Digitising Cultural Heritage
Originally built for the Ursuline Sisters in 1771, with a number of upgrades over the subsequent decade, the Presentation Sisters took over the convent in 1825 when the Ursuline Sisters moved to Blackrock. In the last few years Nano Nagle Place has been preserved and maintained as a cultural heritage centre, opening to the public only a year ago.
Nano Nagle came from a wealthy family but was inspired to create a school for disadvantaged Catholic girls in 1750, which at the time was totally prohibited by the ruling Protestant elite. At great risk to herself of three months’ imprisonment, she created the ‘The Society for Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart’ in 1775 (later to become the Presentation Order) and began to educate poor children of Cork. Although she started teaching girls, boys would be educated a few years later. Catholics were denied basic human rights, and could not own land or have education.
As a cultural heritage centre, Nano Nagle Place is allowed charitable concessions. On arrival I did not see any admission kiosk or turnstile. There was a donations box – mostly containing US dollars. I wondered how the place gained its revenue. The first bookshop was very interesting, and I wish I had spent a little more time there browsing.
A few of us had arrived early and preceded up the stairs and wandered around the gardens. These were extremely tranquil and calm, with an excellent view of the city. A virtual tour of these gardens probably would not have captured the sense of peacefulness and the gentle rustling of trees, and the flowing of water installations and fountains.
We moved down to the graveyard to see the tomb of Honora ‘Nano’ Nagle. I was surprised to see a coffin in a glass case. I also noted the ages of the nuns buried there – many were over 80 years old when they passed away – a sign of a clean and pious life perhaps.
After spending about half an hour in the gardens, we moved to the Heritage Experience indoors. Firstly there was a wall with visual representations of details and images of the story of the Penal Laws and Nano Nagle’s efforts to start a school, which although only about five minutes long, was fascinating and informative. There were touchscreens and notices on the opposite wall, all adding to the content.
Next we went into the Chapel, which although now de-consecrated, still held its religious atmosphere. Personally, I am not sure touchscreens here were necessary – it almost seemed sacrilegious. One of our group pointed out the peeling paintwork on the ceiling, and how this had not been addressed when so much had been spent on technology instead. This is a valid observation. Also I did not know the Chapel is used for events such as concerts, talks, and art exhibitions.
We then entered what I believe is known as ‘Miss Nagle’s Parlour’ where a television showed a documentary from the 1960’s of a young girl entering a convent for the first time. I would have liked to see this in full but time did not permit.
One thing I thought was missing – and perhaps work is underway to create it – but it would have been interesting to see a reconstructed classroom as it would have been in the late 1700’s (behind a bakery maybe?). I can imagine the wooden desks (with inkwells) and rigid small wooden chairs for the children, a blackboard with chalk and duster. The floors would be wooden also, perhaps with thresh or straw, and there would be limited light without windows.
Other benefits of the visit included the chance for us as a group of students to mingle and communicate, and I believe it is important to see cultural heritage in the real world, and not just in books or on videos. Although not a new idea, the use of multimedia in this cultural experience was prominent, and I am sure it is adopted by many galleries and museums. The architecture of the whole complex was also compelling – especially the stained-glass windows. The staff in both bookshops were helpful and accommodating. One of them is an ex-student of mine!
I would really have liked to seen the Archives, although I understand this has to be pre-arranged with the curator. Perhaps the Nano Nagle website could digitally transcribe some of the material for all to see.
In conclusion, I found the visit to Nano Nagle Place very interesting and informative. I have always been fascinated by ‘hidden history’ as I am sure the Penal Laws are not well-known, and the poverty and oppression that the Catholics endured at the time. The history of Cork also interests me, and I have collected many photos and prints of vintage Cork. As I mentioned, I did not even know that Nano Nagle Place existed until now. I will surely return there soon.
An Interesting Short Slideshow about Nano Nagle (not from either website)