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Living Heritage

Heritage was not a word up until now, that I had thought too much about, particularly in relation to Presentation Life.  In these days of National Heritage Week 2023 however, I have come to realise that ‘our heritage’ as Presentation People is somehow something more personal, inspirational and people-centred than ‘legacy’ can ever be.  It is foundational, the scaffolding on which we can rely, and build upon.  It is part of the definition of who we are going forward.  Heritage, it seems to me, is the the embodiment of  that well-loved painting by Mary Southard ….where no words are needed just actions, and where looking over one’s shoulder one can see and rely on those behind us, at our back, as we enter into new places, new spaces and new opportunities and challenges prepared for us by God.  We are somehow called to continue to grow our heritage.  It is no mistake then,  that the theme for National Heritage Week this year is ‘Living Heritage’.

As the Heritage Council (of Ireland) shares on it’s website:

Our tangible, intangible and natural heritage and all the associated myths, legends, traditions, and memories provide us with a common language and insight that enables us to communicate on a deep level with each other and to express ourselves in a unique way to the outside world.

In helping shape our identity, our heritage becomes part of what we are. Our expression of this identity shows others what we value; it highlights our values and priorities.

Our heritage provides clues to our past and how our society has evolved. It helps us examine our history and traditions and enables us develop an awareness about ourselves. It helps us understand and explain why we are the way we are.

Heritage is a keystone of our culture that plays an important role in our politics, society, business and world view. It informs, influences and inspires public debate and policy both directly and indirectly.

Branching Out

During this week which takes place nationwide (12th to Sunday to 20th August) a colourful range of events and projects, celebrating all aspects of our heritage have, and are taking place across the country as communities, families, holiday makers and people of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to get out and explore their heritage.

This week has also coincided with the ‘going live’ in the coming weeks of a wonderful exhibition at Nano Nagle Place funded by The Heritage Council alongside the programme of events on offer at Nano Nagle Place for Heritage Week. The exhibition, ‘Branching Out: Presentation Convents 1775-1828’ examines the early Presentation Convents in Ireland.  It explores the spread of the Presentation Sisters across the country in the period before Catholic Emancipation.

Some of these convents remain open, but many have closed and the buildings have been demolished or repurposed. The exhibition, running from  September 2023 to May 2024 will share the history of the buildings and landscapes, the material culture and the lives of the women who lived in the convents, and offer a flavour of the early years of the Presentation Order.

The additional and wonderful novelty of this exhibition is that aside from being able to attend in person by booking through Nano Nagle Place, it  is also possible to participate in and get a real sense of this exhibition online, thanks to the support by the Heritage Council of Ireland for an accompanying website  https://branchingout.ie/ 

This site has wonderful photographic and video content of convents across Ireland and interviews with Presentation Sisters.

The story of the Presentation Sisters in Wexford

As part of this programme of presentations and talks online, and in person, offered at  Nano Nagle Place, I was fortunate enough to be able to listen in to a webinar hosted by Dr. Danielle O’Donovan with Mr. Joe Rolston.  Joe speaking about the story of the Presentation Sisters in Wexford. Much of the historical information he shared, alongside  the wonderful images, were based on an incredible amount of research that was undertaken by him as Co-Author of the book ‘Going One Step Beyond’ launched for  the Bicentenary celebrations of the foundation of Presentation Community in Wexford(1818 – 2018).  This is a huge volume that details the rich life of the community and their schools. In this presentation, Joe  focussed in particular on the early history of the convent and schools, and their development into the later 19th century.  He spoke with such a passion and knowledge about the Sisters and their impact on education and life right up to the present time, that an hour was all too short to have connected with a heritage ‘made alive’ in the sharing.

These were  women who gave their lives fully, generously and completely for something way beyond their own personal recognition or comfort. Women who in the most challenging and hardest of times managed to offer education to those hungry for it, and so much more! They, as a community, made the almost impossible a reality, drawing others into collaboration, so that projects, land, finances and building programmes and ultimately education could be available to all.  Many of these women dying young and yet aware of their step forward, being a step out beyond their time and place , ready to pass on the ‘baton’ extending eventually to a global presence of Sisters moving outward from Irish Foundations to the ‘ends of the Earth’ at that time!

We give thanks for this rich heritage we share and on which we can continue to build, and we also give thanks for all those who continue to research, unwrap and share this treasure from our past that also has the capacity to  inform our future.  Our archivists and annalists of yesterday and tomorrow are truly ‘keepers of the flame’!



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That wonderful site worth exploring, where there are so many other presentations and materials available as well as wonderful drone footage of convent houses ensconced in their local contemporary settings  – https://branchingout.ie/

Oranmore Heritage has also hosted a number of events in Oranmore to mark Heritage Week
For the duration of the week, in partnership with Oranmore Public Library, they are hosting a photographic exhibition  on the topic of the Presentation Sisters and their contribution to education in Oranmore.
Note: The image used is is the details from a painting by Sister Mary Southard, CSJ, of Nano Nagle and her early companions. The image was commissioned by the Union of the Sisters of the Presentation in celebration of Nano’s dream and legacy that is alive today.
Note 2:  Dr. Danielle O’Donovan (Project/Programme Manager for PortsPast and Present, an interregional research project at University College Cork. She is former Acting Director and Programme Manager at Nano Nagle Place in Cork City and has worked in museums for over a decade);  Mr. Joe Rolston (who is an English & Religious Education Teacher in Presentation Secondary School, Wexford).

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