The Presentation Sisters in Cahersiveen 1840-2012

The late Cardinal O’Fiaich described what Nano Nagle started as “a star shining in the darkness of poverty and ignorance.”

The Presentation Order was founded by Nano Nagle (1718-1784), a farmer’s daughter, from North Cork. Most Catholics were illiterate as the Penal Laws discriminated against Catholics and denied them an education. Nano attended a local hedge school and like other better-off Catholics, including the O’Connells, she went to a convent in France to complete her education (made easier by having relations living there). On returning from France, she lived with an uncle in Cork City where poverty was widespread. She visited the poorest parts of the city trying to help and she became known as ‘The Lady with the Lanter’ because she used a lantern to help find her way around Cork’s back streets and lanes at night. Seeing the lack of education for young people she set up her first school in Cork City in 1754. Killarney opened in 1793 followed by Dingle in 1829 and Milltown in 1838.

On the invitation of Daniel O’Connell, The Liberator, four Sisters travelled from Dingle by horse and cart, staying overnight in Milltown at Teach Na Toirbhirte and arriving in Cahersiveen on October 25th, 1840. The Sister in charge was Sr. Joseph Mahoney, a native of Cahersiveen and a relation of O’Connell. O’Connell provided the site for the new school and within a few weeks of the school opening, he visited on 9th November. He was greatly impressed by the standard of the work and the already large number of 458 pupils in attendance.

According to the Ordinance Survey of 1842, the population of Cahersiveen both urban and rural, was 6,315. Most people lived in dire poverty in one-roomed windowless cabins. During the famine that was to follow, the Sisters provided soup and bread for the starving people as well as teaching the children. In 1850, Cholera hit the area and many died including a young nun of just 23 years, Sr. M. Joseph Feely. The Lace School set up by the Sisters in 1854, gave employment to large numbers of girls and women and lasted into the 1920s.The closure of the Lace School led to the opening of the Secondary Top in 1933 followed by the St.John Bosco Secondary School in 1943.

Many individuals scattered throughout the world and many local families owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Presentation Sisters for the excellent work carried out in both schools.

The late Sr. de Lourdes Stack in her book ‘Thar Balla Isteach’, published in the late 1970s, gives a detailed account of the unselfish dedicated lives of the Sisters in Cahersiveen in the first 75 years of the twentieth century. An English version of her autobiography translated as ‘As We Lived It’ was issued a few years later. Search Antiquarian Book Sites for this book…..

Throughout the years the Sisters were involved in all aspects of the lives of the people in the wider community. The influence of the Presentation Sisters will be felt in Cahersiveen for many years to come through the good work of St. Joseph’s Primary School and Coláiste Na Sceilge.

In 2000, Nano Nagle was voted Irish Woman of the Millenium in recognition of her importance as a pioneer of female education. She inspired Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers to bring education to the poor. The Presentation Order can now be found in 23 countries worldwide.

On the 31st October 2013, Pope Francis declared Nano Nagle, Venerable.

Photos from the Farewell Party given to the last remaining nuns in Cahersiveen in 2012. Greatly loved and now sorely missed by our community……

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