Collected Letters of Nano Nagle - UCD Digital Library

The Collected Letters of Nano Nagle

Abstract A collection of the surviving letters of Honora (Nano) Nagle (1718-1784), foundress of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM). Nano Nagle brought the Ursuline congregation to Ireland, before founding the Presentations. This collection represents a digital reunification of the surviving letters. A cousin of Edmund Burke, Nano was a member of a prominent Catholic landowning family in Munster. The material is collated from three separate archival collections: the Presentation Sisters Congregational Archives, Cork (PSCA); the archives of the Presentation Convent, George's Hill, Dublin; and the Presentation Archives, San Francisco, USA. Within the PSCA, there are letters originally belonging to the Archives of the Ursuline Convent, Blackrock, Cork; these letters were gifted to the Irish Presentation Sisters on the occasion of the tercentenary of the birth of Nano Nagle (2018). There is also one letter that was gifted by the Presentation Convent, New Windsor, USA, on the occasion of the tercentenary. The digital collection comprises of seventeen manuscript letters; the letters are from Nano Nagle to Eleanor Fitzsimons (later Sr. Angela Fitzsimons), an Irish religious novice in Paris, and from Nano Nagle to Teresa Mulally, educator of the poor, in Dublin.

In collection UCD Convent Collections

17 letters
Type of resource
Most of the letters are in good condition. The documents have degraded over time and some have been damaged and torn. A small number of the letters also include annotations and other modifications made at later dates.
Location of original
The original letters are held in a number of archives: Presentation Sisters Congregational Archive, Nano Nagle Place, Douglas Street, Cork, Ireland ; Presentation Convent, George's Hill, Dublin 7, Ireland ; Presentation Archives, San Francisco, California, USA ; Presentation Convent, New Windsor, New York, USA.
Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Repository reference
IE PBVM 3/1/1/1
Biographical/historical information
Honora (Nano) Nagle was born in 1718 in Ballygriffin, County Cork. She was the eldest of six children born to Garrett and Ann Mathew Nagle. In eighteenth century Ireland, under the Penal Laws, Catholics were denied economic, educational, and political rights, and the position of the Nagle family as Catholic landowners was particularly precarious. Despite a ban on the foreign education of Irish Catholics, Nano was sent to France to complete her education. Upon her return to Ireland in 1746, Nagle worked to educate the poor of Cork city.
A deeply religious woman, her profound trust in God's providence was fundamental to her ministry. By 1769, Nagle, with financial support from her uncle, Joseph Nagle, had opened seven schools, including two for boys, in Cork. Initially, the schools had been operated with such discretion that not even her family was aware of them. As her schools grew, Nagle became more conscious of the need to secure her pioneering work into the future. In 1767, she spent seven months in an Ursuline convent in St. Denis, north of Paris, in an attempt to familiarise herself with the Ursuline way of life. When she returned to Cork, she was accompanied by an Ursuline Sister, for whom the rule of enclosure had been suspended by her bishop so that she was able to accompany Nagle to the schools, in secular dress, during her time in Cork.
Meanwhile, Francis Moylan, Bishop of Kerry, appealed to the Ursulines of the Rue St. Jacques in Paris to train volunteers for Nagle's mission. An agreement was reached and the first Irish novice, Eleanor (Sr. Angela) Fitzsimons, was sent to Paris in 1767; she was later joined by other Irish aspirants. Nagle corresponded with Fitzsimons regularly, discussing matters with her in an open and candid manner; all eight of these surviving letters feature in the digital collection today. In 1769, construction began on a new convent in Cork in anticipation of the arrival of the Irish Ursuline Sisters. The quest for postulants was an ever-present concern for Nagle, and the names of prospective candidates (Coppinger, Shea, Nagle, Moylan, Keating, Lawless, Smith, Kavanagh) are scattered through the pages of her letters. The Irish Ursulines, comprising Mother Margaret Kelly, Sr. Angela Fitzsimons, Sr. Augustine Coppinger, and Sr. Ursula Kavanagh arrived in Cork in May 1771. This time, however, there was no ecclesiastical suspension of the rule of enclosure. As only one of Nagle's schoolhouses lay within the convent grounds, this presented a further complication as to how to take care of the remaining educational endeavours. While Nagle and her family continued to support the Ursuline Sisters financially, Nano still sought enduring security for the schools and for the care of vulnerable people.
Nagle's letters indicate that she was urged on by her faith. She took the initiative to form a new religious institute, and invited Mary Fouhy, Elizabeth Bourke, and Mary Ann Collins to join with her to minister to the poor. On Christmas Eve 1775, Nagle and her three companions came together to begin their Novitiate. They received the religious habit in June 1776 and, a year later, were professed as members of the newly founded Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Nagle's earliest extant letter to Teresa Mulally dates from this time (21 August 1777); nine of her letters to Mulally survive today and they make up the second part of this digital collection. Mulally, a woman of independent means, had opened a Catholic school for poor girls in Mary's Lane, Dublin in 1766. Like Nagle, she was determined to provide education and alleviate the distress of the impoverished. Mulally purchased a plot of land on George's Hill in the hope that she would get a religious community to continue her work into the future. It was their shared concern for the poor that brought Nano Nagle and Teresa Mulally together and they formed a close friendship that lasted until Nagle's death on 26 April 1784.
In 1791, Pope Pius VI granted approval of the Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pending the drafting of new Constitutions. By the time the new Constitutions received the approbation of Pope Pius VII in 1805, the Congregation was under the patronage of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The sisters now took solemn vows and were bound by the rule of enclosure. The Congregation continued to grow in answer to emerging needs. Many foundations were established in Ireland, including George's Hill, Dublin in 1794, and in many countries across the globe. For the most part these foundations were autonomous communities without formal links to parent houses, and the Sisters remained faithful to the vision and mission of Nano Nagle. In the light of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, many diocesan groups, autonomous houses and congregations of pontifical right came together on 19 July 1976 to establish a new Congregation by the Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. Thus, the Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary became an Apostolic Religious Institute of Pontifical Right. The first Constitutions of this Union were approved on 21 November 1988.
In the twenty-first century, Nano Nagle's life continues to inspire. In 2000, she was voted Irish Woman of the Millennium in recognition of her importance as a pioneer of female education in Ireland. She was also voted Ireland's greatest woman in a public poll in 2005. Nagle was declared Venerable by Pope Francis in 2013. Today, her legacy continues in the varied work of the Presentation Sisters; they embody Nano Nagle's commitment to the education and care of the vulnerable and powerless as they respond creatively in their different contexts and in a world very much changed from that of their founder.
Scope and content
It is important to note that eighteenth century spelling, grammar, and punctuation was not bound by the same rules as modern times. In particular, spelling was notoriously changeable and Nagle's letters are a good example of this; she also appears to have spelt many words phonetically, as evidenced in the collection. Some of the individual letters in Nagle's written words appear to be capitalised when this is not the case; this capitalisation has been disposed of or retained at the discretion of the archivist. Annotations have been added to some of the documents at a later stage and these modifications are not included in the typed transcriptions of the letters.
Seventeen original and copy manuscript letters composed by Nano Nagle over a period of fourteen years. The documents provide insight into Nagle's life, vocation and ambitions, and the early development of her schools in Cork. The letters reference many individuals who played an important role in the development of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Presentation Sisters, in Ireland.
This collection was digitised as part of "Nano Nagle and Nineteenth Century Education, a Digital Humanities Project". The principal investigator for the project was Deirdre Raftery, School of Education, University College Dublin.
Funder: Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Funder: UCD Foundation.
Transcriber details
Transcribed by Catherine KilBride; proofing by Deirdre Bennett and David Gunning.
Catholic Church
Nagle, Nano, 1718-1784–Correspondence
Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary–Archives
Cork (Ireland : County)
Cork (Ireland)
Nuns' writings
Dissenters, Religious–Legal status, laws, etc.
Suggested credit
"The Collected Letters of Nano Nagle," held by Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. © Public domain. Digital content by Various copyright holders - see individual records, published by UCD Library, University College Dublin <>

Related exhibition
Raftery, Deirdre. Nano Nagle (1718-1784): Tercentenary Exhibition. Dublin, Ireland : Google Arts & Culture (2018)
In collection
UCD Convent Collections.

Record source
Descriptions created by staff of UCD Library, University College Dublin based on information provided by the Nano Nagle digital humanities project. EAD derived from MODS record.29 February 2016

Finding aid author
Gunning, David (Archivist)

1. Presentation Sisters Congregational Archive, Cork, Ireland

2. Presentation Archives, San Francisco, USA

3. Presentation Convent, New York, USA

4. Presentation Convent, Dublin, Ireland

1.   Presentation Sisters Congregational Archive, Cork, Ireland


Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1769-07-17) [View]


    Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1770) [View]


      Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1770) [View]


        Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1770-04-29) [View]


          Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1770-05-13) [View]


            Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1770-07-20) [View]


              Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1770-09-28) [View]

                2.   Presentation Archives, San Francisco, USA


                Nano Nagle writing to Miss Fitzsimons (1770-12-17) [View]

                  3.   Presentation Convent, New York, USA


                  Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1777-08-21) [View]

                    4.   Presentation Convent, Dublin, Ireland


                    Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1778-08-24) [View]


                      Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1778-09-29) [View]


                        Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1778-10-31) [View]


                          Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1778-12-16) [View]


                            Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1779-03-17) [View]


                              Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1779-10-30) [View]


                                Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1780-07-29) [View]


                                  Nano Nagle writing to Miss Mulally (1783-01-31) [View]

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                                    Copyright of original resource Public domain