Forgotten nun back to hold up her corner


An Irish nun who had been virtually air-brushed out of history has now "achieved the recognition she deserves" (in the words of one of her fervent supporters) with the unveiling of a large bronze plaque near her birthplace in the centre of Dublin.

Margaret Anna Cusack, known as the Nun of Kenmare, was born in a house at the corner of York Street and Mercer Street in 1829, now renamed Cusack Corner. She died in 1899, having published 100 books of biography, history, poetry, music and social reform.

Although she was honoured by Pope Leo XIII for setting up the Famine Relief Fund in 1879, she later fell out of favour with the Vatican because of her work for women's liberation, and it ordered that her name be "effaced" as founder of the Order of St Joseph of Peace.

Born an Anglican, this formidable woman became a Roman Catholic in 1858 and joined the Poor Clares, founding a convent in Kenmare, Co Kerry. She spent most of her time there writing biographies of saints and uncompromisingly nationalistic studies of Irish history.

After a row with the Bishop of Kerry, she went to Knock, Co Mayo, but was unable to complete her work there because of continuing conflict with the Irish Hierarchy. She went to England in 1883 and founded her own order, the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace.

Despite ill-health, she set out in 1884 for the United States where her reputation as a "rebel nun" had preceded her. Shunned by the Catholic Archbishop of New York, she found a welcome in New Jersey.

Margaret Anna Cusack, now Mother Mary Francis Clare, eventually returned to England and her Anglican beliefs. She spent the last 10 years of her life lecturing and writing. But it was not until the late 1960s that the Vatican reinstated her as the founder of her order.