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Social revolution at Christmas

In December 2019 Victoria Pearson initially penned this inspiring piece on How four Cork women sparked a social revolution on Christmas Eve 1775’.  The four women in the article are: Nano Nagle, Mary Fouhy, Elizabeth Burke and Mary Ann Collins.  In Victoria’s words they:

“ … were driven by a progressive and ambitious missionary devotion to educate Cork city’s Catholic poor. Regardless of taking religious vows, they had no intention of staying behind convent walls and said as much to the Vatican. The rule of enclosure could not apply to them; they needed to go out into the community”.

That Christmas Eve night (1775) the four women founded the first religious order established in Ireland since the Reformation. This congregation, known as the Society of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, would later become the Presentation Order.

Victoria continues:

“Fifty years before the creation of the national school system, these early Presentation Sisters taught young girls, the daughters of the city’s labourers, at a time when the daughters of the rich were barely educated. They taught girls skills to improve their chances of employment, talents that they could fall back on in a precarious economy where most were dependent on male family members for survival. They empowered these girls to become independent women”.

“Education is for All” is Nagle’s legacy and each and every one of us educated in Ireland benefited, in some way, from that ideal. None of that would have been possible without these four courageous women on a cold Christmas Eve in Cork”. 

@RTEBrainstorm  has now republished the article which you can read in full HERE

A global vision

Nano Nagle’s vison  was a global one, as she wrote to a friend in 1769:

 ‘My schools are beginning to be of service to a great many parts of the world … If I could be of service in saving souls in any part of the globe I would be willing to do all in my power’.

And those are words that would prove quite prophetic for Nano Nagle, as the order she founded would spread around the world. This quote demonstrates the outward looking vision she had, a vision which was exceptional for a Cork woman in the 1780s.

The article also features an RTÉ Radio 1’s History Show interview by Myles Duggan with Prof. Deirdre Raftery, where she talks about her book ‘Nano Nagle: The Life and the Legacy’.  Deirdre is a historian of education at University College Dublin, who along with Catriona Delaney and Catherine Nowlan-Roebuck are responsible for this valued publication which has been shortlisted (Sept 2020) as Best New Book by the History of Education (UK) Society. In mid September 2020 it has been reviewed in the premier Irish historical journal, Irish Historical Studies where they describe it as ‘a meticulously researched book’.  As Professor Deirdre Raftery wrote, when sharing this good news with us:

“These [recognitions] all help to foreground your history, and position it centrally in Irish history and in the history of education.  All credit to the PBVMs, that they have such extensive and important archives, going back to their inception!  As the saying goes, ‘no archives, no history’”. 

Social activism

This book provides the first authoritative biographical study of Nano Nagle as founder of the Presentation Sisters.  It positions her within Irish social history, and assesses her vast international legacy.  It explores Nano’s roots and upbringing in 18th century North Cork, through to her formative education in Paris, and then onward to her pioneering work in education and ministry with ‘those made poor’.  This content draws on archival materials from three continents:

… and provides a compelling account of how one woman’s extraordinary life challenged social constraints and championed social justice and equality.  

See link Nano Nagle: The Life and the Legacy

Note: Victoria’s research focuses on the life and work of Bishop Francis Moylan, 1735-1815, a significant figure in the emergence of a renewed and reinvigorated Catholic community in late Eighteenth Century Ireland. Her area of expertise is 18th C Ireland.

The life of Nano Nagle spanned the period (1718-1784).

RTÉ Brainstorm is a unique partnership between RTÉ and Irish third level institutions (Founding Partners University College Cork, NUI Galway, University of Limerick, DCU, Technological University Dublin and Maynooth University) with Strategic Partners the Irish Research Council  and Teagasc.  It is where the academic and research community can contribute to public debate, reflect on what’s happening in the world around us and communicate fresh thinking on a broad range of issues.


One comment

  1. This is a message for the leadership team from an “old frieind”
    Thank you all so much for remembering me with your Christmas Card again this year. It seems like an awfully long time now since I was with you there at Monasterevin in Kildare, across from the little Park where the beautiful sculpture of Nano is “on her way”, lantern raised.

    I do keep in touch with Terry Abraham, and have heard about her Calendar for next year. I would LOVE to have one if there are any to spare. It would be a lovely way of keeping you all n my heart and prayers daily.

    May you all have a happy and blessed and healthy Christmas Season, and untold blessings in the New Year to Come. Thank you for your beautiful Presence and Work in our world!

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