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The Greatest Irish Woman

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Nano Nagle is the greatest Irish woman of all time. She was born in Ballygriffin, near Mallow, Co. Cork, in 1718.

Christened Hanora, she was affectionately called Nano. She was the eldest of seven children. As a young girl Nano was full of high spirits, her enthusiasm and love of risk often got her into trouble with her mother Anne, who complained her to her father Garret. But a doting dad saw deeper, “Our Nano will be a Saint yet”.

Ireland at this time was in the grip of the Penal Laws. It was unlawful for a Catholic to give or receive an education. Nano attended the local hedge school. Later she and her sister Anne were sent to Paris for further education.

Nano delighted in the social life of Paris. She was a real charmer, dancing the night away. Returning home in the early hours of the morning she noticed a group of people standing outside a Church awaiting Mass. The sight made a deep impression on her. Nano at 28 would never be the same again. Family circumstances changed when her father died. With her sister Anne she returned to Dublin to her widowed mother. A new chapter in her life was unfolding. Dublin under the Penal Laws was a far cry from Paris. Nano and her sister Anne did what they could. One of Nano’s treasured possessions was a length of silk. Anne sold it to provide for the poor. Another wake-up call for Nano.After the death of Anne and her mother, Nano returned to Ballygriffin. Once again she came face to face with poverty and the need for education.

At great risk to herself and her family, she opened her first school in a mud cabin in Cove Lane, Cork. Fifteen years later, there were seven schools, five for girls and two for boys. Nano spent herself and her money freely, lifting the poor and the ignorant out of their misery. The sick, the aged and the prisoner were not forgotten by the Lady of the Lantern. She was now in her fifties and in poor health. Who would light the lantern when she was gone? Who will light the lantern and go one step beyond? Nano wanted to ensure that the work begun by her and her helpers would continue.

There were no nuns in Ireland to do this. Nano’s determination prevailed and the Ursulines from France arrived in Cove Lane. But things did not work out as planned. Urged on by her belief in the value of education for the poor, she founded her own group of Presentation Sisters on Christmas Eve 1775. Fifty beggars were guests of honour at the Christmas dinner hosted by Nano and her three companions. Nine years later, worn out by hardship and ill health, this great woman died in her 66th year on April 26th 1784. Her example inspired Edmund Rice, Catherine McCauley and Mary Aikenhead to do as she had done for the people of Ireland.

Nano is remembered for her pioneering work in Irish Education, her life of faith and her heroic commitment to all who struggled for justice. Today Presentation Sisters and their co-workers continue her mission all over the world.


Prayer for the Beatification of Nano Nagle.

O God Who enkindled in Nano Nagle the fire of Your Love and a consuming desire to serve You in any part of the world, grant that we also may love You and make You much loved. And if it’s before the salvation of souls, grant that soon she may be raised to the altars of Your Church. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.