Clarke-style Windows

“In no time there was a large studio successfully producing Clarke-style windows to his designs or under his supervision.”

This post and this slide show is about a set of windows in a church in Leixlip, Co Kildare. The music is How Can I Keep from Singing by Enya ©, used with permission. I am hoping she will like me using her transcendent sound for this purpose. (You may need to click on Watch on YouTube for the full screen version.)

The Leixlip stained glass perfectly illustrates what a Clarke-style window is all about. The quote in the first paragraph is from Nicola Gordon Bowe’s Introduction to the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass. The foremost scholar on all matters relating to Harry Clarke (above, in a portrait by his wife, Margaret Clarke) and stained glass of the Irish Arts and Crafts era, she has researched his output exhaustively, and helped us to understand that he ran a busy studio with over 30 employees and was by no means able to design or paint all the windows himself. 

Of course he did many windows – about 150 in all – but if they were his windows, he signed them and they were expensive. Above is a detail from his Terenure masterpiece, The Virgin in Glory, to give you an idea of the difference between the real thing and a Clarke-style window. In addition to that, after his father died in 1921, he and his brother Walter ran the business – Joshua Clarke and Sons (it wasn’t called The Harry Clarke Studios until 1930) – with Walter looking after the business end and Harry in charge of the artistic output. Harry produced his own windows on the side, as it were, paying for materials and glazing time, but charging differently. To fulfil the demand for stained glass windows from around the country (and indeed from the USA, Australia, Britain, and other countries) Harry gathered around him a group of talented artists and trained some of them to reproduce his style. Some of the artists he found himself – they were either fellow students/friends at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (like Austin Molloy, or the group below showing Harry top left) or had arrived through recommendations (Philip Deegan from Worthing), or, like Millicent Girling, had taken one of Harry’s own classes. He taught design at the DMSA for a couple of years in the early 1920s and according to Nano Reid, one of his students, all the students were under his spell and there was a wave of Harry Clarke Style illustrations.*

However they got there, in the mid-1920s Kathleen Quigly and Leo Cartwright had joined the other accomplished artists working under Harry’s supervision. While not all the windows the Joshua Clarke studios produced in this period were ‘in the Clarke style,’ many were, and there was huge pressure to produce a Harry Clarke window although not always the budget to go with the aspiration. 

The windows in Our Lady’s Nativity Church in Leixlip, Co Kildare, fall into this category. They were installed in 1925 by Joshua Clarke and Sons and consist mainly of clear and light green quarries, with decorative borders. Each two-light window has a fleur-de-lis design in blue and a Latin inscription at the bottom, while the top panels feature two small scenes from the lives of Mary and Christ. The glass is of the inexpensive kind and the repetitiveness of the decoration meant that most of the windows could be assembled by apprentices or glaziers, while one of the studio artists produced the small scenes.

Who did them? On balance, my guess would be Philip Deegan. He seems to have been the go-to artist for Clarke-style windows. Kathleen Quiqly was also there at the time, but she was mainly assisting Harry with his own windows. Deegan was very capable of designing a near-Harry, as some of the drawings attributed to him in the TCD Clarke Archive attest. Take a look at his sketches for windows here, here and here, for example (sorry, not allowed to reproduce the images online). Not only was he working at the studios, he also signed up for Harry’s design classes and provided illustrations for the Dublin Magazine. I’ve only managed to find one of these (thank you, the amazing Patrick Hawe!) but the facial expressions remind me forcibly of the scourger in the Scourging of Christ window. 

However, that’s speculation on my part and it could have been one of the other artists, or even more than one artist. The small scenes are lacking in Harry’s signature complexity and deeply emotive expression, but taken as a whole they make a charming sequence and deserve to be more visible than they are. 

For much more on Harry Clarke and on stained glass, go to our Stained Glass Navigation Page.

*Quoted in The Metropolitan School of Art, 1900-1923: (Part 2) by John Turpin. Dublin Historical Review, Vol 38, No 2, Mar 1985

Mayer Stained Glass in Ireland: Craft or Commerce?

Among Irish stained glass aficionados nothing divides opinion like the windows of Mayer of Munich.

From about the 1860s to the 1940s Mayer was the foremost supplier of stained glass to Irish churches, both Catholic and Protestant. The first two images above, for example, are of a Nativity scene in St Eugene’s Catholic Cathedral in Derry. Catholics were probably spurred on to order Mayer windows when Pope Leo XIII named the company a Pontifical Institute of Christian Art in 1892. However, there is no doubt that the windows appealed enormously to the priests and vicars in charge of ordering them and that Mayer was adept in providing the kind of art that was widely attractive  to parishioners. So – Mayer stained glass was ubiquitous, but it was also controversial and derided. Let’s look at why this was, and whether it was deserved.

During the stained glass renaissance in nineteenth century Britain, the ideal became to replicate the style of stained glass from the High Gothic period of the 12th to 15th centuries – lots of small pieces of coloured glass leaded together, with saintly images set inside elaborate canopies. The example above is from York Minster and the windows below, clearly based on that model, are from the Pugin-designed St Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy.

Mayer moved away from this kind of glass towards what became known as the Pictorial Style. As a concession to the Gothic, they kept the canopies for the most part (it was a long time before stained glass studios dispensed with canopies) but they used larger sheets of glass (necessitating fewer cames of lead) and they took their artistic inspiration not from medieval windows but from Renaissance paintings.   The purists huffed and puffed, but the people flocked to this new style of glass.

From the beginning this was a business, not an artists’ studio. The purpose was to make money and therefore a factory model was employed, with workers engaged in repetitive production of their own specialities – the apprentices did nothing but canopies, the painters might spend years decorating robes with brocade or embroidery motifs, only the most talented got to do faces. Designers produced sketches that were infinitely adaptable, with slight tweaking. In the large window above, in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, the central image is of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. An almost identical design can be seen in the Catholic Church in Bantry, Co Cork, below (and indeed all over the place).

The results were appealing – highly competent windows full of beautiful images. 

High Renaissance figures swathed in copious draperies which amplify their forms and define their movements. Here the painter was freer to incorporate the sharp drapery folds which were inherited from the German Renaissance painting tradition. Colours are vibrant and rich, and the window glows with a deep resonance because the amount of white glass was kept to a minimum. . . It was easy for a congregation to relate to the pictorialism and to recognise the narratives, so that the windows were regarded not only as aesthetic objects but as an effective catalyst to meditation and piety. Pictorialism spoke more directly to the. . . public than did the more correct visual medievalism of the stricter British ecclesiologists. 

shirley ann brown*

Above is the Annunciation window in Charleville, Co Cork – one of my personal favourite windows by any studio. Although the firm was German and the windows made in Munich, they had offices in London, and an agent in Dublin (in fact, Joshua Clarke, Harry’s father, started out as their Irish agent). They became adept at fulfilling the request of Irish clergy for specific iconography – that is, Irish saints, and panels illustrating stories from Irish hagiographies.

St Patrick, above, is shown with his shamrock, paschal fire and snake, although the towers in the backdrop could be from a castle on the Rhine rather than resembling an Irish round tower. At their most basic, Irish saints were simply chosen from a pattern-book of saintly images and supplied with a name-caption. They all looked the same – St Aidan in one window is identical to St Columba in another, balding, bearded, dressed in a monk’s habit or a bishop’s splendid robes and mitre, but often with an attribute to distinguish them one from the other. St Patrick always has his shamrock, St Brigid her flame or her church, St Joseph carries lilies. Nicola Gordon Bowe, in the Introduction to the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass reported on Edward Martyn’s outrage at the lack of discernment among clergy and architects who seemed not to be able to distinguish between the work of an artist and the trade salesman with an oily tongue and an ever-ready kiln.

But you get what you pay for, and if you wanted something other than the pattern-book, Mayer could rise to the occasion, with splendid depictions of the mythology associated with Irish saints, all done in the same Italianate style and full of movement and vitality. One of my favourites is the story of St Dympna from Armagh Cathedral. (See Harry Clarke’s version of St Dympna in this post  – the story is the same but the images are vastly different.)

David Lawrence, the mastermind behind the website Gloine.ie, is a defender of Mayer, saying about the prejudice to which Mayer was subjected, Feelings against German glass were whipped up into a nationalistic frenzy at the time of the setting up, in 1903, of the Irish Arts-and-Crafts stained-glass studio An Túr Gloine and continued as that studio flourished in the early decades of the twentieth century. This prejudice has been well documented and was partly based on the factory model of glass production, since the new ethos of Arts and Crafts prioritised the artist’s vision and craft and abhorred mass production. However, Lawrence insists that, at their best, Mayer produced outstanding stained glass to equal any studio.

The year 1894 marked the start of a particularly successful new era at Mayer — this was the year that they were joined by the English artist William Francis Dixon (1848-1928). He had trained at the London studio, Clayton & Bell and then set up his own studio, Dixon & Vesey, before moving to Germany to work at Mayer. Dixon‘s arrangement with Mayer was a happy one. His skilful designing and drawing in a romantic manner influenced by the late Pre-Raphaelites and Mayer‘s attention to detail, masterly glass-painting and faultless craftsmanship formed an ideal marriage. Mayer-Dixon windows are in a romantic style, with a sweetness of drawing, softness of painting and beautiful, tapestry-like details. The heads are especially sensitively drawn. It is readily apparent that Dixon was able to dictate his own choice of colours to Mayer. 


 David Lawrence,
Stained Glass Windows, Six Roman Catholic Churches, County Offaly November 2010

One of Dixon’s windows is this fine war memorial in St Canice’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Kilkenny. However, in the end, it can be argued that Mayer became a victim of their own success. Despite occasional triumphs of design and execution, too many of their windows lacked originality and freshness, starting to look hackneyed and same-y. Public taste for sentimentalised depictions (however gorgeous and expertly painted) gave way, under the influence of European art movements, to a search for a more authentic and modern form of religious expression. Irish artists responded by developing a vibrant, often experimental, stained glass industry dominated by small studios producing artist-led work. 

I will leave you with The Raising of Lazarus from Baltinglass Catholic Church for two reasons – firstly because it is perfectly illustrates the Mayer pictorial style at its best. I have provided three details close up, so you can see how competently the artist has rendered the subject matter.

The sentimentality critics complained of is in full flight in the image below – but also, look at the size of the eyes. Creating over-sized eyes to enhance and beautify a face didn’t start with Harry Clarke!

But secondly I use The Raising of Lazarus tongue in cheek as a nod to the fact that in fact Mayer is still around – and they have finally caught up with the century they live in. Take a look at this story in the New York Times to see how Mayer of Munich is embracing the twenty-first century.

*The Influence of German Religious Stained Glass in Canada 1880-1941 by Shirley Ann Brown, RACAR: revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review, Vol. 21, No. 1/2, Représentation et identités culturelles / Representation and Cultural Identity (1994), pp. 21-31 (11 pages)

The Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass

It’s finally here, and it’s stunning!

The Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass was first published in 1988 and has been out of print almost since then. It was the work of Nicola Gordon Bowe, David Caron and Michael Wynne. It documented all the known windows of Harry Clarke and the artists of An Túr Gloine and was snapped up by anyone interested in looking at stained glass.

Click through to see sample pages!

Of the three editors, David Caron, who was a newly-minted PhD at the time, lecturing at the National College of Art, is the only surviving member. He has forged a long-time collaboration with the photographer Jozef Vrtiel, a specialist in the difficult art of capturing stained glass, and together they determined that it was time for an updated edition. Not only updated, but expanded – their vision was for a book that would include all the best stained glass designed and/or made by Irish artists, or by artists working in Ireland. Harry Clarke is here, of course – that’s his St Louis and St Martin window, below, in Castletownshend. But there is so much more to Irish stained glass than Harry Clarke, even though he’s the one that most people know (or think they know).

Note I said ‘artists’ – this is not a book that records all Irish stained glass, such as the mass-produced windows that came from the large studios. The criteria for inclusion were “Artistic merit, individual voice and excellence in the craft.” There were nine artists included in the first book – there are over 90 artists represented in this one!

Some artists love to tell stories in their windows – this window is about the trials and tribulations of Oliver Plunkett and is by Kevin Kelly of the Abbey Stained Glass Studio

To do this, besides drawing on his own considerable store of knowledge (and indeed doing the vast majority of the work in this book), David assembled a team of fellow enthusiasts and experts each of whom concentrated on the work of a single artist or studio. For example, Réiltín Murphy has long been compiling the work of her parents, Johhny Murphy and Roisín Dowd Murphy, who together with Dessie Devitt, founded and ran the Murphy-Devitt Studios. You can take a look at my posts, Murphy Devitt in Cork, to see how brilliantly they pioneered a whole new approach to stained glass in mid-century Ireland. The image below is one of their windows from Newbridge College Chapel.

Another contributor is Ruth Sheehy, whose wonderful new book on Richard King occupies pride of place on my desk. I’ve learned so much from it, and bring this new appreciation now to my sightings of a Richard King – always a big thrill. The panel below is a detail from one of his enormous windows (The Sacred Heart) in St Peter and Paul’s Church in Athlone.

My own part revolved around my project to record all of George Walsh’s windows in Ireland. This has been a joyful journey for me, and I have written about George and his windows for the Irish Arts Review and for my own blog. There are over 100 of George’s windows in the Gazetteer, including the scheme he executed for the Holy Family Church in Belfast.

This is a book you will want to have with you in your car. And you know what? There is a lot more wonderful stained glass out there to discover – I’ve been amazed at what I have found in little country towns and in 1960s modernist churches. I have no doubt a third edition will have to be produced eventually as more of us tune in to the treasures under our noses. Look at the picture below, for example – you would swear it was a Harry Clarke! It was certainly made in his studio by a highly talented artist and bears a lot of his characteristic flourishes, just not his signature.

The best part of working on this book? The collegiality of everyone involved – we all helped each other out with queries and photographs. I feel like I have made new friends, even though I have yet to meet many of them. You can buy the book now in all good bookshops (buy local!) or order from the publisher.

Stained Glass Detectives – and a Find!

This is the story of what it takes sometimes to ferret out information about stained glass windows – often unsigned and undated and installed too far back for community memory to help. In this case, the window turned out to be a significant addition to the list of important Irish windows. Although it was I who first saw and photographed the windows in 2017, the detective work was largely done by my friend and colleague David Caron. David is the editor of the soon-to-be-published second edition of The Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass and the most knowledgeable stained glass scholar on this island. My own contribution to the Gazetteer focusses on the work of George Walsh, but I am in the habit of photographing stained glass wherever I go, and I often send interesting windows to David or to other colleagues. In 2019, going though my photos, I came across two images that piqued my curiosity and decided to send them to David.

St Colman’s Catholic Church in Macroom (above, photo courtesy of the Buildings of Ireland) is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture. The original church was built in 1826 – a significant achievement in the period before Catholic Emancipation and especially considering the poverty of the majority of the Catholic population at the time – and remodelled and extended in the 1890s. It has several stained glass windows inside – an Earley, some Harry Clarke Studios from the period after Harry died (such as the one below), and others that are unsigned and possibly imported. A fairly standard assemblage for a church of this period.

What caught my attention, however, were two panels in the entry porch. Rather than being fitted into true windows, the two pieces are installed in back-lit cabinets. The backlighting wasn’t quite bright enough so the windows did not show to full advantage and it was hard to make out any detail. Nevertheless, they were arresting in their modernity and in how different they were to the other windows inside the church. The first, to the left of the door, is an image of St Colman of Cloyne, patron saint of the diocese and of the church itself. He is depicted with a harp, dressed in long robes and with large bare feet. The harp is a reference to his status as a noted bard or poet – medieval bards recited their compositions to the accompaniment of the harp. The figure is surrounded by glass panes of varying shapes mostly in shades of green, and an aura radiates around his head.

The glass to the right of the door is a depiction of the madonna and child. Mary wears a wimple with a fez-like top and a long robe in olive green. She is seated and in her lap is the Christ child with one hand raised in blessing. He wears a crown and a white robe. Their faces are similar with a small mouth, long noise and heavy eyebrows (see lead image). Mary’s large foot rests on a crescent moon and her head and Jesus’ are surrounded  by an aura. Like Colman, the figures are set within irregularly shaped pieces of coloured glass in shades of green.

David decided to track down the mystery of who had made these windows and finally managed to get in touch with Fr O’Donnell, a retired Parish Priest who was very helpful indeed. He remembered that the windows had been made by a “Swedish woman from Skibbereen”. I got on the case and through a series of inquiries found Carin MacCana, who no longer does stained glass but still lives in West Cork. Below is an example of her previous stained glass work from the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, based around the sea creatures of Lough Hyne.

Carin confirmed that she had indeed done one of the windows. Wait, what? One of the windows? Yes, in fact she had been asked to match her window, St Colman, as closely as possible to the existing Madonna and Child window but she did not know who had done that one. Meanwhile, the enterprising Fr O’Donnell (now 90) was making good on his resolve to improve the backlighting. In the course of this, the signature ‘K’ was noticed on the back of the Marian panel. Fr O’Donnell recalled that the Madonna and Child had been presented by the artist Thomas Ryan, PRHA, in memory of a friend of his, a local doctor. Armed with this information, David went back to Carin who then remembered that she had been told the name of the artist was Richard King.

 Richard King in his studio, courtesy of the Capuchin Archives. The 1975 volume has extensive images and moving obituaries for King, beginning on page 169: he was the magazine’s chief artist.

Although I have written about Richard King before (see Richard King in Mayo and Discovering Richard King), I am no expert – but we know who is! David immediately consulted Ruth Sheehy. Ruth has recently published her magisterial study The Life and Work of Richard King: Religion, Nationalism and Modernism – an engaging, erudite and exhaustive study of King’s artistic output, including his stained glass. This is my well-thumbed copy.

She was delighted to confirm that this was indeed the work of Richard King, and that it was a panel she knew existed, but had never managed to find. She pointed us to a similar panel – a ‘twin’ – that King made for the Church of the Holy Cross in Aberaeron in Wales. That panel has been well documented by Martin Crampin, artist and academic, who is the acknowledged expert on Welsh stained glass. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce his photo of that window, “Our Lady of Ireland”, below. For more on that window, see his listing here: http://stainedglass.llgc.org.uk/object/970 and also his blog post about this and another Richard King window in Wales: https://stainedglasswales.wordpress.com/2020/12/17/richard-king/

Of the Welsh window, dating to 1958, in her book, Ruth says:

The Virgin Mary seated with the Christ-child shown in red, is depicted as an Irish woman with a blue shawl around her head and shoulders. The two figures are seen in the centre against a background of large areas of vibrant colour and cubist-abstract shapes. As King knew and admired Mainie Jellett’s art, he would have been aware of her meditative and indirect approach to religious themes as shown by The Ninth Hour. . . Although King’s interpretation of figuration and non-figuration was somewhat different from that of Jellett, the stained glass window of Our Lady of Ireland shows him experimenting with a cubist-abstract approach to form, light and colour which suggests an adaptation of her style.

Mainie Jellett’s The Ninth Hour, 1941, oil on canvas, Collection Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane

Regarding the Macroom window, which dates to 1963, Ruth wrote to us in an email:

The Virgin and Child are depicted here as King and Queen of Heaven and this image has similarities with another work by King entitled ‘Our Lady of Ireland’ c. 1958 which is reproduced in the book. The half moon at the Virgin’s feet refers to her immaculate conception. The red and white halo behind the Christ child wearing a crown indicates that his kingship is based on his ultimate Cross and resurrection and is not of this world.. . . . The large hands and feet of the figures and their expressive quality would suggest the influences of Evie Hone and modern German stained glass on King’s stylistic development at this period.

Fr O’Donnell has now had the windows cleaned and installed much improved back-lighting. The results are wonderful and allow us to see the windows properly, as both Carin MacCana and Richard King intended. Carin has done an outstanding job of matching King’s style, which is why we all assumed in the beginning of the hunt for answers, that this was a pair of windows done by the same artist. The colours of the St Colman window, instead of being muddy and autumnal now glow in golds, blues and greens.

As for King’s Madonna and Child window, the colours are quite different from how they appeared before. The background is dominated by light yellows and pale blues and greens, while Mary’s robe is not olive green but a brilliant azure – and it is now obvious that the ‘fez’ is a crown. The red and white halo (a favourite symbol of King’s) is also clearer now. Both of these windows beautifully illustrate the importance of proper back-lighting.

It isn’t every day that you can be part of rediscovering a ‘lost’ work of art – what a privilege it has been to be part of this journey.

Harry Clarke’s Terenure Masterpiece

A controversial word, masterpiece, and in this case I am using it to denote that this a Harry Clarke masterpieces rather than the masterpiece. There are several contenders for that title, although the Geneva Window may take the crown. In any ranking of Harry’s windows, however, these two side-by side windows, in St Joseph’s Church in Terenure in Dublin*, must be close to the top. 

The left window, The Annunciation, was finished in 1922 and the right window, The Virgin in Glory, in 1923. What is perhaps extraordinary is that these windows were completed at a time when Ireland, and Dublin in particular, was in turmoil and the country was riven by civil war. Life in the artistic world was precarious, with the National Gallery and the School of Art closed and the destruction of many of Dublin’s finest buildings. Harry was in the midst of moving house and re-organising and staffing the studio, while also very busy with illustration commissions. But stained glass was still his main business and he was pleased to receive the order for the two-light window from Fr Healy, for whom he had previously completed the enormous three-light Crucifixion window over the main altar. Having been completed several months apart, each window in this set has a different mood and character. Let’s look at the Annunciation first. Before it was installed, Harry entered it in the art competition that was part of the Aonach Tailteann, or Tailteann Games – a Festival of all-things-Irish with a strong Celtic Revival influence. The window won the Gold Medal for stained glass. 

Gabriel hovers above Mary, held in suspense by long scarlet wings. Depicted as female, she wears a complex headdress and long multi-layered garment tied at the waist with a broad blue sash. Her feet are suspended over a scene of a hill town. The Holy Spirit in its dove form is to her right, shedding silver rays down on Mary.

Mary is depicted as young, with huge innocent eyes and a gentle expression. Her colour has traditionally been blue and Harry uses a deep royal blue for her gown. Across her shoulders is a large shawl. Nicole Gordon Bowe in Harry Clarke: The Life and Work describes the window in terms which could be applied to this shawl “. . . a subtle work with shimmering pale colours, gossamer lines and finely laid on tones. . .” Harry’s typical ‘floral ornamentation’ (known to his assistants as F Os or even as Fried Onions) occupy much of the rest of the lower half of the window, an endlessly various and imaginative garden of blooms.

The composition is balanced and harmonious. The scarlet wings are mirrored by green fronds cascading from the right border. Mary’s outstretched hand provides a counterpoint to Gabriel’s, while both have large and complex haloes. The eye is drawn to two pairs of dainty slippers. The angel’s predominant red hues are laced and leavened with blues, while Mary’s blues are warmed by the reds and pinks of the shawl. Despite the inclusion of the floral elements and highly-figured details on the garments, the impression is of a serene and uncluttered scene.

The right hand window exudes a different energy – forceful, complex, and peopled with the kind of supporting cast that Harry delighted in. The emphasis on Marian iconography, very much part of the popular emphasis of Catholicism pre-Vatican II, supported this kind of depiction of Mary, triumphant and queenly, holding sceptre and orb, with the moon and snake under her feet (a mixed metaphor inspired by the Woman clothed in the sun with the moon under her feet from Revelations 12, and the Genesis verse in which God tells the serpent that the woman shall ‘crush thy head’). God is shown above her, hands raised in the sign of blessing, and both have fiery aureoles. Mary carries a scroll with the invocation in Latin, Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of the womb.

While these are the two main figures, much of the interest in this window comes from the host of other women characters whose stories are illustrated in the side panels and the predella. Unusually for a Catholic window of the time, these are women from the Old Testament, not the Bridgets and Itas and Dympnas which populate so many of Harry’s saintly stained glass. I will start at the top and go through the stories as our eyes descend.

The border is patterned in deep blue, punctuated by tiny scenes from the life of Mary. God is surrounded by four female saints although the effect is of ghostly, insubstantial figures. The flowing clothing of the lower two provide a triangular link to Mary’s crown, an effective technique that divides the space and provides a frame for the first two Old Testament women, Ruth and Deborah. They are both rendered in green glass above and blue below, and both images protrude beyond the border, a technique Harry used to give depth. Ruth is known for her goodness and kindness, and Deborah for her wisdom and gift of prophecy, symbolised by the owl on her hand.

To the left of Mary’s Crown is Rachel and to the right, Rebecca. Rachel, beloved of Isaac, mother of Joseph, was watching her sheep when Isaac first sees her. Hers is a complicated story, full of trickery and disappointment. ‘Rebecca at the Well’ is a familiar motif of Renaissance painting – Rebecca comes to draw water at the well and gives it to a weary traveller and his camels, little knowing that by doing this she fulfils a prophecy and becomes the wife of Isaac (different Isaac) and mother of Jacob from whom descends the nation of Israel. 

Next (above and below) are scenes from two stories. To the left is the story of Esther. King Xerxes, having banished his wife for disobedience, identifies her as his favourite (lower down the panel) from the harem and (higher image) makes her his queen. She goes on to become a saviour of her people. To the right is the story of Judith, the courageous widow who inveigles her way into Holofernes tent, lies with him, and cuts off his head when he sinks into an inebriated sleep. In the higher images she is pictured in scarlet robes, with her hand tangled in Holofernes bright red hair. In the lower, she and her maid escape carrying the head of Holofernes in a basket. The maid has a comical, grimacing expression – understandable given her burden. 

Finally, in the predella, we have Adam and Eve cowering in fear and shame in the Garden of Eden, while the golden apples hang from a purple tree. Gordon Bowe, whose knowledge of art history was prodigious, sees this as an homage to Paul Klee, whose Two Men Meeting, Each Presuming the Other to be of Higher Rank, the source she posits for this depiction, can be seen here.

By any standards these two windows belong to the highest order of artistic endeavour. They are also, especially The Blessed Virgin in Glory, an insight into Harry Clarke’s unique imagination, with its selection of tiny figures whose stories are worked out in intricate detail despite the constraints of space, and many of whom are far from the gentle virgins idealised by Catholic clergy of the day. Thomas Bodkin, the eminent art critic and later Director of the National Gallery referred to them as a multitude of little foreshadowing figures and says, They are drawn with such amazing delicacy of detail that they demand inspection at the closest quarter; and yet when seen from a distance they sink into a background swirl of lovely hues enhancing the majestic figure of their queen (Quoted in Gordon Bowe’s The Life and Work of Harry Clarke).

*If and when you can, go visit St Joseph’s in Terenure. Take with you the Marvellous book Harry Clarke and His Legacy by Patricia Curtin-Kelly. It’s a well-researched and very readable account of all the windows in this church by Harry Clarke and by those who carried on his legacy, Richard King and William Dowling and I highly recommend it. 

Sweet Ilen – Part 3

Here is the third instalment of our wanderings along the Ilen – one of West Cork’s most significant rivers. Once a commercial highway connecting the merchants of Skibbereen with the coastal ports and scattered islands, it now plies its way from the summit of Mullagmesha Mountain taking a lazy and often secret course through lush valleys and pastures, showing itself to us only at a few crossing points until, boosted by many tributaries, it becomes a wide tidal waterway heading for Baltimore and the wild Atlantic.

Our explorations so far have taken us from Newcourt upstream to Ballyhilty Bridge. We have yet to ‘top and tail’ the river: that will be done, but only when restrictions and conditions permit. I doubt that we will be searching for the source in the mountains until next spring at the earliest, as those high paths are closed for safety at present. But, back in November, we were able to continue north from Hollybrook Demense and Maulbrack townland.

Images from top include the header showing the river at Caheragh with the distant mountains to the north; an anglers’ seat at Ballyhilty; and the broad river just upstream of Ballyhilty Bridge. The river is still wide as we follow it, but becomes shallower and is interrupted by rapids mixing with contemplative, deep pools (above).

Large parts of the river here are lost in the hinterland. We try to follow every small trackway that might take us close to it – and which certainly take us to the back of beyond – and catch the occasional glimpse such as this one (above), which is probably an ancient ford.

We delight in travelling the tiniest of boreens, which invariably open up new vistas for us, and make us feel so happy to be living in such a beautiful part of our world! This little used lane (above) takes us to the next crossing point – romantically named, as far as I can ascertain, Graveyard Bridge.

Two extracts from the OS maps of c1840 (upper) and c1897 (lower) show the site on the border of Ballaghdown South and Caheragh townlands, where an ancient road crosses the Ilen River. Both maps show a ford and stepping stones at this point. Today we found a bridge there dating (we believe) from the early twentieth century. We also found the remains of the old ford: large cobbles providing a trackway down the the waters’ edge: Finola is following the original line of the lane (below).

This river crossing was of significance in Medieval times. ‘Blessed Mary de Caheragh’ was a monastic site, said to be situated on the hilltop commanding the view above the graveyard. It was no doubt founded here because of the proximity of the watercourse.

1317 December 28, Geoffrey Fitz John de Cogan is presented by the King (by mandate to the Bishop of Cork), to the church of the Blessed Mary de Catheragh, in the King’s gift, by reason of his wardship of the lands and heir of John de Cogan

Tuckey’s Cork Remembrancer, from Durrus History

There are certainly earthworks, embankments and (reputedly) a souterrain on the high ground which overlooks the river, the ford site and the adjacent burial ground connected to Caheragh village. The Historic Environment Viewer suggest that this site (shown on both maps above) is a ringfort and makes no mention of an ecclesiastical settlement. I braved fierce cows and barbed wire to make the steep climb: it was well worth the effort (and the risk) for the views across the old fort ramparts which opened up to the distant mountains. There is no sign, today, of anything remotely monastic up there on the hill. There is another ‘ringfort’ a short distance to the south – enigmatically named ‘Bishopland’. Nowhere can I find any records or accounts of the fort or the small settlement to the south of it named Bishops Village: this confirms that there is still so much early history to be unravelled in the Irish landscape.

Caheragh Graveyard is located beside the Ilen here and it is also well worth making the time to explore. The village and present day church at Caheragh (which has some fine stained glass) are some way off to the west. You can see the spire on the skyline in this view from the graveyard itself (below).

The extensive Caheragh graveyard (above) – a view from the ringfort (and possible medieval site) looking across the river. The ford, roadway and later bridge are on the far left of the picture. Burial grounds are always a magnet for us, and we spent significant time exploring. The Skibbereen Heritage Centre has done sterling work researching this and many other West Cork graveyards: you will find information online here, and more in the Centre itself, which merits many visits. One grave which was important for me is that of the parents of Captain Francis O’Neill, the Chicago Police Chief who came from West Cork and collected thousands of Irish traditional dance tunes and songs which he gathered from the many Irish settlers in Chicago and who had kept the tradition alive far away from their birthplaces. I wrote about Chief O’Neill a few years ago. The ‘Celtic Cross’ memorial below was commissioned by Francis during a visit home in 1906.

Erected By Captain Francis O’Neill

Chicago, USA To the Memory of his Parents

John O’Neill of Tralibane

Died Nov 1867 Aged 66 Years

And Catherine O’Mahoney

Died 1900 Aged 88 Years

Requiescant in Pace

Amen

inscription in Caheragh Graveyard, West Cork

This aerial view above clearly shows the bridge that has replaced the old ford and stepping stones at this site. You can also see the ‘fort’ on the hilltop above it. The bridge should not be dismissed because it is relatively modern: it’s an example of practical civil engineering in Ireland, possibly in the early years of the Free State, and is functional rather than elegant, serving the purpose of helping to open up some of the remoter regions of the west of Ireland.

Here are the previous episodes in this series: Sweet Ilen and Sweet Ilen – Part 2