Drawing from Life – Simon Coleman RHA

The Dúchas Collections (duchas.ie) are an invaluable resource for any of us interested in Ireland’s handed-down culture. Encompassing folklore, traditional ways of life, stories and visual images, the material is readily available on-line, and the archives are substantial and perfectly preserved, hopefully for all time. A recent find, for me, is the work of Simon Coleman, who was commissioned by the Irish Folklore Commission to accompany some of its collectors, and to visually record aspects of their work, in the mid twentieth century.

. . . Coleman was commissioned to travel in the company of full time folklore collectors, and to make drawings of local work practices and associated equipment, the traditionally built environments he encountered, as well as the diverse material culture evident in homes and communities of the day . . .

UCD Digital library, national Folklore Collection

The simple studies by Coleman, above – which portray alternative forms of transporting goods – abundantly describe visually a way of life which is vanished today. The Commission also employed photographers (and the Dúchas collections are also rich in these) but – in my view – there is an immediacy in these drawings which make them completely convincing: we are looking directly into Ireland’s past.

Have you ever heard of “Cad”? I hadn’t, until I looked into the work of Simon Coleman. The word in Irish is Caid, and it refers to a game which was played with sticks. There is a suggestion that it was a precursor to Gaelic football, although I am not convinced about this. In the version that Coleman recorded in 1959 in Inishmaan, Co Galway, the object of play was a short piece of stick, chamfered at both ends. This was hit by one of the players with a large, stout stick, making it fly into the air. As it descended the player gave it a hardy whack into a field, and the aim was to shoot it further than anyone else. Coleman’s drawings are accompanied by his notes:

. . . Sticks Game: the game of ‘cad’, Inish Meadhon. The ‘cad’ (short length of stick: approximately 2 1/2”) lying against a stone in the middle of the road; ‘cad’ is tapped with stick and jumps into the air about 4 or 5 feet thus; before it has time to fall to the roadway again, it is hit full-bloodedly into the adjacent fields. Each player has one try; the distance that the cad is hit is measured by the player with a stick approximately 6ft long . . .

Duchas.ie – Photographic collection

Interestingly, i was speaking to an Irish friend today and I mentioned ‘Cad’. He had heard of it through his family, although was not aware of it being played in his lifetime. The game he described was virtually identical to the notes above.

Coleman’s subjects were always wide-ranging. He was employed by the Folklore Commission in 1949 and again in 1959. We might imagine that he chose his own topics provided he fulfilled the brief of making an active record of what he saw. The top picture, above, shows traditional ‘Sunday Attire’, Inishere, Co Galway, and the interior view with bed and turf fire is from Croaghgorm or Blue Stack Mountains, Co Donegal. Also from Donegal is the simple but effective explanation of how ropes are made, below.

Particularly striking for me is the fact that all these images have been made in my own lifetime: This is an Ireland from not so long ago! There are very many more drawings and paintings by Coleman in this Collection, and I will return to them in future posts. Finally, for today, I can’t resist this spectacular rendering of a cottage interior from Clare, Co Galway.

I gratefully acknowledge and credit the Photographic Collection of Dúchas for all the above images (Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann / National Folklore Collection). The header is a group of cottages at Gortahork, Co Donegal

Stained Glass Workshop

I write about stained glass all the time, but I have never tried my hand at classic leaded glass. Having enormously enjoyed my sortie into fused glass with the wonderful Angela Brady, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to have a similar experience with leaded glass. Luckily, we have in West Cork the equally wonderful Deirdre Buckley Cairns, an award-winning multi-talented artist who lives in Schull and who teaches stained glass. I signed up for a full day workshop.

Deirdre is an experienced and excellent teacher. I’m in a good position to judge this as I ran a teacher education program for several years, so I know good technique when I see it. Deirdre was ultra-prepared, guided us through the day in well-calibrated steps, and was unfailingly positive and encouraging. We got there at 9 – Adrienne, Sarah, Susan, Louise and I – and she had everything laid out on each bench – all the tools and supplies we needed – and her own demo bench all set up. 

We each chose one of Deirdre’s designs that she has carefully worked out to be doable in a day and I must admit I went straight for the ten-piece design, which looked the least intimidating. Our class started with how to lay the glass properly over the design and how to cut the shapes. 

This is where I ran into the first of many humbling fumblings – that nifty little glass cutter thingy is a lot harder to control than it seemed when Deirdre expertly guided it exactly over the felt marker line under the glass. It stops unexpectedly, it shoots off in the wrong direction, it leaves gaps – it’s a fiendish little instrument of the devil. It was the first of my many realisations throughout the day of how much time and practice it takes to develop into a skilful glass cutter. 

By lunchtime – that’s three hours for ten pieces – I had my glass cut out. They looked a little rough around the edges, but at that point I hadn’t realised how much that lack of finesse would come back to bite me, so I was basking in a warm glow of accomplishment and ready to enjoy a break.

Susan seemed to have grasped the concept better – her pieces looked remarkably accomplished!

After lunch we had the demo on how to lead the glass together. Starting with two outside leads, Deirdre showed us how to measure, cut and shape the soft lead cames so that all the pieces of glass come together within the lead borders. Seemed straightforward enough – hah!

The first few pieces went fairly well, but then the lack of precision in my glass cutting started to become a problem, as I tried to jimmy and tuck pieces together. Deirdre showed me how to use the grozers (a kind of pliers) to nibble away incorrect edges. Well, nibble is the ideal – in my awkward hands the ‘nibbling’ seemed to create ever more jagged edges. Sometimes we had to use the grinder to try to sort out the final shape – as you can see below, my final piece was far too big for the space it had to fit.

Even though I got the glass more or less leaded in the end, nobody could pretend that it looks anything other than a very amateurish piece of work, with holes where there shouldn’t be holes and a crooked frame. Nevertheless, I was ecstatic to have managed to push and shove it, with lots of help from Deirdre, into a final square shape. 

The next step was to secure all the joins with solder and I hate to say it but this was the most fun part. Or maybe I mean the least stressful. There’s something deeply satisfying about melting metal and watching it magically knit two pieces of lead together. 

The final process was to cement the glass so that it was properly bedded to the lead cames, and not just rattling around inside them. This was a sloppy business, bringing out those inner children who love to play with mud. 

Then came a dusting of plaster to dry the mud and a pushing of the mud/plaster mix into the corners and well under the cames. A final polish with stove blacking and we were done!

And I was wrecked! My back hurt and my wrists and shoulders ached. I had a little sun window to take home with me (don’t look closely!) – and I had learned SO much.

Mostly, that learning had to do with a whole new appreciation for the skill of making stained glass – how physical it was, how exacting, how long it must take to get truly proficient at it, how many steps were involved. 

And of course, this is only the most basic part of making a stained glass window – we did no painting, etching, decorating of any kind. As I type this I have my Finola window to my right – each pane (and there are over a hundred in the window) is worked – painted, scratched, cut away. Some of the glass is flashed with the design cut or etched into it to reveal the colour underneath the coloured flash (thin top layer). Some is covered with thick black paint, through which the design has been etched. Glass has been carefully chosen for different properties – streakiness or bubbles or colour variation. 

At the end of the day, I had accomplished my goal, which was just to gain a tiny insight into the most basic of the processes involved in the making of a stained glass window. The workshop was great fun – not least was finding all of us, a wonderfully compatible group, shouting along to some of Deirdre’s musical accompaniments.

It takes years, and true talent, to become a stained glass artist. I remain in awe of those who have mastered this difficult and remarkably beautiful art.

If you would like to give it a go yourself, keep an eye on Deirdre’s Instagram page, or contact her directly through her website.

Stones Alone

Over the years we have written a lot about stone. That’s not surprising, because our interests in Irish archaeology involve stones: standing stones, stone circles, rock art, gravestones . . . It’s what the surviving history of our earliest dwellers on this island is all about. So I thought it would be a good idea to sift through our Roaringwater Journal photographic library – which goes back a decade – and turn up some pictures and stories which I have never used before: all of them involving stones. That header pic, above, is a boulder burial at Rathruane, just outside our West Cork village of Ballydehob.

Here’s another boulder burial, a long way away in Co Cavan, now surrounded by trees which are probably relatively recent. Finola wrote about this monument type six years ago, and pointed out that they are not well named: when examined archaeologically, very few of these stones have been associated with buried human remains. They are said to have been positioned between 1,500 and 1,000 years BC, a time we refer to as the ‘Bronze Age’. So, by then, humans were already aware of the use of metal for tools, weapons and decorative adornments. But imagine the time before that – when people only had natural materials to hand – wood, vegetation and, of course – if you wanted to create something permanent – stone: we call these times Neolithic – and generally that covers the period of habitation of Ireland from 6,000 BC onwards.

Here is another West Cork site: Breeny More, to the north of Bantry. There’s a whole lot of stones here including, unusually, four ‘boulder burials’ arranged in a square. There are also further stones in this grouping which were once part of a stone circle. The site is magnificently located, with distant views west across to Bantry Bay (below).

We are all familiar with groups of stones arranged in a circle. Here is the ‘stone circle’ at Ardgroom, County Cork: it’s on the Beara Peninsula. As with the Boulder Burials, these monument types are generally thought to date from the Bronze Age.

These modestly sized ‘five stone’ stone circles are also in County Cork. The National monuments Survey of Ireland lists 53 ‘five stone’ circles in the county, while a further 41 ‘multiple stone’ circles are noted. There are also some anomalies which defy definition, such as ‘The Fingers’ at Knockdrum, West Cork, just outside Castletownshend:

This appears to have been, originally, an alignment of five tall standing stones. One has fallen and broken, while the fifth is now missing. It is reasonable to assume, from the number of stone ‘monuments’ all around us in West Cork (and in many other parts of Ireland), that these sites were of great significance to the populations who constructed them. But we don’t know for sure why they are there – although theories abound.

I am fascinated by the number of single standing stones we come across in our travels. It’s impossible to say how many there are in Ireland – probably thousands. And they can range in size from the large stones – above – in West Cork, to individual examples in moorland or fields, or on roadsides – below.

The Irish word ‘carn’ means a heap or pile of stones, Cairn monuments are mounds of stones, often marking the summit of a significant hill or mountain. They may or may not be ancient, and we have seen them change significantly over time. On Mount Corrin, not far from us in West Cork, there were two cairns only a few years ago. Now there is a single, significant cairn (top pic below): this implies a deliberate ‘re-ordering’ of what was there before. Regardless of their history, they can be visually impressive.

The centre pic above is a small cairn on a Sheep’s Head summit, while the enormous one above is in The Burren, County Clare. The Burren is an extraordinary landscape of exposed limestone. The limestone formed as sediments in a tropical sea which covered most of Ireland approximately 350 million years ago. Today, the Burren supports a remarkable assortment of wild flowers: over 70% of Ireland’s species of flowers are found there, among the ubiquitous stone surfaces.

Ever since humans set foot on Irish soil, they have embraced the stones – both for practical uses such as shelter or enclosure, but also as a means of marking and communicating. Readers will be familiar with our particular interests in Prehistoric Rock Art:

This is an important example of Ireland’s Rock Art, from West Cork, perhaps dating from 5,000 years ago: it was discovered in comparatively recent times. The painting is by Keith Payne, and is an interpretation of this same rock outcrop. We have no evidence that the carvings were ever coloured – or pigmented.

Today we are very familiar with the use of stone as a building material: this practice is likely to have been current since very early times. In Ireland we have many examples of ancient – but undateable – stone buildings. The ‘Oratory’ at Gallurus is a good example of a built enclosure (walls and roof) made entirely from stone. A present day view of it, top, shows this remarkably preserved structure; archaeologists and historians have long debated its age and likely use. The print above dates from 1756.

Over the centuries, crafstpeople (like Séamus Murphy – see last week’s post) have used stone as a medium for memorials – the message is likely to survive beyond lifetimes. If only we knew what some of the messages should spell out to us! Our last – striking – image is from Fourknocks – a decorated chambered cairn within the Boyne Valley complex which we visited in 2016. This carved decoration was probably made 5,000 years ago: we can only wonder at its meaning and its authors . . .

Séamus Murphy: At Home in Cork

This is Cork city in the 1940s. The subject of today’s post is a Cork man – the sculptor Séamus Murphy. Born in 1907 near Mallow, Murphy took classes at the Crawford School of Art before apprenticing as a stone carver at O’Connell’s Stone Yard in Blackpool, a parish in the city, for seven years. Murphy and his work could occupy several posts, but today we concentrate on his only architectural building project, the Church of the Annunciation in Blackpool. Séamus Murphy can fairly claim to be the ‘sculptural designer’ of this building – as he conceived the way it would appear – while the architect Edmond Patrick O’Flynn most likely carried out the technical drawings and specifications.

According to the Murphy family, Séamus found inspiration for Blackpool from pictures of churches in South America. In particular, the roughly textured render on the external walls is said to have derived from the adobe finish common in Spanish missionary churches there. The Cork church was commenced in January 1945, and the picture above (courtesy of Cork City Library) dates from around that time. The picture below – also courtesy Cork City Library – shows the dedication ceremony in the church on 7 October 1945.

This picture of Séamus, above, is from the RTE archives. The Blackpool project is a good area of study, as the church shows the sculptor’s ability to conceive large, three-dimensional spaces as well as his skills in producing his own figurative and relief works, a number of which are used in the church furnishings: they are of polished Portland stone.

While the church is a valuable repository of Séamus Murphy’s design and carving skills, the work of many other contemporary artists can also be found in the building. The stained glass windows are from the Harry Clarke Studios, designed by William Dowling.

Particularly striking is the crucifix window at the east end. Above is the original cartoon (courtesy of Trinity College Library Dublin) by Dowling, side-by-side with an image of the window today. All the windows are of fine quality.

Examples of the ‘opus sectile’ Stations of the Cross are shown above. According to the Blackpool Parish website these were the work of Richard King. Finola has written extensively about this artist, who managed the Clarke studios after Harry’s death. She is also now researching the art-form of ‘Stations of the Cross’. In fact, researchers believe that these stations at Blackpool were carried out by William Dowling at the Harry Clarke Studios. Richard King was no longer working for the Studios in 1945, although he had produced designs of a similar style for Belvedere College SJ, Dublin, in 1939.

A full view of the east end of the church. The interior has changed very little over 77 years and is, therefore, a great tribute to Séamus Murphy and the the commissioning family of William Dwyer, then head of the nearby Sunbeam Wolsey factory. Dwyer funded the whole project as a memorial to his daughter Maeve who had sadly passed away in 1943.

This fine font cover was carved by hand by Bart, a younger brother of Séamus.

Murphy’s Church of the Annunciation is certainly a landmark building – not just for Cork, but for the whole of Ireland. And Séamus himself must rank as one of the outstanding artists of the Free State. You will come across his distinctive work in many locations; I will be directing you to some of them in future posts.

Many thanks to Orla Murphy for giving me valuable insights on her father’s works

Evolving Cork – The Great Exhibitions

Here’s a fine view over the city of Cork, taken early one morning from the grounds of the Montenotte Hotel, on Middle Glanmire Rd. It reminded me that way back in 2016 I mentioned in Roaringwater Journal the fact that Cork City has over the years hosted a number of world-class fairs. The first was in the mid nineteenth century:

This engraving from the Illustrated London News shows the ‘Fine Arts Hall’ which was part of the Cork National Industrial Exhibition held in 1852:

. . . The site of the Cork Exhibition was the Corn Market, where ships carrying visitors and goods could dock and unload at the entrance gates. The old Corn Exchange building, lent for the occasion, formed one end of the structure, while a new mart served as a principal show room. This ran across the southern part of the old building, parallel to the quay, for 300 feet in length and 30 feet in breadth, giving the impression of a contemporary railway station, even to the strip of glass along the roof to admit daylight. By the opening day ad hoc extensions had been added which converted the original elongated T – shape into a cross, with covered galleries and passageways running from the central structure to an adjacent building used as a hall for banquets, balls and public lectures . . .

A C Davies – Irish Economic and Social History, Vol 2, 1975

. . . The exhibition remained open for three months, until 10 September. The opening ceremony had been performed by the Lord Lieutenant after a procession watched by the townspeople, ‘in all the pomp and circumstance of majesty, with waving banners, prancing horses, peals of artillery, and multitudinous shouts’. At first attendance was sparse. It rained steadily for the whole of the first week, but then the weather improved and the number of visitors increased. It amounted to about 140,000. Ten thousand free admissions were granted to children from over seventy schools in the area . . .

A C Davies – Irish Economic and Social History, Vol 2, 1975

When the 1852 exhibition closed, the people of Cork decided their city should have a venue suitable for the holding of public lectures, meetings and concerts. Within a few years the building above was constructed. Known as the The Athenaeum, it was designed by Sir john Benson, who had been responsible for the Great Hall of the Cork Exhibition. It is said that many of the materials which had been used in Benson’s exhibition hall were salvaged and re-used in The Athenaeum. The new building was renamed The Munster Hall in 1875 and then became the Cork Opera House in 1877. It survived until 1955, when it was destroyed by fire. The present Opera House, on the same site, was opened by President Eamon de Valera in 1965. It was extensively remodelled, with the glazed facade added, in 2000.

Half a century later Cork city embarked on another major ‘world fair’ class event. In 1902 the Lord Mayor of Cork, Edward Fitzgerald, presided over creating Cork International Exhibition, which ran from May to October. Reclaimed marshland beside the river at Mardyke was used for the site, which occupied an area of about 44 acres. Here are the ‘leading lights’ of the exhibition organisers, with Fitzgerald on the right:

This exhibition was considered such a success that it was repeated the following year – 1903 – and the site plan above bears this date. The artist’s aerial view of the site, below, gives a good impression of the extent of the grounds. Note the ‘switchback railway’ to the left: this was a precursor to roller-coaster fairground rides and was immensely popular…

…As was the ‘Water Chute’ from which it was unlikely that you would emerge dry!

Such attractions were very popular with the general public, but the exhibition had a more serious commercial side:

Several large exhibition halls and pavilions housed a range of industrial and agricultural exhibits from many countries including Canada, Turkey and China. There were displays of industrial and agricultural machinery as well as horticulture, fisheries, art, craft and ceramics . . . The Irish Department of Agricultural and Technical Instruction had a strong presence at The Exhibition with exhibits on dairying, cheese-making, cottage gardening, forestry, bee-keeping, poultry, fruit and vegetable drying and preserving . . .

National Museum of Ireland Collections & Research

Hadji Bey is a name that will be familiar to any Cork person with a sweet tooth! The true story goes that Armenian immigrants Harutun Batmazian and his wife Esther chose Cork as their new home during the early years of the 20th century, after escaping the persecution and violence against Armenian Christians taking place in the Ottoman Empire at the time. In 1902, the Batmazians participated in the Cork International Exhibition and introduced their Turkish Delight – a skill Harutun learned while studying in Istanbul – to the market. Although they spoke no English at the time, the city was to became their home and the popularity of their sweets – still made in Ireland today – is legendary. After their success at the Exhibition they opened a shop on MacCurtain Street: this survived for many decades.

Turkish Delight is just one success story from Cork’s International Exhibitions. The 1902 event attracted nearly two million visitors. Surely, it’s time for another one?

After all the clamour and excitement had died down the Exhibition buildings (below) were dismantled and auctioned off. In 1906 the park and Shrubberies House were taken over by Cork Corporation with the proviso that the Corporation would levy a rate of half penny in the pound for annual upkeep and maintenance.  A further proviso stipulated that the Shrubberies House would be used by the Corporation as a municipal museum. Today we can all enjoy enjoy Fitzgerald’s Park and the Cork Public Museum, where Finola and I put on an exhibition about Rock Art back in 2015.

If you want to know more, I thoroughly recommend this book, written by Daniel Breen (now Curator of the Cork Public Museum) and Tom Spalding, published by the Irish Academic Press.

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.