This is a topical post, as only this week we heard the news that the Book of Lismore has been donated to University College, Cork to become the centrepiece of the library there. It will be accessible to students and will contribute to the knowledge and study of Gaelic manuscripts dating from the 15th century.
When we think of ancient Irish manuscripts we might visualise the Book of Kells, which is on display in Trinity College, Dublin. It’s remarkable to think that the Book of Lismore is over 500 years old, but that the Kells manuscript predates it by 600 years: it was created around 800AD. Here’s a scribe (from Finola’s window by George Walsh) who could be from any of those medieval periods when monks and lay brothers worked away in their scriptoriums making, copying and illuminating beautiful works which have become our most precious historical documents:
The Book of Lismore is written on vellum, and was compiled for Fínghin Mac Carthaigh, Lord of Carbery (1478–1505) and his wife Caitlín. It became known as Leabhar Mhic Cárthaigh Riabhaigh. It is entirely in Irish. What has really excited us is that, in introducing the installation of the book at Cork, UCC Professor of Modern Irish Pádraig Ó Macháin mentioned our own locality:
[The book] belongs to a period of creativity which was centred on the coastline of Cork. It is difficult to imagine those seats of learning and literature today when you look at the remote rural landscapes . . . In Rossbrin Castle – the O’Mahony stronghold – translations, treatise and journals were being made using contemporary European resources: it was a proto-university in pre-urban Ireland, paralleled by the vibrant poetic tradition of the O’Daly family in nearby Mhuintir Bháire [The Sheep’s Head] . . .
Pádraig Ó Macháin, 2020 (paraphrased)
Rossbrin (above) was only one of many castles occupied by the Gaelic nobility along the coastline here in the 15th century and beyond: this ties in with my post of last week when I explored a 1612 map and identified many centres of occupation and scholarship which surely made West Cork so vibrant and cosmopolitan in earlier times. Books are known to have originated here – including the first to be written in Ireland on paper – and some of them survive to this day.
All the page illustrations in this post come from the Book of Lismore. It has a complex history and is likely to be by many hands. One – Aonghus Ó Callanáin – is certainly identified within its pages, and another – a friar named O’Buagachain is suggested. Tradition has it originating from the lost Book of Monasterboice and associates it with Kilbrittain Castle, Cork – reportedly the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland, dating from as early as 1035 and possibly built by the O’Mahonys – but also with the Franciscan Friary at Timoleague.
Upper – Kilbrittain castle in the present day: the original building is a thousand years old. Lower – the Friary at Timoleague, a foundation attributed to the MacCarthys in 1240, and plundered in the 17th century
The book fell into the hands of Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork, during the Irish civil war in June 1642 and ‘vanished’ until its rediscovery in Lismore Castle in 1814. Apparently it was walled up together with the Lismore Crozier. By then the castle was owned by the Cavendishes, Dukes of Devonshire. It is this family that has donated the book to Cork and the nation, through the Chatsworth Settlement Trust.
Well done to everyone who took part and I hope you enjoyed it. (And it’s not too late – you can always try the Quiz, if you haven’t already done so, before proceeding.) It wasn’t easy. In fact, if I had tried to answer it myself, as opposed to setting it, I don’t think I would have got them all right. That’s important, as it illustrates the very conundrum posed by the question of what is, in fact, a genuine Harry Clarke, designed by him and either at least partially executed by him or executed under his very close supervision, as opposed to a Harry Clarke Studios, that is one done by other artists working in his studio, especially after his death. I hope you remember your answers, as the poll only tells me the percentage of people who answered correctly. OK – here goes.
Saint with Hood 1
Yes: 70% No: 30%
Correct Answer: Yes
In fact it was designed and totally executed by him. It depicts St Fachtna, Patron Saint of Rosscarbery, and is a detail from the 1919 Nativity at St Barrahane’s Church of Ireland in Castletownshend, West Cork. The window was commissioned by Edith Somerville and her siblings in memory of their parents and was one of Harry’s first private commissions after he burst on the scene with his triumphal set of windows for the Honan Chapel at University College, Cork. Harry was still trying to find his feet as a stained glass businessman at this point with the artist in him taking precedence over the need to make money at this. He lavished such care and attention on this window that his father, Joshua Clarke, despaired of their ability to recoup what it was costing. In the end he and Harry had to come to an arrangement whereby Harry paid for workshop time and the use of his father’s glaziers. It was an important lesson in the need to balance his drive as an artist with making a living and led to his taking on assistants and artists to help him with the volume of work. To see the whole window, take a look at my post The Nativity – by Harry Clarke.
Saint with Hood 2
Yes: 33% No: 66%
Correct Answer: No
Two thirds of you knew at once that this is not a Harry Clarke – in fact, it isn’t even a Harry Clarke Studios. This is the head of St Colman from the Honan Chapel, but it is not one of the 11 windows that Harry supplied, but rather one of the windows done by An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), the cooperative studio established by Sarah Purser and Edward Martyn to promote the use of Irish windows by Irish artists. Read more about An Túr Gloine in this post: Loughrea Cathedral and the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement. The St Colman window was the work of A E Child, who mentored many of the Túr Gloine artists and who taught Harry at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.
Yes: 80% No: 20%
Correct Answer: No
Four out of every five of you thought this was a Harry Clarke, but in fact this was the work of one of the Harry Clarke Studios artists, probably in the period immediately following Harry’s death, when there was pressure on them to produce Harry look-alikes. The window, which is very difficult to photograph, is high up in the wall of a transept in St Patrick’s Church in Wicklow Town. I think this is one I would have identified as a Harry Clarke, as it is such a close reproduction of his style.
Yes: 58% No: 42%
Correct Answer: Yes
Yes, this is indeed a Harry Clarke. However, it’s not as straightforward as the Nativity window described in Saint with Hood 1, above, in which every aspect of the project was the work of Harry himself. It’s one of the collection of windows in the Diseart Centre in Dingle, in what was formerly the Presentation Convent. These windows were commissioned in 1924. Nicola Gordon Bowe assigned a status of Harry Clarke (B) to this one, that is ‘initially conceived and designed by him but executed by his Studio under his close supervision’. She wrote:
At the beginning of 1924 Harry Clarke was at the peak of his career, in both stained glass and illustration. However, his health was beginning to deteriorate, among the causes being the extreme pressure of work, the extra responsibility his father’s death had put on him, and the upheaval in his life caused by the reconstruction of the Studios and the conversion of the two extra houses acquired in North Frederick Street. . . He engaged Austin Molloy to help him with cartoons, probably those required for a series of windows illustrating The Life of Christ at the Presentation Convent, Dingle. . . Although the Studios were responsible for most of the work on the Dingle windows. . . this series of six pairs of lancets is notable for some passages either worked or directed by himself. These include the sensitively painted head of the oldest king in the Nativity light. . .
In The Nativity – by Harry Clarke, you can see the whole window and a detail of the three kings. Five years after he had expended such personal concentration on the Castletownshend Nativity, Harry was under so much pressure from incoming orders that he could no longer handle all the work himself. By this time he had employed a small but brilliant contingent of assistants and artists and rigorously trained them to reproduce his style and bring his designs to fruition.
Yes: 38% No: 62%
Correct Answer: No
This is a detail from an enormous Harry Clarke Studios Window in St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford, installed in 1932, after Harry had died. The Cathedral burned down on Christmas Day 2009 but was rebuilt and the windows were wonderfully restored by Abbey Stained Glass Studios for the 2014 re-opening. If you search online for ‘St Mel’s Cathedral stained glass’ most of the results will simply refer, erroneously, to ‘the Harry Clarke windows’. The scene of the Presentation is in the predella (lowest panel) of the St Anne window.
Yes: 53% No: 47%
Correct Answer: No
This depiction of St Augustine is in the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Charleville, Co Cork, which is packed with interesting stained glass, including a series of twelve from Joshua Clarke and Sons erected between 1919 and 1922. Harry was working in his father’s studio at the time, doing his own windows and also assisting with the supervision of work under his father’s imprint. In a letter to Holy Cross, Joshua says, “Harry will look to the new windows and see you get very good ones.” And they are good, but the only one that looks (to me, that is) like Harry took an active hand in it is this one of St Augustine. It has the large expressive eyes, sensitive mouth, compassionate expression and long tapering fingers that we see in the full development of his style. I suspect that’s what those of you who answered Yes were responding to. However, it cannot be called a Harry Clarke, or even a Harry Clarke Studios – instead, it bears the stamp of J Clarke and Sons and remains an interesting question.
Yes: 52% No: 48%
Correct Answer: No
A round window above the altar in Ballydehob Church in West Cork, the style is typical of the period after Harry died and the artists within the Harry Clarke Studios were still basing their windows closely on his designs. While the faces and figures are not convincing, the flow of the ornate garments are an echo of the fantastical and imaginary faux-medieval costumes he loved.
Malachy Meets Bernard
Yes: 48% No: 52%
Correct Answer: Yes
The predella from the right hand light of a three light window, this small scene show St Malachy meeting his mentor, St Bernard. Of the three lights, the St Bernard and St Rita windows are by Harry Clarke and the central light is by William McBride. They date to 1924 and are in the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, Dublin.
Yes: 71% No: 29%
Correct Answer: No
John the Baptist Church in Blackrock, South Co Dublin, is full of interesting stained glass, including an Evie Hone. There are several windows by the Harry Clarke Studios and the St Sebastian is one of them. This is one I would have voted yes to myself, as the faces of the onlooking soldiers are so Harry Clarke.
Scene from Wedding Feast at Cana
Yes: 80% No: 20%
Correct Answer: No
Although officially this is not listed as a Harry Clarke window, you can certainly be forgiven for thinking it is, as everything about it shouts Clarke, including the sheer richness of detail. In fact, this window was one of the last to be worked on on his studio while he was still alive (although mostly absent at a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland) and he did indeed have some input (although we don’t know how much) into the design of parts of the window, including this scene. It is a detail from one of three lights, which together incorporate seven Scenes from theLife of Christ in the Catholic Church in Timoleague, West Cork. The whole window is very fine indeed and I will be writing a future post about it as it is the subject of some excellent research by Clarke scholars, and a good example of the complexities of ascribing the label ‘Harry Clarke’.
Saint with Helmet
Yes: 61% No: 39%
Correct Answer: Yes
No ambiguity here – this is the head of St Adrian from the O’Keefe Memorial Window by Harry Clarke in the Church of the Assumption, Wexford. You can view the full window and read more about this window in my post That He Might Better Rest. Harry designed and executed this window in 1918/19 having first travelled to Wexford to meet with the fallen soldier’s grieving mother.
Yes: 56% No: 44%
Correct Answer: Yes
I might have been tempted to say no to this one as I find it ultra-conventional, but it is indeed a Harry Clarke, designed by him and executed under his supervision. It is one of two windows in a small country Church in Duhill, Co Tipperary. The other window is a startling contrast to the piousness of this one but I will leave that discussion for another day.
Patrick at Slane
Yes: 34% No: 66%
Correct Answer: No
Good eye! This image is a detail from the huge Patrick window in the Church of Sts Peter and Paul in Athlone and it’s by Richard King, done in the Harry Clarke Studios in 1937 several years after Harry died. It’s unusual for any HC Studios window to be signed – that’s part of the difficult of identifying which of the Studios artists worked on their windows – but in this case we do know that Richard King made several of the Athlone windows. Read more about those windows in my post Discovering Richard King, where you will also find a link to images of all the Athlone windows.
Brendan the Navigator
Yes: 68% No: 32%
Correct Answer: Yes
This is the head of Brendan the Navigator from the Honan Chapel series which propelled Harry Clarke into the forefront of Irish design when they were installed in 1916.
So – how did you do? Want to argue about any of the answers?
A stained glass window can be labelled a Harry Clarke if it was designed and executed entirely by him, if it was designed and partially executed by him, or if it was designed by him and the execution done under his close supervision. The portrait above was done by his wife, Margaret Crilly Clarke, in 1914 when Harry was only 25 and not yet plagued by the consumption that was to carry him off in 1931 at only 41 years of age. For the last few years of his life, Harry was increasingly hampered by illness, and also busy with illustration work. He employed a very talented group of artists to execute windows of his design and trained them rigorously to reproduce his unique style, for which there was a huge demand. After his death, those same artists continued to work in the Harry Clarke Studios and to produce windows in that style because that’s what people wanted, and so it can be difficult to know whether a window is a true Harry Clarke or a Harry Clarke Studios. For some windows, only research in the extensive Studios archives (housed at Trinity College) can establish the answer for certain. There are excellent reasons to be proud of many Studios windows, and it shortchanges the outstanding artists who worked on them if we keep insisting that everything was done by Harry himself. I want to explore this topic further, but I’d like to start off with a quiz to see if we’re as good as we think we are at recognising a Harry Clarke from a non-Harry Clarke. So polish up your glasses and take the quiz! Answer YES if you think this is a Harry Clarke (according to my definition) and NO if you believe it is not. I might even have thrown in the odd image that is neither Harry Clarke nor Harry Clarke Studios. Answers next Sunday.
In 1973 and 1974 the artist and writer, Brian Lalor, made a series of drawings of Cork, his native city. These drawings were published by the Gallery Press in 1977, along with poems by the Cork poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, in a book simply titled Cork. Both poet and artist/writer were already established and both have gone on to forge distinguished careers in Irish art and literature.
I have owned a copy of this book since 1978 – a birthday gift from my mother. Knowing of my love for the city of Cork, my home for seven years, she mailed it to me in Canada. I have cherished it ever since. The copy she posted to me was signed by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. This year, seated in our living room overlooking Rossbrin Cove, Brian Lalor signed it for me too.
Brian’s drawings of his (and my) beloved Cork capture a city on the edge of modernising. He has graciously given me permission to reproduce some of his drawings in these posts and I will use his own words (from A Note on the Drawings at the end of the book) since they capture so much better than I ever could his fascination with the city and his intentions in recording its idiosyncratic character.
The South Gate Bridge. That couple looks familiar
This collection of drawings developed as a result of a habit of many years, begun in Cork and fostered in Europe and the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, a habit of of never passing a laneway, flight of stairs, courtyard or public building without investigating what secrets it might conceal, what historical or human curiosity might be within. Coming then to Cork in the early seventies and finding it a city reeling from the cataclysm of “urban renewal,” it seemed an appropriate time to attempt a record of the inconsequential details which made up the character of the place, while the opportunity still existed.
Upper: Paradise Place. Lower: Curry’s Rock. Older women still wore the traditional shawl in the early 70s and were known as Shawlies
This is not Cork seen from its public face but from above and behind, not just observed in its principal role as the second city of the Republic but sought out in all its idiosyncrasies and individuality. The monuments of Architecture, memorials to wealth and power, religious fervour and civic pride will not be found here, except when they creep in by accident for, avoiding the European grand manner, they block no vista nor crown a Summit. Rather, they lurk in unexpected places and just spring upon one, owing their location principally to occupying the sites of earlier ecclesiastical foundations. This latter fact is the clue to understanding the city of Cork, the link with the past. For it was in the periods of its earliest habitation that the considerations of commerce, security and the political existences of the time gave rise to what held as the nucleus of the city up to the present day.
Cork was never a planned city; it grew organically from the meanderings of the River Lee through the marshlands of the depression between the surrounding hills. Its streets and by-ways follow today those of the middle ages, and the water channels which gave access from the early town to the outer expenses of the river basin. The line which runs from the Episcopal seat of Shandon to that of Saint Finbarr’s was the principal artery of the ancient city of Cork, as it is today nine centuries later. It is around this thread that the drawings are gathered. This line held the centre of all life within the city from its foundation in the tenth century, to the late nineteenth, and even today what is outside this line is peripheral to the soul of the city.
Perhaps one of the most satisfying mountains on the Mizen, the 237m high Knockaphuca provides a well maintained waymarked trail best tackled as it is laid out – in a counter clockwise direction. You will go up the east side and down the steep west face. If you are lucky with the weather, as we were just before the longest day, you will have an experience which is hard to rival in this corner of Ireland. The loop walk is one of the latest sections of the Fastnet Trails which have been established to the west of Schull during 2019. All credit is due to the team which has so successfully organised and laid out these trails: this has involved much behind-the-scenes hard work.
In fact the full Knockaphucka Loop trail starts in Goleen, and is 10km long. We joined it as it leaves the R591 road north of the village (upper picture – the route goes off to the left). The map above has the mountain section (which we followed) superimposed on the Google Earth contour information. The section we walked is 6.6km long, and climbs about 200 metres.
One of the first landmarks on the way is right at the point where the marked track to the mountain leaves the main road: Ballydevlin Old School House (above). There is another ‘Ballydevlin Old School’ nearer to Goleen; presumably one was the National School (established c1831) and the other may have been a denominational Church of Ireland school. This peculiar Irish duality still exists today in many places.
Once on the marked track you are in a paradise! An ancient green road takes you part-way up the mountain, passing through small gorges which must have been cut out long ago: even if you are not a geologist you can’t help being impressed by the rock formations – they could be works of art.
After a while the path turns to the east and follows narrow, grassy glens bordered by majestic, serpent-like outcrops. It’s here that the views begin to open out, particularly to the south. Always you think that there couldn’t be a finer prospect over the Mizen and across the islands of Roaringwater Bay, and always – as you climb higher – you are surprised by the next, which is even better.
Twists and turns take you more steeply across the contours and swing round towards the summit. Only then is the full picture revealed: the whole landscape set out below you – every rift, valley and glacial glen with the higher land beyond culminating in the crests of Gabriel, 407m high, to the east, and the ‘little’ Mizen Peak, 232m high, to the west.
You won’t get lost as you head for the summit: this mountain had a distinctive cross placed at its highest point in the Holy Year of 1950, which reportedly fell in 1968, leaving the inscribed concrete plinth intact. The photo below shows the plinth in 2006 – courtesy Richard Webb. A new cross was installed in 2011 by a community effort led by the local GAA: this is now visible from much of the trail. The plaque mentions ‘…these challenging times…’, referring to the financial crash that hit Ireland so badly around that time. Illumination of the cross today is provided by photo-voltaic cells.
When you get to the top – pause… Now is the opportunity to appreciate the spectacular views in every direction. On our outing the south wind had been building up all day and was at its strongest in the late afternoon, when we gained the summit. It was pretty hard to remain upright! In fact, I wondered if we were being given a message by the resident Púca whose domain this is, after all?
The path down descends quite steeply: make sure you are well shod and vigilant. But you are in for further treats: the marked way passes by some peaty mountain tarns which are exquisite in their pristine beauty. Finola was in her element finding undisturbed native species such as water-lilies and sundews.
The mountain trail section ends on the small boreen running to the west of Knockaphuca, but the waymarkers will lead you back to the starting point, and there are still views up to the summit to enjoy, along with some landscape features on the way to continue to stimulate the senses.
What more could anyone want from a day’s outing in West Cork? Well – a bit of local history, perhaps. I searched for stories about the hill, particularly about the Púca – but only turned up this one told by Jerry McCarthy and included in Northside of the Mizen, the invaluable collection of Tales, Customs and History produced by Patrick McCarthy and Richard Hawkes in 1999:
The Púca of Knocnaphuca
The old people would feed the Púca of Knocnaphuca on ‘Snap-apple Night’, or indeed, whenever one had call to travel up the hill. It was the wise person that fed the Púca the night before going up. Milk and cake would be put on a plate and left outside the house and by the next morning the food had always gone!
The Púca of Knocnaphuca was half horse and half human. One late Snap-apple Night there was a young lad out walking the road when he heard a strange, sweet music coming from the hill. He went up and saw the Púca playing on a whistle. As soon as the lad had put eyes on it, it stopped playing and caught him. Away the Púca went to the top of the hill, where a crack opened up in the rock. In they went. They were twisting and turning down through tunnels until they entered a chamber full of gold. “Now,” said the Púca, “you are mine!”…
The next morning the boy was found on the road by the Long Bog. His hair had turned white and he could not speak a word ever after.
Thank you to our artist friend Hammond Journeaux of Ballydehob for this wonderful drawing of ‘Pooka’, included in The Little People of Ireland by Aine Connor, illustrated by Hammond, The Somerville Press, 2008. Púca in Ireland has counterparts in Cornwall (Bucca), Wales (Pwca), The Channel Islands (Pouque) and Brittany (Pouquelée). A shape-shifter (Flan O’Brien’s character from At Swim-Two-Birds, the Pooka MacPhellimey, changes his appearance by smoking from a magic pipe), the Púca most often appears in Ireland as a fine black stallion with red eyes. If you meet him, you have to mount him and he will take you on a journey far across the sea. It will seem to you as though you had been away for only a few hours, but the world will have moved on several weeks, perhaps months, during your absence. We saw no trace of the creature in June but, perhaps, if we climbed this mountain in the November Dark, we would have more chance of an encounter.
Percival Lea-Wilson was assassinated by the IRA 100 years ago tomorrow, June 15th, 1920. The story has been well documented and is truly a tale of horror. Lea-Wilson was a Captain in the British Army detail looking after the prisoners who had surrendered from the General Post Office during the 1916 Rising. He was distinguished by his rough treatment of the prisoners and in particular for humiliating Tom Clarke by ordering him to strip naked in public.
Lea-Wilson is standing on the right
His actions were observed by many, including Michael Collins. Four years later Lea-Wilson, who had since re-joined the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was shot dead on the street in Gorey, Co Wexford, possibly by direct order from Collins. Perhaps many Irish people would not have mourned his passing, but Lea-Wilson’s wife was devastated and the depths of her feeling led to the creation of one of Harry Clarke’s masterpiece windows.
Percival as he might have looked around the time of his marriage to Marie
There is a second amazing story about Marie Monica Lea-Wilson (her friends called her Monica) and her acquisition of yet another masterpiece, Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, (below) now a centrepiece of the National Gallery in Dublin. My post is about the Clarke window, but you will find lots online about the Carravaggio, for example here and here.
Marie Ryan, a Catholic, grew up in Charleville, Co Cork, where she met the young Percival when he was posted there as a member of the RIC. Percival was from a well-to-do family in London (his grandfather had been Lord Mayor and his father was a stockbroker) and had been privately educated at Winchester and Oxford. They married in a Catholic Church, but Percival did not convert – the window I am writing about is in the Church of Ireland Church in Gorey, the church he attended when he moved there as a District Inspector with the RIC, having re-joined after his stint in the army.
Harry Clarke’s Lea-Wilson window, Christchurch, Church of Ireland, Gorey, Co Wexford
Marie Lee-Wilson never got over his death and never re-married but went on to become a highly-regarded paediatrician. Here she is in later life with her colleagues at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in Dublin, now closed.
In shock after his assassination, she wrote to Harry Clarke and asked him to create a window for her husband. The theme of St Stephen was agreed and other elements which Marie suggested or requested were to be incorporated, such as the Wilson coat-of-arms.
The Wilson coat of arms with the motto Facta non Verba – deeds not words
At this time, Harry’s reputation was well established and he was in great demand. Marie may have been familiar with his window in nearby Wexford town, the Church of the Assumption, commissioned by Mrs O’Keeffe for her war hero son the year before. Harry had difficulty hiring and keeping apprentices and assistants, upon whom he relied given the pressure of work. In the case of Marie’s window, he persuaded Kathleen Quigly to come to work at the studio more steadily, by offering to increase her wages, and it was Kathleen who worked on this window with him, always under his close supervision and following his design.
Another detail to note is the insignia of the Royal Irish Constabulary in the top left corner – a harp within a belt
The choice of St Stephen is telling. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for “blasphemy” – that is, speaking up for his truth in a Jewish Synagogue. Here’s the passage from Acts 7, King James Version.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
It is evident that Marie perceives Percival as a martyr, but in her choice of inscription, lay not this sin to their charge, she also invokes a sprit of forgiveness rather than of bitterness or revenge. The wife and lover in her mourns him deeply and sees his death as an injustice and as undeserved. But the Irish Catholic woman is fully alive to the political and social upheavals of her time and understands the complications of such a situation. Her choice of iconography and scripture embodies the hopelessly tanged web of relationships and reprisals that characterised the Irish War of Independence and her own invidious position as the wife of a British Office and RIC man.
Harry Clarke understood all this too, and his sensitive design works out the emotions and the messages she wished to convey. Here is Nicola Gordon Bowe’s description of the window, from the magnificent Life and Work of Harry Clarke.
. . . the subject is St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whom Harry has shown carrying the symbolic palm of martyrdom and bearing a book in his left arm while his right hand is extended, palm forward, suggesting his innocence. The stones by which he was slain are shown leaded into the rich purples, mauves, rubies and pinks of his simple vestments, contrasting with the emerald green of the book he holds. His face is pale and angular, the head inclined to the left with a long nose and sad, pensive eyes. This soulful Celtic face is reflected in the equally direct unstylized treatment of the hands and sandalled feet. The two girl angels above and below the Saint are gentle and childlike. . .
Interestingly there is another window, beside this one, also dedicated to Lea-Wilson and also done in the Clarkes’ establishment. But this one, although similar in many ways to the first, is not signed by Harry but bears the signature of J Clarke and Sons. It must have been done by somebody else working in the studio – perhaps by Kathleen Quigly?
The second Lea-Wilson window
This one was donated by Percival’s ‘companion and brother freemasons’. The image is of a warrior in armour and a striking red cloak. There is an upper and lower angel, to match Harry’s design. The lower angel holds a fleece, indicating that this is an image of Gideon, the biblical soldier who slew a far greater army of Midianites, under God’s guidance. As such, it does not appear to hold the same reconciliatory feeling that Harry’s window does.
Looking at the two windows, it is apparent why it is often difficult to say what is ‘a Harry Clarke’ and what is not. The design of the Gideon window is closely based on the St Stephen window, even to the floral decoration in the background. Elements of Gideon’s apparel are familiar – his helmet, for example echoes that of St Martin’s in the Castletownshend window I wrote about here.
Can you make out the signature and address? To the left of ‘and brother’ is J Clarke and Sons, while to the right of ‘freemasons’ is 33 Nth Frederick Street Dublin
But that’s the thing – Harry trained his apprentices rigorously to reproduce his style and whoever did this window would have been competent and comfortable at producing a look-alike. The fact that is is not signed by Harry, however, must be the primary guide in ascribing it to the Joshua Clarke Studio, rather than to Harry. It is possible that budget was an issue – an almost-Clarke would have been less expensive than a wholly-Clarke.
Gideon and the angel above him are painted in an exact rendition of Harry’s style
What is extraordinary about the Lea-Wilson story is that not one, but two great works of art stem directly from it. The story most often told is the Caravaggio one – I hope this post helps to redress that balance.
If you are anywhere close to Gorey, go visit Christchurch. There are more Harry Clarkes in that church and several other notable windows. For more Roaringwater Journal posts on Harry Clarke and on Irish stained glass, click on this link.