Teresa Mulally 1728 – 1803

There is a gap of almost six years in the extant letters of Nano Nagle.  The last letter to Eleanor Fitzsimons was written on 17th December 1770 and the next letter, written to Teresa Mulally, is dated 29th September 1776.  In the meantime Nano had made the momentous decision to invite her three companions, Elizabeth Burke, Mary Fouhy and Mary Ann Collins to join her in founding the Institute of Charitable Instruction in Cork.  News of this development had reached Teresa in Dublin and became the basis of a strong friendship between these two courageous and deeply spiritual women.  As an introduction to Nano’s first letter I offer a synopsis of the first 38 years of the life of Teresa Mulally.


Roque’s Map of George’s Hill

Maria Teresa Mulally was born in October 1728, the only child of Daniel and Elizabeth Mulally (I) in Pill Lane (Chancery Street) Dublin.  Her father was a ‘provision dealer’, perhaps a grocer and the family lived in financial security.  Teresa received a good education, probably at the Dominican Sisters’ fee-paying school in nearby Channel Row.  Primary sources show that she had a high standard of written English, Arithmetic and Book-Keeping.  Teresa’s mother was a most charitable lady, distributing food to the local poor.  When Teresa was seven years of age her father retired from business and the family moved a short distance to Phrapper Lane (Beresford Street), within the Parish of St. Michan.  As time passed the financial circumstances of the family declined and they were obliged to take paying guests into their home.  By the time Teresa was 17 years of age her father admitted that, apart from the family home, he had just £100 pounds to support the family and “we must struggle on as best we can” (ii). Three years later, in 1748, a relative in Chester, England, an elderly widow, invited Teresa to live with her.  In order to ease the burden on her parents Teresa accepted and moved to England.  The old lady died three or four years later, leaving Teresa £70.  In 1752/53 Teresa returned to Dublin, aged 25, and set herself up as a self-taught milliner in the front parlour of the family home.  Shortly afterwards Teresa won a few hundred pounds sterling in the State lottery and this enabled her to expand her business and keep her parents in comfort until their death c. 1761.

Teresa was a most devout Catholic and was known to spend three hours in prayer before attending daily Mass.  At the age of about 33 years she was now free to consider her future and seriously considered entering Religious life.  There were two small Religious Communities living quietly in her locality; the Dominicans in Channel Row and the Poor Clare Sisters in North King Street.  However, the sight of the poor, helpless children whom she encountered on the streets, as she moved from home to Chapel, pulled at her heart strings and disturbed her quiet reflective moments.  Divine Providence intervened when, in 1763, Fr. James Mulcaile S.J. returned to Dublin on the suppression of the Jesuit Order in France.

Fr. James Philip Mulcaile


He was appointed as curate to Mary’s Lane Chapel in Teresa’s Parish of St. Michan. In a short time he became aware of Teresa ‘who made ointments and other medicines for the poor and dressed their sores’ (iii).  Their paths inevitably crossed and a deep, mutual respect developed.  Teresa consulted him regarding her attraction to the Religious life, while at the same time, loath to abandon the illiterate, neglected young girls of her locality.  Fr. Mulcaile and Fr. John Austin, Jesuit Latin scholars, were at that time teaching a group of boys in a damp, cold cellar in Saul’s Court, off Fishamble Street, Dublin.  He encouraged Teresa to recognise her true vocation among the poor and promised his support in the setting up of a school.  This was a daunting prospect as the Penal Laws were still on the statute book: ‘No Papist shall publically teach school or instruct youth in learning under pain of £20 fine and also being committed to prison for three months for each offence’ (iv).  Later this was increased to three months followed by transportation for a first offence and for a second offence it was considered as high treason, resulting in the accused being hanged, drawn and quartered.   A reward of £10 was offered for informing on a Catholic teacher and if anyone refused to give evidence the punishment was one year in prison or a fine of £20.  This Act was not repealed until 1782.

With great courage and confidence Teresa gave her life to God in the service of the poor.  In May 1766, aged 38 years, she rented a room at the top of a three storey house beside the Mary’s Lane Chapel.  This afforded a degree of security and seclusion for the enterprise.  As Teresa’s financial resources were limited an appeal was made to the Parishioners for the poor children of the female sex.


The girls were to be instructed in ‘their prayers and catechism, in reading and writing, knitting, quilt making, mantua-making and plain work (sewing) whereby they may be rendered useful to Society and capable of earning honest bread for themselves’(v).  The money raised would be used to pay the rent for the school, the salary of the Mistress and to supply the scholars with all the necessaries for their instruction and support.  Familiar names appear on the list of subscribers – Mrs. Coppinger, her nephew Sir Patrick Bellew and Fr. Mulcaile.  Later two rooms were rented to help avoid detection by the Crown Forces.  In the front room Teresa held classes in practical crafts while in the back room Catechism and literacy were taught.  In the event of a raid the girls would be found busy with needle and thread with all signs of academic activity secreted in the back room.

An extant document in Teresa’s handwriting gives an outline of the schedule followed:  from March to the end of September the children gathered at 7.30 a.m. for Morning Prayer followed by Mass at 8.00 a.m. Catechism, spelling and writing continued until the Angelus at noon.  Perhaps there was a meal served at mid-day as the children were engaged in reading until 3.00 p.m., when the Litany of the Blessed Virgin was recited.  There was a break from 3.00 p.m. – 4.00 p.m.  On their return the older girls received instruction in practical work while the younger children enjoyed a more leisurely session.  The Life of a Saint was read, followed by a discussion on the virtue illustrated.  School ended at 6.00 p.m. with a short prayer.  The children left the house at intervals, in small groups, to avoid detection.  In the winter months, September to March, the school day began at 8.30 a.m. and ended at 4.00 p.m.  On Sundays there was one hour of catechism instruction after Mass.  The older girls were encouraged to teach and care for the younger children and they were rewarded with extra tuition.  By 1771 there were up to 100 girls in attendance, most of whom were given breakfast and clothed.  By this time Teresa had two assistants, Ann Corballis and Judith Clinch.   Realising that some of the children lived in extreme poverty, many of them orphans, Teresa offered a home to five girls.  These were given instruction in lace-making, dressmaking and housework and the sale of their work, gloves, aprons and lace trims, helped to defray expenses and enabled more girls to be taken as boarders.

By this time Teresa had begun to hear of the work being done in Cork by Nano Nagle.  Teresa Mulally was a family friend of the Fitzsimons Family of St. Michan’s Parish, Dublin.  In 1767, when the 28 year old Eleanor Fitzsimons had left Dublin to join the Sisters of the Visitation in France, Teresa, then aged 39, must have followed her progress with great interest.  When in Paris Eleanor met Rev. Dr. Moylan who had just negotiated the acceptance of Irish candidates into the Ursuline novitiate at Rue St. Jacques, Paris.  He pleaded the cause of the poor children of Cork and outlined the benefits already achieved by the schools set up there by Nano Nagle.  Eventually Dr. Moylan persuaded Eleanor to reconsider her intention to enter a French Convent and to become the first volunteer for Nano’s Ursuline foundation in Cork.  This change of plan must have caused some anxiety among Eleanor’s family and friends in Dublin and a demand for information about Nano Nagle and her work in Cork.

The River Liffey, Dublin, from Bachelor’s Quay to Arran Quay

Favourable testimony was readily available.  Mrs. Coppinger would have been able to give the Fitzsimons a favourable account of the Nagle family.  Mrs. Mary Burke, formerly Mary Nagle of Ballyduff, near Ballygriffin, lived with her son Edmund, the future orator and parliamentarian, at 12 Arran Quay.  Perhaps some local people remembered Mrs. Ann Nagle who had lived for a few years on Bachelors’ Quay in their parish of St. Michan.  She had come to live there after the death of her husband Garrett Nagle of Ballygriffin in 1746 and was soon joined by her two daughters, Nano and Ann.  At that time Nano was aged about 29 and the 19 year old Teresa was busy helping her parents to make ends meet. Mrs. Ann Nagle had died in 1748 as Teresa was leaving for Chester.  Although it is certain that Nano had no recollection of meeting the nine year old Eleanor Fitzsimons in Dublin, and unlikely that Nano and Teresa were known to one another at that time, we can be certain that they all worshiped together in Mary’s Lane Chapel.

Although an age difference of ten years separated them, there are many parallels between the lives of Nano and Teresa.  Both had experienced a relatively privileged childhood, the separation from family and country in their youth, the call to religious life tempered by the awareness of the distress experienced by local children, a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Eucharist, the direction of a Jesuit priest in discerning the future.  Both women suffered from debilitating health problems. ‘Teresa was subject to violent headaches for many years’ (vi) while Nano showed symptoms of tuberculosis throughout her adult life.  Both women became convinced that the escape from poverty lay in formal education supported by prayer and deep religious conviction.  They both arrived at the conclusion that the continuity of their work would be achieved in the services of a Religious Community.

Teresa Mulally

Throughout the years 1771-1774 Teresa and Nano continued to plough a lone furrow in their service of God through the poor and abandoned members of society.  Dr. Moylan, the Parish Priest of St. Finbarr’s Church, Cork was the common link.  He was a friend of Fr. Mulcaile, perhaps through his uncle Fr. Doran S.J., and through him he came to know Teresa Mulally.  When visiting Dublin, Dr. Moylan no doubt discussed the progress of Nano’s schools and the disappointment experienced when the Ursulines insisted on keeping enclosure which prevented them from teaching in Nano’s schools and visiting the sick and elderly in their homes.  Dr. Moylan told of Nano’s intention to find someone to establish a new Institute freed from the limitations of enclosure.  He was, at first, opposed to the idea of Nano establishing a second Convent in his Parish but, seeing her zeal, he was soon reconciled.  When no suitable person could be found to begin the new Institute he persuaded Nano to undertake the task herself.  The interchange of news between Cork and Dublin continued through the person of Dr. Moylan.  Teresa became aware that in January 1775 Nano Nagle had invited two of her teaching assistants, Elizabeth Burke and Mary Fouhy, and later Mary Ann Collins, to join her in beginning her Religious Institute and consequently had found a solution to the dilemma of the continuity of her schools.  Later that year Dr. Moylan was appointed Bishop of Kerry and consequently direct contact with Nano was curtailed.  This was probably the incentive for Nano and Teresa to begin a correspondence in September 1766.  There are nine extant letters from Nano Nagle to Teresa Mulally in the custody of Presentation Convent George’s Hill, Dublin.  These cover the years 1776-1783 as Nano’s Institute of Charitable Instruction was evolving and struggling for survival.

In the next few months a study of Nano’s letters to Teresa will appear on the Presentation website.


(i) Teresa told her friend Mary that her ‘father’s true name was O’ Lally but the name was changed over time and she never had the ambition to resume the original’.  Breaking of Morn p.80

(ii)   A Valiant Dublin Woman by R. Burke Savage, S.J. p.52

(iii)   A Valiant Dublin   Woman by R. Burke Savage, S. J. p.56

(iv)   Education Act 1695

(v)   An Address to the Charitable of St. Michan’s Parish (1766)  A Valiant Dublin Woman p.58-60

A most interesting article by Sr. Marie-Therese King, Congregational archivist, on this document can be found by entering in Google :    Unearthing Treasures from the Past   Marie Therese King.

(vi)  Letter written in 1803 by ‘Mary’, a convert to Catholicism, born of poor parents in Cork but living in Dublin and a friend of Teresa Mually.  She travelled to Cork with Teresa in 1778 where they met Nano Nagle. Breaking of Morn by Sr. Pius O’Farrell   pages 73-84