Voted 'Irish Woman of the Millennium' and 'Ireland's Greatest Woman' respectively, Nano Nagle is undoubtedly one of the most pioneering figures in Ireland's history.
The 'Lady with the Lantern' as she was also known, founded the Presentation Sisters in 1775 and inspired Edmund Ignatius Rice to found the Christian Brothers. In 2013, she was declared venerable by Pope Francis.
'A Dream Unfolds' recounts the true story of Nano Nagle. The book begins during Nano's childhood in the early 18th century, a time when the rights of Irish Catholics were severely curtailed by the Penal Laws. We see the covert and sometimes dangerous lengths to which Nano's parents go so that their children could receive an education. We also meet the young Nano, who is not overly studious but whose spirit, courage and interest in the world around her already shine through. Nano journeys to France in order to attend school, and upon the completion of her studies she is temporarily bewitched by the glamour and material pleasures of life in Paris. However, coming home from a ball one night a chance glimpse of the poor and destitute on the city streets has a profound effect on the young girl, and alters her life forever.
Following her return to Cork, Nano's awareness of the spiritual and material poverty of her people deepens. After some internal struggle Nano decides to enter a French convent, only to realise that her true calling is to help the disadvantaged in her native city. Here, Nano defied the social, economic and religious sanctions of the time by educating poor Catholic children, teaching them trades and improving their living conditions. Later she extended the scope of her help to include other marginalised groups such as prostitutes, prisoners and the elderly. A desire that her work be continued after her death prompted Nano to bring the Ursuline Sisters to Cork. Eventually, though, Nano decided that her legacy could only be preserved by establishing her own religious order, and she set about doing so with the help and support of her friends and family, members of the clergy and local tradespeople. Throughout her life, Nano's goals were hindered by numerous setbacks and personal tragedies, yet her determination to help the most vulnerable people in her society never wavered.
A Dream Unfolds is a moving testimony to Nano Nagle's life's work. Not only does it pay tribute to her many achievements, it also creates a portrait of her that is immensely relatable. Nano is depicted as warm and loving, someone with great wit and a wry sense of humour who is capable of being obstinate and forceful when the occasion calls for it. Alongside this humanity, however, are the qualities that make her such a remarkable and trailblazing figure in Irish history: her strength, audaciousness, prudence, compassion, persistence and, above all, her unshakeable conviction that God would bring her dream to fruition.
A Dream Unfolds - The Story of Nano Nagle by Noela Fox, is published by Columba Press, priced €9.99 and available from www.columba.ie as well as all good bookshops. All royalties will be donated to charity.
The book was launched in Ireland on Tuesday, in the Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, Co. Cork.
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