The Nativity in Stained Glass

Dear Readers – we know you aren’t all on Facebook, so this is for those of you who follow us on WordPress or other platforms. On our Facebook page, we’ve been running a series on The Nativity in Stained Glass in the lead up to Christmas, so here, in one post, are those photographs and text. All the windows are Irish and 20th century. Merry Christmas to you all!

This one is by George Walsh and it’s in Frankfield Grange Catholic Church in Cork. This scene is part of a larger window, the main scene depicting the Annunciation. More about George Walsh here.

Kevin Kelly was a long-time stained glass artist for Abbey Studios. He loved doing Nativity windows. This one is in Inchigeelagh, Co Cork and featured on a UNICEF Christmas Card. It’s worth taking a look at the detail – amazing for what’s quite a small window.

Our next Nativity in Stained Glass comes from St Carthage Catholic Church in Lismore and is the work of Watson’s of Youghal. While the figures are conventional, the ‘Celtic Revival’ decoration lifts this window far above the ordinary. Read more about Watsons and their mastery of this form, popular among Irish nationalists at the turn of the 20th century.

This beautiful Nativity window is in Mayfield, Cork, in the Church of Our Lady Crowned. The Murphy-Devitt Studios were a group of young, dedicated artist and designers, determined to bring something new to traditional stained glass. We think they succeeded magnificently.

This scene of the visit of the Magi is in Kilcoe Church of the Holy Rosary and is the work of Catherine O’Brien, the artist who worked longest in An Túr Gloine, the Arts and Crafts Stained Glass Co-operative founded by Sarah Purser and Edward Martyn to promote home-grown arts and craft in Ireland. This is a re-working of a previous window by O’Brien, proving that even Arts and Crafts practitioners were not above re-cycling.

What does the Hill of Tara have to do with the Nativity?  In the Catholic Cathedral in Killarney are a whole set of windows that draw parallels between biblical scenes and Irish saints – all part of the push-pull between the Rome-centric internationalisation of the Irish church versus the desire of Irish congregations and clergy to see their own Irish and local saints depicted in their stained glass windows. In this case, the Nativity of Jesus is compared to the birth of Christianity in Ireland when St Patrick lit the Pascal Fire on the Hill of Slane (although the window says Tara, the story is that the high king saw the fire from the Hill of Tara). The windows are by Hardman, before they became Earleys.

The Dominican Convent in Wicklow town has a gorgeous series of windows – the Mysteries of the Rosary. They were done in the Harry Clarke Studios in 1938, several years after Harry’s death, but his influence is very evident. They were mostly designed and painted by William Dowling, but with much input from Richard King. To see if you know the difference between Harry Clarke and Harry Clarke Studios windows, take the quiz, or just cheat and go straight to the answers.

Patrick Pollen, although he grew up in England, made his stained glass career in Ireland. Having been bowled over by Evie Hone’s Eton windows he came to Dublin to work with her. Hone’s influence is readily apparent in these two panels, which form the predella (lowest section) of a window in St Michael’s church in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, dating to 1957. I haven’t written about Pollan (yet) but you can read about Evie Hone here.

We’ve kept the best for last – the genius that is Harry Clarke. This is his Nativity Window, done in 1919 for Edith Somerville and her family, for the C of I Church of St Barrahane in Castletownshend, Co Cork. Lots more about Harry Clarke, Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist.

14 thoughts

  1. Dear Finola Thank you so much for that wonderful post in ‘Roaringwater Journal’ on the Nativity scenes in stained glass.  It was a real treat to view it on Christmas Day.  I’m a great admirer of your and Robert’s contributions to the Journal, and I feel like I’m beginning to know West Cork really well. I fell in love with West Cork when my wife and I stayed in the hotel at Gougane Barra on our honeymoon fifty six years ago.  I have been back several times since, most memorably when two of my friends and I  stayed for a week in the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry, courtesy of RTE, as a result of a quiz competition we had won.  I have fond memories of visiting Schull and Mizzen Head, and playing golf at Bantry, Barleycove and Glengariff.  You live in a beautiful part of Ireland and I always look forward to your posts. I believe you know David Caron, whom I have never met, but frequently corresponded with.  He featured in a Radio Ulster programme a few weeks ago and he spoke about his new book, A Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass and also very knowledgeably about how the Nativity is represented in stained glass.  He described in detail a Nativity window in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenarm, which is quite unique in that it was the only window designed by Lady Antrim, featuring several of the local children from the village and also the prize bull from the Castle farm!  Thank you for bringing so much enjoyment and pleasure to this stained glass lover on Christmas Day.  If you or Robert ever visit North Antrim I would be delighted to meet you. Kindest regards Frank Rogers   .

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