with the others. At present I have two schools for boys and five for girls. The former learn to read, and when they have the Douai Catechism by heart they learn to write and cypher. There are three schools where the girls learn to read, and when they have the catechism by heart they learn to work. They all hear Mass every day, say their morning and night prayers, say the Catechism in each school by question and answer all together. Every Saturday they all say the beads, the grown girls every evening. They go to Confession every month and to Communion when their Confessors think proper. The schools are opened at eight, at twelve the children go to dinner, at five o'clock they leave school. The workers do not begin their night prayers until six, after the beads.


I prepare a set for first Confession twice a year, and I may truly say it is the only thing that gives me any trouble. In the first place I think myself very incapable; and in the beginning—being obliged to speak for upwards of four hours and my chest not being as strong as it had been—I spat blood; which I took good care to conceal for fear of being prevented from instructing the poor. It has not the least bad effect now. When I have done preparing them at each end of the town, I think myself like an idler that has nothing to do. Though I speak almost as much as when I prepare them for their first Communion, I find not the least difficulty in it. I explain the Catechism as well as I can in one school or other every day; and if everyone thought as little of labour as I do, they would have little merit. I often think my schools will never bring me to heaven, as I only take delight and pleasure in them.


You see it has pleased the Almighty to make me succeed, when I had everything, as I may say, to fight against. I assure you I did not expect a farthing from any mortal towards the support of my schools, and I thought I should not have more than fifty or sixty girls until I got a fortune; nor [did I think] should I have had a school in Cork. I began in a poor humble manner; and though it pleased the divine Will to give me severe trials in this foundation, yet it is to show that it is His work and has not been effected by human means.


And had I only a proper person to begin it, I think it has the prospect of meeting with surprising success. I am charmed with the account you give me of the ladies you are with, I hope the same spirit will be communicated here. I think religious discipline would be too strict for this country, and I own I should not rejoice to see it kept up. I must say Miss Moylan's prejudice to take on here has made me see things in a clearer light than I should have done, and makes me accept the disappointments I have met with as a decree of the divine bounty. All her friends are sorry she went abroad; and I must say, laying aside her own merit, this house would have a great loss in her, as she is of a family deservedly loved. They are in hopes she is beginning to change; I wish it may be so. If she has so much zeal, she will never have such an opportunity of exerting it as here.


For I can assure you my schools are beginning to be of service to a great many parts of the world—this is a place of such trade—they are heard of, and my views are not for one object alone. If I could be of any service in saving souls in any part of the globe, I would willingly do all in my power.


I must look on it as one of my crosses that the two ladies who were so good as to patronise this foundation should be removed. But the Almighty is all-sufficient and will soon make up this loss to us. I beg you will present them my compliments.


Mr. Moylan desires to be affectionately remembered to you. As he gave you an account of the building, I shall say nothing of it only to excuse myself as to the house I built first. I never intended it for ladies. At the time I was sure I should get the ground at the rear to build in; and as it gave on the street, I was obliged to have it in the manner it is, in order not to have it noticed as a convent. I shall refer you to that and many other things in my next which I hope the young ladies will be the bearer of’.[1]


[1] T.J. Walsh, Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters (Dublin, 1959), p. 344.



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