“There is no greater happiness than to be in union.”

Day 5

Ballygriffin and Cork

We set out through the fog to Ballygriffin, the birthplace of Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Sisters. This part of our journey is only 300 years old so it feels much more ‘real’ in an odd way. I love history so much and the further back the better. It was sad to move on from the deep Celtic spirituality we have immersed ourselves in but I was also excited to be learning about Nano whom we have welcomed in my Brigidine school (Marian College Sunshine West) but am still unsure of. I want to get to know her the way I have got to know Brigid over the last 10 years.

The place to start was at the Nano Nagle Centre in Ballygriffin. This was her birthplace and ancestral lands, though only the stables, gate and and a stile remain. We were welcomed so warmly by the Sisters that it is easy to see why Kildare Ministries chose the Brigidine and Presentation Sisters to come together.

Nano Nagle’s life story is a simple one of a young girl from a very privileged background becoming aware of a great need in her city and deciding to do something about it. She knew that education was a great equalizer and would help lift people out of poverty. She started with the children and to this day Presentation Sisters run schools all over the world. 

“Nano (full name Honora) Nagle was born in Ballygriffin, County Cork, Ireland in 1718. This was the period in Irish history when the English had imposed the oppressive Penal Laws, which severely limited the Irish people. The Irish were denied access economically, politically, socially, and educationally to the rights and means that would have raised them from the imposed poverty and oppression. It was a crime of treason (punishable by death) to educate the Irish and it was forbidden to practice the Roman Catholic faith.
Because of her family’s position and wealth, Nano was sent to be educated in the Irish community then living in Paris. According to Sister Rose Forest, PBVM, one biographer of Nano, her “stay in the midst of Irish Parisian society was brief, but during this time an incident took place which has become a classic episode in the Presentation story. One morning the charming, wealthy, and beautiful Miss Nagle…was returning from an all-night ball. As her carriage rattled over the cobblestones of a silent street, she saw a small group of poor working people waiting in front a church…for the door to open for early Mass. The contrast between their useful lives and her own empty one devoted to pleasure made a lasting impression on the girl of twenty-two”.

Returning to Ireland, other events lead Nano to consider a way that she could help the poor she saw every day in Cork and on the family estate. Distressed by the ignorance of the Irish in both faith and academics, she opened her first school in 1754 with an enrolment of thirty-five girls in a two-room cabin. These began her great work of education and as some historians have noted her important work in saving the Irish culture.

Without regard for her own safety, she selflessly educated the children during the day and visited and nursed the sick by night. As a result, she became known in Cork as the Lady with the Lantern, the symbol of the Sisters of the Presentation worldwide. Today the people of Ireland, especially in Cork, who attribute their freedom to her, revere her.

Eventually, realizing the need for a group to continue her work after her death, Nano founded the Sisters of the Presentation on December 24, 1775.

Nano died from tuberculosis, Monday, April 26, 1784. According to Sister Rose’s account, “On her deathbed Mother Nagle gave to her daughters the following injunction: ‘Love one another as you have hitherto done.’ As her legacy she bequeathed to them the treasure which she prized above all the wealth of the earth – the love of the poor of Jesus Christ. She bade her Sisters ‘Spend yourself for the poor.’”

In the years since Nano’s death, the Sisters of the Presentation have carried her spirit around the world in a variety of ministries.” 

The Cosmic Walk

The Centre has an ecological focus and provides a wonderful contemplative walk through 16 stations of Creation and human history that enriches the Genesis creation account.

Station 1

Birth of universe – whole of creation born. The Ingredients of the making of the universe were all present at Big Bang. 

Station 2
Birth of the first generation of stars. They died and spread Star dust all over. Gravity formed that into big lumps – solar system 

Station 3
Formation of solar system

Station 4

Land sea air- Rain required for life

Station 5 


Station 6 

First rock. The one here is fromCounty Mayo

Station 7

Multi cell creatures

Station 8

Fish- Gills – breathing

Station 9

Amphibians – First major group of land creatures

Station 10


Station 11

Extinction of dinosaurs

Birds Mammals

Station 12
The story of Humans begins 

Station 13

Hunter gatherers and Nomadic people

Station 14

Farmers and settlers – Agricultural society 

“This is mine” attitude 

Station 15

Cultures, Kingdoms and divisions . Separation from each other – becoming groups different from each other.

Station 16

Jesus enters in to the story to show us how to live together with all of life. Oneness with the one and one another. 

We gathered for lunch and then explored the grounds, gardens, animals and river walk.

Hey Cow!

The Blackwater River

I love a good bridge!

We said a heartfelt farewell to the sisters and continued our journey.

Mass Rock

How to put in words the profound shared experience of this place?
Even in the darkest times, darkest places and darkest hearts, the light of the Spirit can enter and illuminate. 🔥 What a profound experience we had here in the place where Catholics risked their lives to gather and celebrate mass when Catholicism was against the law. I learned so much.  

We gathered for a liturgy and communion led by   Bernadette, Paul and Linda. This time was beautifully done, each of them contributing so much of themselves in true servanthood. I want to thank them so much for this time in the woods.

Then we moved into some quiet time.

I had the strongest urge to kneel before the cross on the hillside and touch the rocks that the persecuted Catholics had touched in reverence and worship hundreds of years ago. I prayed for all those who practice their faith in places of darkness and asked God to continue to give them light.

The beautiful penal rosary Linda made by hand and infused with prayers

It was such a beautiful place. I will remember this for a very long time.

Our journey continued to The DominicanRetreat Centre  where we are staying the next two nights. Tomorrow we will walk in Nano’s footsteps through the city of Cork. 

And Happy Birthday to the beautiful Gabrielle!

3 thoughts on ““There is no greater happiness than to be in union.”

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