Nano (Honora) Nagle was born in 1718 in the townland of Ballygriffin, near the village of Killavullen, in the beautiful valley of the Blackwater in County Cork. Her parents, Ann and Garret Nagle, were relatively wealthy Catholic landowners.

Ireland at that time was in the grip of Penal Laws which denied Catholics the right to property, to education, to entry into the professions – even the right to own a horse! It is not surprising that some branches of the Nagle family had embraced the Protestant faith in order to escape the rigour of the Penal Laws and to secure succession rights for their children and descendants. So Nano grew up knowing that many of her closest relatives were adherents of the established Protestant faith. Others had been forced to emigrate. Two uncles on her father’s side lived in Bath, England. Many of her cousins had made their homes in France and elsewhere on the European mainland.

From what is known of Nano’s childhood, it seems to have been happy and carefree. By the standards of the day it was privileged. She and her siblings received a basic education at home and in a nearby hedge-school. At age ten she was sent to a Benedictine convent school in Ypres, Flanders (then French territory) where the Nagle family had many relatives. On leaving there at age sixteen she continued her education in Paris, moving in courtly circles there – ‘creating a stir’ as a charming debutante with a wonderful singing voice. Rumour had it that she was destined to marry one Prince Charming from the Royal Court of Louis XV at Versailles. Wealthy, beautiful and talented, with all the right connections at court, Nano immersed herself in the social scene in Paris. She tells us in one of her letters that ‘she could have stayed there forever’.


An event occurred, when Nano was in her early twenties, which was to change the course of her life. One morning, returning in her carriage from an all-night ball, she saw a group of poor people waiting at a church door for early morning Mass. It was a turning point. The contrast between her life and that of the poor, whose riches were of another kind, left a lasting impression on her. She resolved to take action. Returning to Ireland and defying the Penal Laws, she secretly set up a cabin-school in Cork’s Cove Lane (now Douglas Street), initially enrolling a class of thirty-five girls. From there the project grew. Soon she had schools in other parts of Cork city. She employed teachers at her own expense to teach basic literacy and life-skills, while she travelled each day on foot to teach the catechism and to prepare her pupils for the sacraments. At night she would visit the poor in their homes, travelling the unlit lanes and dangerous, unprotected quays, offering what help she could. Her biographer tells us that ‘there was not a garret in Cork that she did not know’. Nano became affectionately known in the city as ‘The Lady of the Lantern’.

On Christmas Eve 1775, after much trial and searching, she established the Sisters of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart, later to be known as Presentation Sisters, to continue ‘the work of God’ she had begun. On the 26 April 1784, Nano died of tuberculosis. Her message to the Sisters gathered around her as she lay dying was ‘Love one another as you have hitherto done’.


Anyone who has ever visited the lovely city of Bath in Somerset could scarcely have missed the Sally Lunn Bakery and Tea Rooms at No 4, North Parade, quite close to the site of the ancient Roman Baths and The Royal Crescent. The bakery is said to be built on part of the ruins of Bath Abbey, and is advertised today as Bath’s oldest building still in use. The Sally Lunn Tea Rooms are famous for a special type of confectionery – a light, slightly sweet brioche-type bread, with a long history dating back to 1680.

Read more about Connections with Bath here