This year sees the tercentenary of Nano Nagle, the woman who founded the Presentation Sisters. Presentation Secondary School, Loughboy, has been marking the occasion with a number of events. Venerable Nano Nagle was born in Cork in 1718 to a wealthy family during the time of the Penal Laws in Ireland, but instead of embracing this wealth, she chose to dedicate her life to educating the poor in defiance of these laws. She was known as “The Lady with the Lantern”, as she was often seen traversing the streets of Cork with her lantern as she tended to those who were living in deprivation at the time. When she opened her first school in 1754, there were only 30 students. Today, there are Presentation orders in over 20 countries around the world. Indeed, Nano was voted “Irish Woman of the Millennium” in recognition of her importance as a pioneer of female education in Ireland, and was chosen as “Ireland’s Greatest Woman” in an RTÉ poll in 2005. The Presentation Sisters came to Kilkenny in 1800, and ever since, both Presentation Primary and Secondary Schools in Kilkenny have been inspired by Nano Nagle’s legacy, seeking to ensure that the students are enabled to reach their full potential - academic, spiritual, physical, social, cultural and creative - encouraging them to face life with optimism, self-confidence and an appreciation of excellence at all levels.
It is only fitting, therefore, that Presentation Loughboy set about marking Nano Nagle’s 300th birthday by compiling the various values and talents of its students, so that all who visit the school may reflect on the work that happens there every day. This was done through the creation of a specially commissioned mural, which is now proudly on display in the front hallway of the school. The art students of the school, guided by their teacher, Anna Walshe, were asked to create drawings of what they associate with the school and the wider community of Kilkenny. They also created drawings marking the progression of women’s rights since the birth of Nano, and indeed the development of human rights and equality as a whole in our world. These drawings, set around the Presentation Congregation Cross as the centrepiece, let to the creation of a spectacular piece of art. Caroline Conway, an artist from Birr, Co. Offaly, took the students’ drawings and created the stunning mural, which includes depictions of the suffragette movement, sport, the Presentation Sisters, landmarks of Kilkenny, music and human rights, to name but a few. It truly is a very appropriate way to mark the legacy left behind by Venerable Nano Nagle.
Of course, Presentation Secondary School Kilkenny is but one of many Presentation schools around the country, and so it was important to the school that the tercentenary year was celebrated alongside its fellow Presentation schools. A basketball tournament was held in the Watershed, organised by the basketball coaches of Presentation Kilkenny- Emma Brophy, Catherine Power and Sandra Campion. They were joined by basketball teams from the Presentation schools of Waterford, Ballingarry, Thurles and Clonmel. Theresa Walsh, the President of Basketball Ireland, presented the medals to the winning teams of the shield and the cup finals- which, as it happens, were both won by Presentation Kilkenny! Further to that, the shooting knock-out competition was won by Gemma Lawlor of Presentation Kilkenny, and so it was a very successful day for the home side, in particular. However, all who attended agreed that it was a wonderful day of camaraderie, sport and fun between all of the schools, and a fantastic way of joining together in celebration of the “Nano 300” year.
The 21st of November each year is a very special date in the calendar for Presentation schools, as it is on this date that “Presentation Day” is celebrated throughout the world. Each year, Presentation Loughboy celebrates this with a mass held in the school, and the story and works of Nano Nagle are remembered. However, this year, it was felt that it was important to mark Nano Nagle’s tercentenary in a special way, and so on 21st November last, the Presentation Primary and Secondary schools joined together and held a celebratory mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral, led by Bishop Dermot Farrell, Bishop of Ossory, who was joined by Fr. Richard Scriven, Administrator at St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Fr. Dan Carroll, chaplain to Presentation Secondary School. Prior to the mass, a huge amount of work went on between the schools, including preparing the choir (under the direction of Ms. Patrice Davern) the readers and those who brought up gifts. It must be said that the teachers and management of the schools are due great praise for their time and effort in coordinating the event. It was a fantastic celebration of what it means to be a member of the Presentation community. The cathedral was packed to capacity, not only with the staff and students of the schools, but with retired members of staff, and of course, with the very special guests- the Sisters of the Presentation Order.
The mass was opened by Maria Kelly, former principal of Presentation Primary School and current Chairperson of the Board of Management of Presentation Secondary School. At the end of the mass, Irene Deasy and Shane Hallahan, principals of the primary and secondary schools respectively, spoke to the congregation, and in particular thanked the students for their participation and most especially, the Presentation Sisters for all of their work and dedication to the young people of Kilkenny. They were joined on the day also by Sr. Margarita Ryan, former principal of the secondary school and now Provincial Leader of the Presentation Sisters, and Dr. Marie Griffin, CEO of CEIST (Catholic Education, an Irish Schools’ Trust), who are the trustees of Presentation schools. It was a wonderful gathering of so many people who have been shaped, influenced and formed by Presentation Kilkenny, and in turn, have shaped, influenced and formed Presentation Kilkenny itself.
Nano Nagle once said: "I can assure you my schools are beginning to be of service to a great many parts of the world... I often think they will not bring me to heaven as I only take delight and pleasure in them." On her 300th birthday, let us hope that Nano continues to take delight and pleasure in the work that remains ongoing in her schools, here in Kilkenny and beyond. Happy birthday, Nano!