Ecce Homo: Harry Clarke’s Kilbride Window

Harry Clarke’s window in St Brigid’s Church of Ireland, Kilbride, Co Wicklow, is a bit of a mystery: simultaneously one of his most beautiful and his most mis-described windows. It’s almost as if there’s some kind of spell on it – whoever shall describe this window shall be led down erroneous pathways*. I hope this post will break that spell and set the record straight.

This is the whole window, which occupies the wall behind the altar. It’s a three-light window and the tracery above includes a small roundel with a crucifixion scene.

When it comes to Harry Clarke, there is no more authoritative source than Nicola Gordon Bowe. Hers are the shoulders upon which all of us stand to gain insight and understanding of the man and his work. She didn’t make many mistakes. However, inexplicably, she described this window as a ‘Resurrection’. In The Life and Work of Harry Clarke, she states that: As a result of the St Stephen Lea-Wilson Window in Gorey, Clarke was asked by the Earl of Wicklow to design a Resurrection window for the parish church of Enerily and Kilbride, Co. Wicklow near the Earl’s estate, Shelton Abbey. Several pages further on, she says Harry . . . spent 9 February with the Earl of Wicklow discussing a further window for the small church of Enerily and Kilbride near Arklow.

The central figure is of Christ as he was paraded before Pilate, who washed his hands of the affair and declared, as he presented him to the Jews, Ecce Home – Behold the Man. As described in John and Matthew, he is bound, crowned with thorns, holding a reed (Harry has chosen a bulrush), and clad in a scarlet robe. He is standing on steps (as frequently depicted in paintings) and under his feet the cloth may represent his own clothes, stripped from him

She describes the finished window thus: In the three-light Resurrection, the figure of Christ in the centre light stands at the foot of a staircase, robed in ruby, crowned with thorns and bearing the palm of martyrdom. The ruby glass is carried into the border, into the side traceries where it is neither painted nor acided, and is echoed in the medallion showing The Crucifixion in the centre of the rose tracery above. It is also used in the figure of Christ, which appears in each of the quatrefoil panels of the side lights which, set in rich borders of ruby, blue and green, seem inspired by medieval glass. A rich blue dominates four medallions showing miracles of the Lord. The medallion in the lower right-hand light features a self-portrait of the artist, a halo over his untidy hair, and huge eyes giving him a haunted look while above, the resurrection theme is evocatively illustrated by the miracle of Lazarus. This window is much enhanced by the rough, unplastered wall in which it is set.

Clarke’s Jesus in this window is one of his most striking depiction of suffering and compassion

However, the dedication on the window is to Hugh Melville Howard, younger half-brother to the Earl of Wicklow, and donated not by the Earl, but by Hugh’s widow.  Hugh had died in 1919. The date might make you suspect that this was a war memorial window, but in fact, Hugh died of pneumonia at the age of 36. This must have been a tragedy indeed for his wife, May Sands, the only daughter and heiress of New York lawyer and real estate mogul, Benjamin Aymar Sands. They had married in America in 1908 – a high society wedding, every detail of which was gleefully reported in the New York Times. At the time of his death they were living in Bellevue House in Delgany and had two children. The window was not installed until 1924.

Christ and the Children

So there seems to be a disconnect between the original idea for a Resurrection Window for Kilbride, and the final product, which depicts not, indeed, a Resurrection image but that of the suffering Jesus, mocked by his tormentors, scourged, bound with ropes, crowned with thorns, carrying a reed to stand in for a sceptre. This is the image that is known as Ecce Homo – Behold the Man. 

Matthew 27: 26-31

Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. 

John 19: 1-5

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!

I surmise that, whereas the original idea, as proposed to Harry by the Earl, may have been for a Resurrection-themed window, the final central image, of suffering and preparation for death, would have seemed more apt to May, the grieving widow. 

The Raising of Lazarus

May and Hugh had been married in a charming country church called St Andrews Church of the Dunes in the heart of the Hamptons on Long Island. It was an Episcopalian church patronised by wealthy New Yorkers who had country houses in the area. Episcopalian services focus on the sacraments, similar to a Catholic Mass, and the church was filled with stained glass, some by Tiffany.

Ecce Homo by Titian (Unknown source, Public Domain,

This is relevant because Ecce Homo, despite being a staple of Renaissance imagery (Titian alone did several versions, including the one above), is not a frequent choice for Church of Ireland windows. I can identify only eight windows (of 3,198) which contain Christ in this state of having been scourged or mocked. (There are, on the other hand, one hundred and eleven Resurrection windows.) If it was May, rather than Lord Wicklow, who had the final say in the central imagery, I can see how her background in a more Catholic form of worship might have made her more amenable to an Ecce Homo depiction, and that therefore what started out as a Resurrection Window (with supporting Resurrection-themed medallions), ended as a window depicting suffering, healing, and children. 

The Raising of the Widow’s Son at Nain

Four medallions are placed on either side of the central figure of Christ. Three relates to the theme of Resurrection and/or healing – The Raising of Lazarus (Top Left); The Raising of the Widow’s Son at Nain (top right); and Christ’s Healing Ministry (bottom left). The final medallion is Christ Blessing Children (bottom right), perhaps a reference to hope that May’s children, now fatherless, would find comfort.

Christ’s Healing Ministry

In the medallion above, Gordon Bowe identifies a self-portrait of Harry, peering in on the right-hand side (below). Harry has done this in other windows, often more immediately recognisable than here. The parade of sick, palsied, bandaged and leprous sufferers are typical of Harry’s affinity to the macabre.

In the cinquefoil tracery at the top of the window is a small roundel containing the Crucifixion. Although tiny, it is as full of detail as are the medallions.

David Lawrence, in his entry in Gloine, correctly identifies the medallions, and uses Christ as Martyr for the central figure, perhaps because he (like Gordon Bowe) interprets the ‘sceptre’ that Jesus is carrying as a palm, the icon of martyrdom. In Strangest Genius, by Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen, the authors simply repeat the description and background as gleaned from the work of Gordon Bowe (although without credit, as seems to be their practice), along with the errors, and add one of their own, describing the reed as a ‘lily. . .denoting his virtue.’

Gordon Bowe often uses the term jewel-like to describe Harry’s ability to make his windows sparkle and shimmer and to use advanced techniques (such as plating and acid-etching) to create depth and allow the sun to refract through the glass. The window in Kilbride is a master-class in how he achieves this effect, especially in the decorative areas between the scenes, as in the one above. No photograph can do justice to this effect.

Oh, and just to add to the fact that this tiny church has an exceptional Harry Clarke window – it has a second one (above). Harry made it with left over ‘scraps’ of glass, to fill a small, high, transept window, and he described it as an ‘experiment.’ The two pieces of blue glass prefigure the mid-century practice of dalles de verre, of which we have several excellent examples in Irish Churches.

David Caron, Editor of The Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass; Ruth Sheehy, author of The Life and Work of Richard King; and Paul Donnelly, expert researcher on the Harry Clarke Studios, in front of the Ecce Homo window on a recent visit. Together, we discussed the most appropriate title for the window. Like most Church of Ireland churches, Kilbride is closed most of the time, and therefore the window is not easily accessible. I am very grateful to the Rev Barrett for allowing us to view and photograph the windows last week. Besides the photographs in Gloine, I can find no other images of the window online, so I hope this post will clarify what this window is actually all about. 

*The most head-scratching erroneous description comes from this report in The Wicklow People

Brigid: A Bishop in All But Name

The Brigid window, detail, Kilrush, Co Clare. Photo courtesy of John Glynn

This year, I am taking the Vita Prima as my starting point. It’s the Life of Brigid that was written about the middle of the 700s. As we saw in my first post about St Brigid, a year ago, Cogitosus wrote his Life in about 650, about 125 years after the death of Brigid. So this Life, the Vita Prima, was written 225 years after her death – but there is sound evidence that it is was based on the writings of St Ultan, who died around 650. In fact, the author of the Vita Prima and Cogitosus may both have drawn from this common source. * 

The Brigid window, detail, Kilrush, Co Clare. Photo courtesy of John Glynn

My illustrations are all taken from stained glass and all the images are my own except for the wonderful Kilrush window, kindly shared with me by the photographer, John Glynn. John has undertaken extensive new research on this window and is now convinced that it was mostly designed by Harry Clarke, even though it has been up to now designated as by his Studio rather than by himself. 

St Brigid, detail from St Fachtna’s Church, Rosscarbery, Co Cork, unknown artist

St Brigid – and yes, the evidence also points overwhelmingly to the fact that she was a real person – was born around 452 and died in either 524, 26 or 28, in her 70s. That means, by the way, that next year is the 1,500th anniversary of her death.

The Brigid window, detail, Kilrush, Co Clare. Photo Courtesy of John Glynn

This version assigns her ‘veiling’ as a nun to Bishop Mel, but does not include the story of his accidentally making her a bishop. The image above shows him handing her a crozier, this referencing the story I included in last year’s post.

Then saint Brigit taking three nuns with her went to the territory of the Ui Neill to the two holy bishops, Mel and Melchu, who were disciples of St Patrick and lived in the towns of Mide. And they had a certain disciple called Mac Caille who said to Mel, ‘Look, there are holy virgins outside who wish to receive the veil of virginity from your hands.’ 

Then he ushered them into the bishop’s presence, and while bishop Mel was gazing intently at them, a column of fire suddenly appeared rising from Brigit’s head up to the very top of the church in which she dwelt. Then the holy bishop Mel placed the veil on saint Brigit’s head and when the prayers had been read Brigit bowed her head and seized the wooden foot of the altar in her hand and since that moment the altar foot has permanently remained fresh without any decay or blemish. And saint Brigit’s eye was healed forthwith when she received the veil. Then eight other virgins also received the veil together with saint Brigit and the virgins with their parents said, ‘Don’t leave us. Instead stay with us and make your home in these parts.’  Thereafter saint Brigit stayed with them.

Brigid’s veiling, Earley Studios, Drumcong, Co Mayo

The reference to eye healing, by the way, related to another story. When she was pressured to marry a man

Saint Brigit asked God to afflict her body with some deformity in order that men might stop paying suit to her. Thereupon one of her eyes burst and liquefied in her head. For she preferred to lose her bodily eye than the eye of her soul and loved beauty of soul more than that of the body. 

Predella of Brigid window in Carnew, Co Wicklow

You’ll be pleased to hear I don’t have an illustration of this episode. But this book (like the Life in The Book of Lismore, see last year’s post) rather than a biography, is a relating of miracle after miracle. Many deal with her ability to provide food – bread, meat and beer – to hungry people (as above). Here’s just one: 

At this time saint Brigit was a guest at the monastery of St Laisre. Now one day towards evening St Patrick came with a large crowd to put up at that monastery. Thereupon the local community was worried and said to Brigit, ‘What are we going to do. We don’t have food for such a large crowd.’ But Brigit said to them, ‘How much do you have?’ They said to her, ‘All we have is twelve loaves and a little milk and one sheep which we have cooked for you and your folk.’ But Brigit said, ‘These will be enough for the whole lot of us, for the sacred scriptures will be read to us, thanks to which will we shall forget about bodily food.’ Whereupon the two groups of people, namely, Patrick’s and Brigit’s, ate together and had their fill and the amount of scraps they had left over was greater than the supplies which St Laisre had offered them in the first place, and later St Laisre offered herself and her place to saint Brigit in perpetuity.

Knockainy, Co Limerick, window by William Dowling for the Harry Clarke Studios

She was also famed for her ability to heal – the blind, maimed, mute, paralysed, deranged, bulimic (I’m not making this up) and leprous all came to her in their afflictions and were healed. She healed the poor and the kingly equally.

The Brigid window, main panel, Kilrush, Co Clare. Photo courtesy of John Glynn

Here’s an interesting instance of her using her powers to ‘heal’ a pregnancy:

Another day saint Brigit by the very powerful strength of her faith blessed a woman who had fallen after a vow of integrity and whose womb was pregnant and swelling and the conception in the woman’s womb decreased and she restored her to health and repentance without childbirth or its pangs. The woman was healed and gave thanks to God.

From the Brigid window, Collon, Co Louth, probably by the Harry Clarke Studios

The Vita Prima has Brigid and Patrick as contemporaries who knew each other and there are several stories of them together. Here is one:

Patrick was preaching the word of God one day to the crowds and saint Brigit. Then everyone saw a very bright cloud coming down from the sky to the dark earth on a rainy day. Gleaming from an enormous flash of lightning, it paused for a little while at a spot nearby beside the crowd. Afterwards it went to Dun Lethglaisse where Patrick is buried. Lingering there a while longer the cloud then disappeared and the crowds did not dare ask what this extraordinary apparition meant but asked saint Brigit. And Brigit said, ‘Ask Patrick.’ When Patrick heard this he said, ‘You and I know equally well. Reveal this mystery to them.’ And Brigit said, ‘This cloud, in my opinion, is the spirit of our father St Patrick who has come to visit the places where his body will be buried and rest after his death. For his body will rest for a short while in a place nearby, and afterwards will be taken to be buried in Dun Lethglaisse and there his body will remain till the day of judgement.’ Then Patrick told Brigit to make with her own hands a linen shroud to cover his body with after his death, as he desired to rise to eternal life with that shroud. Brigit accordingly made the shroud and it was in it that St Patrick’s body was later wrapped and it is still in that place. 

I have used St Brigid bringing the winding sheet for St Patrick in last year’s Brigid post, but here it is again. It’s from Killarney Cathedral and by Hardman.

Interestingly, the Vita Prima contains only one direct reference to Kildare, where St Brigid established her foundation. Here she is instructing her masons in how she wants it built (as a 15th century church, apparently). This one is from Armagh Cathedral and I think it’s by Mayer of Munich.

The author of the Vita Prima brings us to the end of Brigid’s life in surprisingly modern language.

But after having fought the good fight and run a successful race, saint Brigit departed this life for the kingdom of heaven escorted thither by the ranks of angels and archangels and having been accorded a place amid the choirs of patriarchs and prophets and apostles and martyrs and confessors and virgins she now possesses everlasting joy with Christ to whom, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory forever and ever. Amen. 

This image of Brigid is from a window by Michael Healy, in the Bishop’s Palace in Monaghan

St Brigid, I am discovering, can be all things to all people – a pagan goddess for the New Agers, a saint for devout Catholics, and an empowering symbol of female leadership. While there has been much speculation (some of it offered as assertion) about her links with a pagan goddess, Brigantia, the evidence is very slight and the goddess connection mostly lies in the realm of conjecture, leaps of imagination and wishful thinking. 

Evie Hone’s St Brigid, from Loughrea Cathedral

What the various writings about Brigid do point to is a powerful, benevolent and influential ecclesiastical woman who established a centre of devotion and learning and a city in Kildare, and whose cult spread across Europe in the centuries that followed her life.  That, in itself, is more than enough, to mark her out as momentous, and worthy of commemoration. Here’s how Padraig O’Riain, the pre-eminent scholar on Irish saints, puts it:

For all her dubious origins, therefore, Brighid’s record shows that she stood alone among the women saints of Ireland, a rival in importance to Patrick and Colum Cille, an abbess whom all other abbesses revered, a bishop in all but name, of such high status that she came to be regarded, possibly as early as the seventh century, as “Mary of the Irish”.

Brigid, Patrick and Columcille from Lusk, Co Dublin, by the Harry Clarke Studios

Therefore, tomorrow, Feb 6th, 2023, no matter which version of her you prefer, let us celebrate together our first National Holiday in her honour. She deserves it – finally!

*I am relying for this post on three main sources:

Vita Prima Sanctae Brigitae Background and Historical Value Author(s): Seán Connolly Source: The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland , 1989, Vol. 119 (1989), pp. 5-49 Stable URL:  
St Brigid of Kildare, Life, Legend and Cult by Noel Kissane. Four Courts Press 2017
A Dictionary of Irish Saints by Pádraig Ó Riain. Four Courts Press, 2011

When Harry Met Edith: Part 1 – “Like a Living Flame”

St Barrahane’s Church of Ireland in Castletownshend, West Cork, is unique in many ways and a national treasure, not least because of its three Harry Clarke stained glass windows. I have written about the St Luke window and also about the St Louis/St Martin window. Both are gems. But for some reason I have not yet properly written about the East Window and it seems fitting to start that post now, since Harry Clarke died 92 years ago this week at the all-too-young age of 41.

The East Window, the largest part of which comprises a nativity scene, was one of the first commissions Harry received after he burst on the scene in 1916 with his series of saints for the newly opened Hiberno-Romanesque Arts and Crafts masterpiece that was the Honan Chapel at University College Cork. That’s a small detail from his Joseph window for the Honan, below.

The Somerville siblings had been planning for a long time to commission a new window to honour their grandparents, the existing one being hideous and gloomy. In 1907 they had requested a new design from the Manchester firm of Walter J Pearce, but had not followed up with a commission. Besides her intense dislike of the ‘Berlin Woolwork’ (as the family called the despised stained glass) Edith Somerville thought the window openings themselves too long and narrow and felt they should be shortened to produce a more pleasing proportion for a stained glass scene. However, none of the schemes progressed beyond the Somerville siblings procuring permission from the church committee to remove and sell the offending window and replace it with a more suitable memorial to their grandparents.

This illustration is from Somerville and Ross: A Biography by Maurice Collis.

On January 14th 1917 Cameron, the oldest of the family and hence the one who had to have final approval over expenditures like this, went to see “Bertie’s windows”. Sir Bertram Windle was the President of University College Cork and a first cousin to the Somervilles (below, captured from the UCC website). He had worked with Sir John O’Connell to actualise the Honan Bequest which resulted in the building of the Honan Chapel with the inclusion of stained glass windows by An Túr Gloine and by Harry Clarke.

Cameron records in his diary:

Bertie took me to see his jewel of a chapel – quite the best modern building I have seen – & the windows – all but one – very good & some – the Clarke windows- supremely lovely. I have never seen such glass except in 14th century windows – the whole chapel simple & lovely nothing mean or tawdry […] After luncheon went again to the Chapel for another look at the windows.

The Edith OEnone Somerville archive in Drishane :
a catalogue and an evaluative essay /
by Otto Rauchbauer

Edith Somerville got up to see the windows for herself in March. Edith was already an established writer and artist, who had studied in France and was familiar with modern art movements. At that point in her life she was slowly coming to herself again, after a period of intense mourning on the death in 1915 of her beloved cousin and collaborator, Violet Martin with whom she had written a series of highly successful novels and stories under the name Somerville and Ross.

Violet Florence Martin, in an 1886 portrait by Edith Somerville, from the National Portrait Gallery, used under license

Her own artistic knowledge and sensibilities are evident in her reaction to the windows. She wrote to Cameron: 

They certainly are very wonderful in colour, & some of them beautiful in all respects. I preferred the Western three-light window [Brigid, Patrick and Columcille] & I almost disliked the blue one, & the Aubrey Beardsley female face [Gobnait] thought horrible; so modern and conventionally unconventional. The green western light was lovely and a nice design, I like 2 of the left side ones (Brigid and Patrick]. I thought the eastern Purser window just moderate (i.e. not among high class tho’ much better than average). There is to me a slight faint of coarseness in Clerke’s [sic] work. Not much finesse, though the actual glass has a quality of burning and furious brilliance that I have never seen anywhere else. The blue robe, for instance, hits your eye like a living flame or a blast of wind. Perfectly amazing, but not quite pleasant. I can rave about some of his qualities with anyone, but I am not quite a whole-hogger. However, I expect he will be artist enough to adapt his work to the church & to realise how to get harmony into it. His windows have a kind of hellish splendour – in a chapel dedicated to the Infernal Deities they would be exactly right, gorgeous and sinful. . . If that young man. . . went mad it would not surprise me, but I hope he won’t before he does our window for us.

The Edith OEnone Somerville archive in Drishane :
a catalogue and an evaluative essay /
by Otto Rauchbauer

Was it St Ita’s blue robe (above) that struck Edith so forcefully – like a living flame or a blast of wind – ? Or was it perhaps, the one worn by Gobnait, patron saint of beekeepers, cleverly worked out as a series of honeycomb shapes (below). In either case, this deep blue was one of Harry’s hallmarks – he went to great lengths to procure good blue glass.

We can unpack a lot in Edith’s letter to Cameron. For a start, it seems that Cameron had already decided, no doubt influenced by Bertie, that Harry Clarke was the artist who should do the East Window. Edith’s reaction, while often credited with being the deciding factor in choosing Clarke, was after the fact, and both more moderate and more judicious than Cameron’s. Her comments are enough to make me wonder, if the decisions had been hers to make, whether Harry would have been engaged. She was insistent, in a further letter to Cameron, that something more of ‘harmony’ and less of intensity than the Honan windows (as exemplified by his Gobnait portrait, below) would be appropriate for Castletownshend. In fact, shortly after seeing Harry’s work at the Honan, it seems that Cameron had deputed their cousin Egerton Coghill (see my post about Egerton and the St Luke window) to approach Harry, whom he appears to have known personally, but after that initial meeting, it was Edith who took charge of the process. This made sense since Cameron was not living in Castletownshend at that time, but in London. Things moved quickly – even before she had seen his work for herself, she had sent him a tracing of the East window (perhaps one that had been prepared for the proposed Pearce commission) and thereafter it was she who communicated with Harry. 

He responded to getting the tracing in a letter of Feb 1, 1917.*

Thank you for your letter and tracing of the East window of Castlehaven Church. I clearly understand your ideas about shortening the existing window but I hesitate to support your doing so until I see the church – I like long openings and the window may only look out of scale by being filled with inferior glass – I do think you would be unwise to make the three openings into two if you are going to have single figures and not subjects or a subject. Were the existing window or openings left I would have room to put small subjects from the lives of the selected saints at the top and bottom of each opening – were the windows shortened I would have room for the figure only. I am judging from the tracing and cannot tell until I saw the actual window with the light etc – the trees may present difficulties.

The approximate cost of filling the existing window with single figures and small subjects – figures to be of S Brigid S Finbarr and Barrahane will be £315 and if it were shortened by 3‘6“ the cost will be – £252.

I will be in Cork in the early spring and if it were convenient to you, could meet you at Castlehaven Church –

If you are anxious to place the commission at once I will go down any day next week (after Tuesday) that you suggest.

I do my work from start to finish myself and so take longer then is generally expected over a window – Your window would take about six months and could be started on a date mutually agreed-upon should I have the pleasure of doing it –

I greatly appreciate your asking me about the work

Letter from Harry Clarke to Edith Somerville,
Somerville Archives, Drishane House

Harry did indeed come to Castletownshend  – a diary entry records it was April 4 and he stayed to lunch, although another source says that he stayed overnight and that Edith found him shy but liked him enormously. At this time, Edith was nearing 60, (dressed as Master of the Fox Hounds, below) whereas Harry was 27. She referred to him as ‘our window boy’ in a subsequent letter to Cameron.

The letter refers to the dimensions of the window – Harry didn’t mind  the shape at all – “I like long openings.” But Edith, very much the painter, had been taken by the more horizontal orientation of windows she had seen in Exeter Cathedral, such as the Old Testament window below) and really wanted to change the windows by making them shorter and perhaps even cutting them down to two-lights. As we will see, she realised part of this ambition, but not all.

Although the decision that Harry was to do the window was now made, that’s not to say that all went smoothly from this point on. Edith had a hard time being decisive about the iconography she wanted (St Finbarr didn’t make the final cut), and at one point Cameron managed to lose Harry’s design for the window and she had to ask him to do it again. Also, there was the matter of cost, and how the rest of the family felt about it all. We’ll get into all that in the next post, as well as the elements of the window that Harry designed. Here’s a sneak preview.

*I have to record here my debt of gratitude to Thomas Somerville and the Somerville Archives, for permission to view and quote from letters from Harry Clarke to Edith Somerville and from Edith to Cameron. It is an enormous privilege (and quite a thrill) to have original material to work from.

Ten Years!

Why have we chosen this photograph to head up our ten year anniversary blogpost? That’s simple: the pic was taken on 15 October 2012. We had moved into Ard Glas – just outside Ballydehob – for a six-month rental to see how we liked West Cork!

But – what about the giant sparrow?

Wait a minute. We very obviously ended up liking West Cork so much that we bought a house in Cappaghglass (the townland next door to Ard Glas), and have stayed there ever since. As you can see, we have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves over the last decade:

Yes, but, that very large sparrow…?

Be patient! Believe it or not, we have kept the blog posts going, with hardly any interruption, ever since. This is Roaringwater Journal post number 968. In the last decade, our Journal has been viewed over 1.5 million times and we have acquired over 5,700 followers between our various platforms.

Our posts are all still there in the archives – and you can still read them. Search by using the three-bar icon on the home page and select All Pages-Navigation, or one of the other menus. Alternately, press the cog button under the Roaringwater Journal title at the top of the page, then scroll down to Archives. Roll down through all the months. Or enter a search term into the magnifying glass symbol next to the cog. That will show whether we have mentioned your chosen subject in any of our blogs. We warn you that some posts (especially the very early ones) haven’t survived the test of time perfectly: but we leave them in there because it’s all a bit of history.


Hang on! Of course, things change a bit as the years go by (although we don’t*). We have varied the layout of the blog, and the header etc. We had thought of refreshing it all again to celebrate this milestone but… ah, well – perhaps for the twentieth anniversary.


Another pic from 2012 (above) showing mixed weather conditions over Roaringwater Bay. It hasn’t always been sunshine here (have a look at this) but it always feels sunny to us – or just about to be sunny. One of our newest posts -here – shows us doing what we like the most, and always have: exploring remote and often forgotten West Cork byways.

Our regular readers will know that, over ten years, we have developed our interests to take in history, archaeology, rock art, stained glass, architecture, topography, folklore, wildflowers, art and culture, landscape and language… and very much more. We share our adventures often with Amanda and Peter Clarke, our fellow bloggers and friends – see Holy Wells of Cork and Kerry and Hikelines.

What of the next ten years? Well, we are trying to be innovative. This week we have introduced a ‘guest post’ for the first time: this one, by our friend Brian O’Riordan, explores the exploits of an intrepid 79-year old woman who sailed solo across the Atlantic to Ireland in 1994 , which falls right into our own interests, and – hopefully – yours too.


Ok – we have got the message! About the sparrow, that is. The original giant sparrow is one of two (a male and a female) which were created for the Olympic Park in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010 by the sculptor Myfanwy MacLeod. One was transported by our own photo magic to Ard Glas! Perhaps they are not relevant to West Cork, but they are meaningful to Finola and Robert, as we saw them together in Canada ten years ago – pic below. We have just recently returned from a visit to Canada, enjoying a long-awaited catch-up with Finola’s family there. We made sure to record our presence there with another photo-op (below the below).

* Hopefully this demonstrates how youthful we remain, imbibing as we do the stimulating West Cork air. Here’s to the next ten….!

Sun’s Out! A Further Look at The Beara

A few years ago, on one April day after a bleak, harsh winter that had gales, hurricanes, blizzards and unceasing bitter east winds thrown at us – the sun came out! We were out too, and headed up to the Beara Peninsula to see if we could remember what sun-soaked landscapes felt like… They felt great!

Header – the glories of Cork and Kerry combine on the spectacular Beara; top photograph – finally, after a long,harsh winter, we see the spring blossoms appearing; middle – a wayside shrine on the road out from Glengariff; bottom – Hungry Hill dominates the views as we head west on the peninsula

You will remember our previous visits to the Beara: there are not enough superlatives for what it has to offer in the way of stunning scenery and colour. None of these photographs have been enhanced – what you see is exactly what we saw on the day – and it’s what you will see, too, if you choose aright (although even on dull days we always find plenty to interest us).

Top photograph – St Kentigern’s Church is in the centre of one of Ireland’s most colourful villages; middle – the sunlight plays games with the beautiful windows by glass artist George Walsh; bottom – light from the windows dances on the pews

We knew where we were going: Finola was keen to revisit the little Catholic church of St Kentigern in Eyeries, which has a fine collection of windows by George Walsh: it’s a gem – and at its best for the quality of the light enhancing it on the day. I wanted to see the settlement itself in the early spring sunlight as it’s one of the most colourful places in the whole of Ireland! Neither of us was disappointed.

Just a taster of the treats in store in Eyeries: on a beautiful spring day there was hardly a soul around, but we were still able to find an ice cream in O’Sullivan’s!

Our second objective was to travel into the hills and find Ardgroom Outward stone circle. The trail involves farm gates, stiles and a lot of mud – but the 9 stone circle (named locally ‘Canfea’) is a fine, almost intact monument with wide vistas to mountain and sea. The impressive outlier stone is 3.2m in height.

The magnificent Ardgroom Outward (or ‘Canfea’) stone circle is accessible via a marked, boggy path: the vistas from the site make the journey worthwhile. Finola is dwarfed by the huge outlier!

It’s barely a skip up to Eyeries from Nead an Iolair, so we had to carry on around the peninsula and take in the almost surreal views of oceans, lakes and mountains before dipping into Kerry and then heading over the top back into Cork county and down the Healy Pass – surely one of Ireland’s most spectacular road trips.

Returning home – with the evening sun setting gloriously over Roaringwater Bay – we reflected that there can’t be many places in the world where a single day can offer such a feast to satisfy all the senses.

Burne-Jones in Lismore Cathedral

Edward Coley Burne-Jones is perhaps best known as a painter, but he also designed stained glass. While he was a prolific designer, not many of his windows found their way to Ireland. Hence, it is a joy to see and appreciate his beautiful two-light window in Lismore Cathedral.

Burne-Jones was one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whose aim was to recreate a style of painting that they saw as most representative of the period before the Renaissance (which spoiled everything, apparently). Their paintings are distinguished by being highly romantic and emphasising beauty (male and female), the natural world (or at least the most benign aspects of it) and attention to detail.  The portrait of him below is used with gratitude and under license from the National Portrait Gallery.

Burne-Jones met William Morris when he left university to study art and they began a life-long partnership. Known as one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Morris united a genius for business with a commitment to honouring both art and craft. One of the ‘crafts’ he recognised as needing a genuine artistic approach was stained glass. While Burne-Jones did some designing for the stained glass firm of Powell of Whitefriars, from 1861 on he designed exclusively for Morris. The two friends are shown below, once again, under license from the National Portrait Gallery. It’s not the wildly romantic and handsome image I had of them – perhaps it’s true that you should never meet your heroes.

It’s important to emphasise here that Burne-Jones was an artist and designer: he did not execute the windows he designed, although he often included notes about colour preference or the form of a figure or detail on his cartoons – the full-size drawings upon which the glass was laid to guide the artists who painted and cut the glass. The cartoons below were recently offered for sale at Sothebys for 40,000 – 60,000USD!

Ironically, this was a contradiction of the true philosophy of the arts and crafts movement, which held that a single artist/craftsperson should execute all aspects of the final artwork. This was the rule inculcated by AE Child when he inducted all his eager students into the processes of designing and making stained glass in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. It was the underlying ideology of An Túr Gloine and it was how Harry Clarke started out – both designing and actually painting his own windows. (That’s Lismore Cathedral below, where the window is located – you can read more about this historic and fascinating church in Robert’s post Off the M8 – Lismore Quest.)

But once you start a company, that company has to make money to survive, and Morris was canny enough to see that the artist-maker was not the business model he needed. Morris specialised in wonderful pattern-making, especially foliage of all kinds (his name is synonymous with certain kinds of wallpaper and fabric). Burne-Jones’ figures, along with Morris’s highly-patterned backgrounds, were handed over to the craftsmen (yes, all men, I think, although I stand to be corrected here) to take them from a cartoon to a finished window. Like Harry Clarke’s windows, Burne-Jones’ were instantly recognisable and popular and the demand for them was enormous. You can see why. The figures are languorous and romantic. The faces are intensely beautiful; the details of the robes, armour, helmets, musical instruments etc are exquisite; the colours are soft and harmonious. 

By the time Burne-Jones died in 1898 and Morris in 1896, there was a huge catalogue of gorgeous designs. Morris and Co continued under the leadership of John Dearle (himself a talented designer) and the firm continued to produce Burn-Jones windows, adapted as necessary to fit the size and position of windows. In fact, there is an almost-identical window in another C of I church, in Coolock.

This brings us to the Lismore window – Justice and Humility – installed in honour of Francis Edmund Currey upon Currey’s death in 1896. Who was Francis Edmund Currey? He was the Duke of Devonshire’s agent and a keen, and early, photographer. He, or his wife, was related to the Somervilles of Castletownshend, although I am not sure how. His photographs are in several archives (just Google).

That’s him, above*. A plaque refers to his ‘compassionate work during the famine.’ I have been unable to find much corroboration of this (and remember, as the largely-absent Duke’s agent, he got to write his own version of events for ‘his’ cathedral) – but I have found some accounts that say his emphasis was on keeping the tenantry contented and he was certainly not one of the cruel agents that proliferated at this time. If anyone out there knows more, please comment below!

The windows are beautifully and expertly done – Morris and Co had many very talented and able craftsmen, although we don’t know which of them was responsible for executing this one. Justice is represented by the figure of St Michael, although curiously there are no wings, despite the fact that Michael is an Archangel. He carries a sword in his right hand – he vanquished Satan with a sword – and in his left had he holds the scales he uses to weigh souls on Judgement Day. He wears chain mail and complicated robes and his steady gaze seems to size up the viewer with a mix of compassion and insight.

The figure of Humility is suitably, well, humble, with a downcast gaze and carrying a lamb. Like Michael, she has much drapery, all finely-worked (take a close look).

The predella (bottom panel) is the familiar Morris wallpaper, a complex intertwining of leaves and flowers, pleasingly repeated.  

The very top section of the tracery (which I didn’t capture in my photographs) is a sweet angel blowing two pipes – below is the exact same design from an English window.

This post was inspired by a book loaned from a friend – thank you, Richard,  for all the information on Wilden church, and the stories that went along with the book.

*Francis Edmund Currey by Kilburn, William Edward (1818-1891) – Sean Sexton, United Kingdom, Europe – Public Domain