The Most Influential Irish Woman You Never Heard Of
She was named one of Ireland’s most influential women, but no one seems to know anything about Nano Nagel.
She was born in 1718 to a wealthy Irish Catholic family in County Cork. Her family was well-connected and owned a significant amount of land in a time when property in Ireland was almost exclusively owned by Protestant families and penal laws restricted many aspects of Catholic and traditional Irish life.
Like most landed Catholics of the time, Nano Nagle was educated in France to avoid the oppressive conditions. Although she returned to her family in Ireland, the death of her parents motivated her to return to France to join the Convent.
At age 32, Nano Nagle returned to Ireland as a nun where she moved through the region teaching children by day and tending to sick by night. These efforts earned her the nickname The Lady with the Lantern.
She opened her first classroom in 1754 and soon opened six other schools in the region. Her schools are not only credited with educating the Irish academically and spiritually, but also noted for their part in preserving Irish culture.
In 1775, she was inspired to start the Congregation of the Presentation Sisters, a religious order based on “Love one another as you have hitherto done.”
Nano died from tuberculosis in 1784, but her order continues its work today.
Nano Nagle’s Legacy
Today, the Sisters of the Presentation continue their works on land once owned by the Nagle family. On our first visit four years ago, Sister Paula joyfully gave a tour of their organic farm and retreat center. We had tea and laughed when we knew the exact location of her family home in County Tipperary.
My second visit revealed how busy the sisters had been in just a few years. They were growing vegetables for the local farmers market and had built some beautiful additions to their retreat center… all with a focus on sustainable practices and alternative energy. There are few places where I find myself talking about spiritual retreats one minute and solar panels and windmills the next.
You can read our blog post from our visit at www.irishfireside.com/2008/06/10/four-teas-roadtrip and learn more about the Presentation Sisters and Nano Nagle at www.presentationsisters.org/about-us/nano-nagle.php.