Iona Presentation College

Nano Nagle statue

Location: College Entrance

About the Art

This art installation is representative of the foundress of the Presentation Order, Nano Nagle. As she walks through the narrow lanes towards her school on Cove Lane, she gathers up the children of those most in need, ensuring they will benefit from the uplifting power of education.

Nano carries a lantern to not only light her way but as a beacon for those to gather, and as a symbol of hope. The light from her lantern shines down onto an Celtic heart, emblematic of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from whom the Presentation Sisters draw great faith and strength.

The Celtic Heart is engraved on pink Kimberley sandstone, similar to the pink granite found on the Scottish Isle of Iona, a place of early Christian scholarship and the place where the College derives it's name.

A more classical depiction of Nano Nagle and the children of Cork can be found in the grounds of the Iona Junior School on Buckland Avenue, Mosman Park. That bronze statue is a local replica of the statue of Nano found at the Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, County Mallow in Ireland, on the site of the ancestral Nagle farm where Nano was raised.

The art installation was designed in 2019 by an Iona parent, Mr Tim Whiteman, formerly of Artcom Fabrication, and was constructed by Artcom in 2020 as part of the College's Stage 5/6 building program of the New Learning Centre at the heart of the College

About Nano Nagle

Founder of the Presentation Sisters, Venerable Nano Nagle (1718-1784) devoted her life to the education of the poor in her hometown of Cork, Ireland. Carrying a lantern through the dark streets, she visited the needy, offering hope and compassion. The lantern has become a symbol for the Presentation Sisters, who generously provided the funds for this representation of Nano.

Honora (Nano) Nagle was born in 1718 in Ballygriffin, Cork, Ireland. Born to an affluent family, 'The Nagle's', Nano and her siblings had everything they needed growing up; a stark contrast to Nano's later life. The Nagle family home at Ballygriffin, near Mallow, was on the banks of the picturesque Blackwater river and Nano was fortunate to experience an idyllic childhood.

For 200 years Ireland had suffered under oppressive British rule. Edmund Burke, a famous parliamentarian and orator and a distant relation of Nano Nagle on his mother's side, described the purpose of the British-imposed Penal Laws as "to reduce the Catholics in Ireland to a miserable populace, without property, without estimation, without education." The Act of 1695 made it unlawful to open a Catholic School in Ireland or to travel overseas for a Catholic education. Hence, despite their wealth, the Nagles were a Catholic family and were forbidden from going to school. As a result, Nano and her siblings received their education in a secret hiding place among the bushes called a 'Hedge school'. There was always a child on watch for the soldiers and due to the Penal Laws, the teacher could have been killed should the school have been discovered.

The Nagle's had connections in France, so when Nano became a teenager, Nano's parents sent her and her sister Ann to attend school in Paris. As it was against the law, the two girls had to be smuggled across the sea in the hold of a cargo ship. Nano and Ann lived in Paris for 16 years, received a Catholic education and lived the life of well-to-do young women in French society. They attended lots of parties, wore all the latest fashion; due to the affluence of their parents, money was never an issue and they were never left wanting.

In the early hours of one morning, Nano was on her way home from a ball in Paris. She peered out of the carriage window to see a group of poor people standing outside a Church, shivering, cold and waiting for food. Nano was so deeply impacted by what she saw, she cried for hours on end. At that point, she realised that she had so much, and those people had so little. Whilst Nano continued to live an extravagant life in Paris for a further six years, her memory of those people was indelible in her heart and mind.

After their father's death, Nano, aged 28, and Ann, returned to Dublin to live with their mother. In those days, Dublin was a very poor city and Nano pitied all the barefoot children. However, she didn't think she could do anything about it. One day she searched in the cupboard at home for a piece of expensive material which she had brought back from Paris, but she couldn't find it. Nano discovered that Ann had cut up the material to make clothes for the poor and was angry. She also found out that Ann used to visit the poor and Nano started to go with her; she was shocked by the poverty that she witnessed. This was a turning point in Nano's life and she slowly began to understand that God had special work in store for her. He wanted Nano to give the poor a future.

After the death of her mother and her sister Ann, Nano returned to live with her brother in Ballygriffin. However, confronted with the misery, poverty and hopelessness of the Irish people, she went to France and entered a Benedictine convent at Ypres to pray for them. After a short time, with the help of a spiritual director, Nano realised that her vocation was to return to Ireland to address the injustice of the Penal Laws by educating poor Irish children and caring for those who were the most poor and oppressed. At this stage, the force of her belief in the path that God had laid out for her was weaving a pattern out of all that seemed uncertain.

Nano went to Cork where her brother Joseph lived. In 1754, at the age of 36, she began her first school for 30 poor children in Cove Lane, Cork City, in defiance of the Penal Laws and in complete secrecy. When her brother Joseph eventually found out what she was doing, he was fearful that the whole family would face recriminations. On the advice of his wife, he took the risk and supported Nano in her venture. Nano calmed his fears saying that God would keep them safe. Hence, Joseph began to help her in her work and a wealthy uncle, also called Joseph, gave money to her schools. Within a year she had 200 students. Within 15 years, she had 7 schools in Cork.

For Nano, schools were a primary way of addressing the root causes of poverty and the systemic injustice of the Penal Laws. Education gave children a sense of their own dignity as well as practical skills and knowledge to earn a living, rise out of poverty and make their way in society. She also ensured that they had a sound religious education. As Nano herself said, schools were not her only object. In the evenings after school, Nano visited the poor, the sick and the lonely carrying a lantern to find the way through the dark and dangerous streets of Cork. She went from hovel to hovel, providing poor people with the necessities of life and bringing them consolation with a cheerful manner. Her other "lantern works" included visiting those who were sick, elderly, imprisoned and destitute. As a result of her good deeds, she became known as the "Lady of the Lantern".

Nano used her own wealth, much of it inherited from her uncle Joseph's estate, to support her many good works, and when this ran out, she begged on the streets. Nano's ongoing concern was to provide a solid financial and organisational structure for her schools and other "lantern" works so that they would continue after she was gone. She brought a religious congregation, the Ursulines, from France thinking that they could teach in her schools, but their rules and traditions did not allow them to give preference to those who were poor as a top priority nor to walk the streets to engage in Nano's other good work.

In January 1775, at the age of 56, Nano invited two young women who assisted her in the schools to join her as the first members of her own religious order. Another young woman joined them later. Nano's dream was to have a group of women who would be dedicated to the education of those who were poor and destitute and to other "lantern works" that would challenge the unjust social and political structures that made and kept people poor.

Nano's tireless work in her schools across the city and for the poor of Cork could never have been done if she were a sister in an enclosed order, as the Ursuline sisters were. Therefore, on Christmas Eve 1775, Nano's own congregation of sisters was established – the Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She and three followers promised poverty, chastity and obedience to God until death, but they did not take enclosure and continued to teach and care for the poverty stricken where they lived. When in 1805 the Order was approved by Rome, the name of the congregation was changed to "The Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary".

Nano Nagle died on April 26, 1784. Her last words to the small group of sisters at her bedside were "Love one another as you have hitherto done. Spend yourselves for the poor."

The Hibernian Chronicle announced Nano's death to the people of Cork: 

Last Wednesday the indisposition of Miss Nagle was announced in the sorrowing faces of the Poor of this city to whom she was the best of benefactors and patronesses. She died about noon this day, and truly indescribable is the universal lamentation for the departure of this lady who for many years was the object of unexampled admiration and unlimited esteem of all ranks of people.

Nano's congregation spread throughout Ireland and throughout the world and Nano's mission continues to this day. There are Presentation Sisters and Presentation people on five continents. The first mission outside of Ireland was to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1833 and the first Presentation mission to Australia was to Hobart in 1866. The fruit of Nano's search for union with God, her choice of education as a vehicle of liberation for the vulnerable and the powerless, and her compassionate love for those in any kind of need found itself mirrored in the lives of Sisters and their companions down through the years and across five continents since the founding of her Congregation in 1775.

In 2003, Nano Nagle was declared the 'greatest Irish person of all time' and in 2013, Nano Nagle was declared Venerable by His Holiness, Pope Francis. This announcement brings the canonization of Nano Nagle one step closer as it is the second of four stages in the Canonisation Process.

Nano Nagle became a champion of the poor, of the right to education and religious freedom. Nano's dream was that, like Jesus, all people would have equal opportunity to engage in the banquet of life. The ministry of Nano Nagle reveals a woman committed to God's mission. Her style of service was profoundly relational, inclusive and radical. Her action was a living witness to the Gospel of Jesus and a realisation of the Kingdom of God in her time and place. As Sister Raphael Consedine PBVM described, she took the road less travelled: 'In the face of fear, she chose to be daring. In the face of anxiety, she chose to trust. In the face of impossibility, she chose to begin'.

Relevant Websites:

Adapted from Sources:

  • Presentation Society Website
  • Yvonne Crotty Journal Article
  • Nano Nagle Place website
  • NEAA Module 1: Nano's Story
  • NEAA Module 2: Presentation Spirituality
  • NEAA Module 3: Presentation Charism
  • (Union Congregation Leadership Team)
  • Ian Anthony (photos)

Early Model of Iona's Nano Statue

Early Model of Iona's Nano Statue 2

Nano Nagle, Ballygriffin, Ireland

Nano Nagle