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.

The House Style: William Dowling and the Harry Clarke Studios

In the years before he died (in 1931), as he was ill and overburdened with commissions, Harry Clarke came to rely on a stable of brilliant young assistants in his studios. Austin Molloy, Kathleen Quigly, Millicent Girling, George Stephen Walsh, Philip Deegan, Richard King, William Dowling and others were all trained by Harry to execute his designs according to his exacting standards. This post is about the work of one of those artists, William Dowling.

As I explained in my Harry Clarke Quiz post, according to Nicola Gordon Bowe’s classification scheme,  a stained glass window can be labelled a Harry Clarke if it was designed and executed entirely by him, if it was designed and partially executed by him (A), or if it was designed by him and the execution was done under his close supervision (B).  An excellent example of this is the Tullamore St Brendan window (above and below). This is one of Harry’s (B) windows: he designed it but it was executed by William Dowling in 1928 under Harry’s close supervision. Compare it to the St Brendan in my lead image, which was done by Dowling for Knockainey Church in Limerick in 1939.

This is the predella (lowest panel) of the Tullamore Brendan window. When the window was relocated from Rathfarnham, the predella was separated from the main window and is now backlit, in a dark corner.

Harry researched his subjects extensively and ensured that anyone working on his windows did too. Paul Donnelly*, in his fascinating essay Legacy and Identity: Harry Clarke, William Dowling and the Harry Clarke Studios (in Harry Clarke and Artistic Visions of the New Irish State) tells how he sent his apprentice, William Dowling, off to the National Library to read all that was available on his subject when he was working on the Rathfarnham windows. He would come by every day to deliver encouragement – his assistants all adored him and although he was demanding he was also supportive and kind.

While the three Tullamore windows (originally in Rathfarnham) are credited to Harry Clarke, all the other windows in this post are credited to William Dowling

William (everyone called him Willie) Dowling was recommended to Harry by Austin Molloy, who was his teacher at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. Having himself worked with Harry, Molloy recognised the special talent that Willie brought to his painting, a talent that he felt would be well used at Harry’s studio. Willie probably worked on this one (above) too – it’s the predella of the St Paul window now in Tullamore. You can see that it is the inspiration for the predella of a St Paul window from Knockainey in Co Limerick (below), done in 1930 while Harry was in Davos. The full Peter and Paul window is below that one.

How right Molloy was! Not only did Harry come to rely on him greatly while still alive, but Willie was one of the group of artists (along with Richard King) who stayed on after Harry’s death in 1931, filling the many outstanding commissions still on the books and the new ones that continued to pour in. He eventually took over as manager when Richard King left in 1940, while continuing also as chief designer, and stayed until the Studio closed in the 1970s.

Peter and Paul from Knockainey Church in Limerick, dating to 1930

From the moment he arrived at the Studio in 1927 Dowling was committed to Harry’s style. As Paul Donnelly puts it, 

Dowling worked with Clarke, learning the craft of making stained glass according to his standards and design aesthetic. He had the benefit of Harry Clarke’s direct instruction for more than a year before ill-health force Clarke to seek medical treatment in Switzerland.

. . .In his role as principal designer, Dowling was charged with delivering work which was derived from the distinctive artistic legacy left by Harry Clarke. Dowling wrote that the aim of Clarke Studios was to ‘avoid the mundane and commonplace. That was the ideal of Harry Clarke and one which we have done our very best to follow.’

Paul Donnelly, Biographical Sketch of William Dowling
Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass
Christ Crucified, Patrickswell, Co Limerick, by William Dowling, 1943. This window is above the balcony and is a brilliant example of the mixture of figurative and non-figurative elements, specially designed for the space it occupies

After Harry’s death the demand for Clarke-style windows was relentless and the studios delivered. Well into the 40s they were still producing windows that, to the untrained eye, looked very like ‘a Harry Clarke.’ During that time, the quality of the glass, the art and the workmanship was superb and the busy studios were exporting their windows world-wide. 

Ita and Brigid, Knockainey, 1930. The predella panels are below.

Then, and for many years to come, the Harry Clarke Studios did not allow individual artists to sign their work – all windows were signed Clarke or Clarke Studios. Strict adherence to the House Style and refusal to allow signatures, while understandable as marketing decisions, had several unfortunate consequences.

The predella panels from the Ita and Brigid windows. Upper: The vision of St Ita, in which an angel appeared to her in a dream, offering her three glowing gens, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Lower: St Brigid looking after the people of Kildare- the figures on the left are clearly inspired by, as Nicola Gordon Bowe puts it “Harry’s unique ability to depict the gruesome, macabre and palsied in an exquisite manner.”

First of all, it is difficult to identify individual artists with their work, and this includes Dowling himself. Herculean efforts, though, by Ruth Sheehy and Paul Donnelly have allowed us to acknowledge in some cases the work of Richard King, William Dowling, and occasionally others (such as Charles Simmonds and Terry Clarke, Harry’s nephew).

The Presentation, Patrickswell, 1943. By this time the style was becoming less ornate. This window might remind you of the Dowling windows Robert showed in his post about the Seamus Murphy church in Cork, which dated to 1945

Secondly, the lack of clarity caused by all windows being labelled simply Clarke Studios causes enormous confusion about what is a true Harry Clarke, versus a Harry Clarke Studio. See my Quiz posts (the Quiz and The Answers) for more on this. If I had a euro for every time I have seen a window falsely claiming to be a Harry Clarke, I would be wealthy by now. Conversely, those who buy stained glass  panels labelled “Harry Clarke” when they are manifestly not by the master himself, might be poorer.

Jesus Found in the Temple (or Christ Among the Doctors), Patrickswell, 1943

Thirdly, the policy caused some artists, in frustration, to leave. While it is possible that they had other motivations as well, both Richard King and George Stephen Walsh left to go out on their own, eventually shaking off the constrictions of the house style to follow their own artistic visions under their own names.

Two version of Peter receiving his keys. Upper from Patrickswell, 1940 and lower from Knockainey, 1930

Finally, all artists deserve credit for their work. William Dowling is a case in point – while he spent many years producing windows in the House Style, they were not simply imitations, copies or reproductions of Harry’s designs. Willie brought his own genius to each window and when you’ve seen several you begin to recognise his stamp – the way he does faces, for example, or how he loves cascading folds of drapery, or his clever juxtaposition of Harry’s dark ‘floral ornamentation’ device (known as FO’s by assistants, or even as Fried Onions) with bright figurative scenes, such as in the Patrickswell Crucifixion, further up.

Above is a detail from one of Dowling’s Mysteries of the Rosary windows in the Dominican Convent in Wicklow, done in 1938. This is a mocking soldier from a Christ Condemned window and it comes from Dowling’s own artistic imagination, not from a Harry Clarke design

I recently visited two William Dowling Churches in Limerick, Patrickswell and Knockainey, and I have mainly used images from these two churches to illustrate this post, along with a few from the wonderful Mysteries of the Rosary windows by him in the Dominican Convent in Wicklow which date from 1938/39. The windows in Knockainey were done for an older church in the 30s and 40s and then relocated to the new church in 1973. While relocating windows is not always successful (Tullamore is a case in point), in this case the relocated windows (with two minor exceptions) create a startlingly beautiful interior, and an interesting counterpoint to their modern surrounds. The Patrickswell windows are original to the building, dating from 1940 to 1943, although an awkward balcony obscures some of them to the detriment of the overall effect. I, and my companions, were bowled over by these two churches – it felt like we were stepping inside a glowing gallery full of stunning artworks.

The predella from the large Christ the King window in Knockainey (1931) showing three scenes from the Life of Christ

Willie continued to manage the studios right until it closed in 1973. In the end, the Studio’s adherence to the House Style meant that its stained glass, once so in-demand, was seen as not really evolving with the times. Other artists with more modern aesthetics started to win commissions from architects looking to build contemporary churches that fitted post-Vatican II liturgical changes. Ironically, by the 60s and 70s Willie had started to design (and sign!) windows with a very different look to the House Style. His later output could form another post, but for now I wanted to concentrate on the early House Style period.

The 4th and 5th Glorious Mysteries from the Dominican Convent in Wicklow, The Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven and the Assumption. 1938/39

I want to finish with some personal memories of Willie Dowling. He lived until 1980 and he is remembered fondly by Etain and Veronique Clarke, Harry’s granddaughters. “He was a very lovely man,” Veronique told me, “Soft spoken and shy. Always dressed in his suit with a dressy wool coat and scarf. I believe he wore a fedora as well.” He was patient and kind (a bit like Harry) and he never minded them around the studio. Etain says “I remember going into the glass room with him – It was right by his office at the studios. He was pointing out to me how much antique glass was in there. French and German I remember particularly. Incredible colour, and textures. Handmade glass, so beautiful!” It was his dedication they both remembered, and how he helped their father, David, to keep the Studios running as long as possible.

This is a tiny detail from a crucifixion window in Wicklow, showing Willie’s mastery of technique: achieving the multiple colours in the skull calls for extraordinary skill

* I am indebted to the scholarship of Paul Donnelly for this post. Paul has conducted in-depth investigation into the work of the Harry Clarke Studios and has identified many windows in the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass based on his research. Thank you, Paul for your erudition and generosity.

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

St Brigid: Dove Among Birds, Vine Among Trees, Sun Among Stars

Starting next year, we’ve been given a new National Holiday! It falls on Feb 1, which is celebrated as St Brigid’s Day in Ireland. (Also Imbolc but that’s another story.) Although in my far-off youth I had a devotion to St Brigid and took her name as my Confirmation Name (is this just a Catholic thing?) I realised I knew very little about Brigid herself. So I set out to do some digging, using my own photographs of her image in stained glass to illustrate. That’s Harry Clarke’s take on Brigid above, from the Honan Chapel in Cork, and another one of his below, from Castletownshend.

Note the lamp, which is one of her attributes, since she is associated with a perpetual fire that miraculously never went out. Given this is Harry Clarke, the lamp looks suspiciously like something from the Arabian Nights.

For the life of Brigid, although there are many, many versions, I have turned to two sources. The primary source is The Life of Saint Brigit by Cogitosus*. Almost unbelievably, this Life dates from about 650 and is written in Hiberno-Latin. Cogitosus may have been a monk in Kildare, steeped in the cult of Brigid. Part of this cult was to claim the highest status for Kildare of all the Irish monastic settlements and therefore the Primacy over all Ireland – a claim that was eventually won by Armagh, which trumped Kildare by its appropriation of St Patrick. Cogitosus’s story is told in the form of 32 miracles, each of which leads us through Brigid’s life. 

Instead of an image of the saint, this window by George Walsh focusses on the Brigid’s Cross, another of her attributes, based on a story where she picked up rushes from the floor and wove them into a cross which healed a dying man. We like to make them every St Brigid’s Day and then hang them in the house to prevent damage by fire

My second source is the Life of Brigit from the Book of Lismore**, translated by Whitley Stokes. I love Stokes’s language, a form which he seems to have invented himself to convey something of the Medieval Irish he was translating (see this post on The White Hound of Brigown for more on this). The Book of Lismore dates to the fifteenth century and it is thought that the Lives of the Saints within it, or some of them, were written in the Abbey at Timoleague in West Cork. In both versions her name is given in translation as Brigit, rather than Brigid which is the more usual modern spelling used in Ireland.

In this window, Brigid brings the winding sheet for the dead St Patrick, a story that does nor feature in either of the Lives I am using here. This is the lower section of a paired window in Killarney Cathedral, part of a series that draws parallels between the Life of Christ and the Lives of Irish Saints. In this case, Brigid is being compared to Mary Magdalene anointing the body of Christ

Many of the same stories occur in both lives. Significantly, though, Patrick is not mentioned in the earlier Life by Cogitosus, although he appears frequently in the Book of Lismore as if she and he were living contemporaneously. There are other differences, showing how the stories grew through the ages, but both agree that Brigid was the daughter of Dubhtach and a bondswoman called Broicsech. Like all good Irish saints, her birth and her greatness is foretold. From the Book of Lismore: 

The wizard went to meet him, and asked whose was the woman who was biding in the chariot. Mine, saith Dubthach . . .The wizard asks if she was pregnant by anyone. She is pregnant by me saith Dubthach. Said the wizard, Marvellous will be the child that is in her womb, her like will not be on earth. My wife compels me, saith Dubthach, to sell this bondmaid. Said the wizard, through grace of prophecy, the seed of thy wife shall serve the seed of the bondmaid, for the bondmaid will bring forth a daughter conspicuous, radiant, who will shine like a sun among the stars of heaven. Dubthach was thankful for that answer, for till then no daughter had been born to him.

This image of a young Brigid is by Evie Hone and is in Blackrock, Co Dublin. Evie Hone’s windows are pared-to-the-bone, deeply spiritual depictions inspired often by ancient Irish carvings.

I love the fact that Dubhtach rejoices to have a daughter since most of these stories glorify the birth of male babies. Brigid accomplishes many miracles as a child, mostly having to do with her charity and her faith. Here’s one such from Cogitosus: 

So, when she was old enough, she was sent by her mother to do the work of churning so that she could make up the butter from the cow’s milk which had been dashed; she too was meant to carry out this work, in the same way as other women were accustomed to do, and to deliver for use the complete yield of the cows and the customary weight and measure of butter at the appointed time with the others. However, this maiden with her most beautiful and generous disposition, preferring to obey God rather than men, distributed the milk and butter liberally to the poor and the guests. So, when as usual the appointed time came for all to hand in what the cows had yielded, her turn came. And when her workmates presented the finished result of their work, the aforementioned blessed maiden was also requested to hand in her work in like manner. 

In dread of her mother since she had nothing to show because she had given the lot away to the poor without a thought for the morrow, strengthened and inflamed with an ardor of faith so intense and unquenchable, she turned to the Lord and prayed. Without delay the Lord heard the maiden’s voice and prayers. And, being a helper in the hour of need, he came to her assistance with the generous bestowal of a divine gift, and lavishly restored the butter for the maiden who had confidence in him. Astonishingly, the very moment after her prayer, the most holy maiden proved that she had fulfilled her task by showing that nothing was missing from the fruit of her work, but that it was even more abundant than her workmates.

A rather sumptuous Brigid from the Harry Clarke Studios, in Ballinrobe

Eventually, determining to be a virgin and devote her life to God’s work, she took the veil. Cogitosus relates that 

Brigit, inspired from above and wanting to devote herself as a chaste virgin to God, went to the most holy bishop MacCaille of blessed memory. Seeing her heavenly desire and modesty and seeing so great a love of chastity in this remarkable maiden, he placed the white veil and white garment over her venerable head. 

However, by the time the author of the Lismore life wrote his account, MacCaille had been relegated to inferior status and the Bishop who confers the veil is Mel, who is depicted in the window above, in Armagh Cathedral, performing the ceremony. By now, the story has acquired one of its most-quoted aspects – that Brigid, through divine intercession, is actually made a bishop. The next image, the lower panel of the previous window, shows Mel handing Brigid a crozier, symbol of episcopal authority. This large window is by Mayer of Munich.

Brigit and certain virgins along with her went to take the veil from Bishop Mel in Telcha Mide. Blithe was he to see them. For humility Brigit stayed so that she might be the last to whom a veil should be given. A fiery pillar rose from her head to the roof-ridge of the church. Then said Bishop Mel: Come, O Holy Brigit, that a veil may be sained on thy head before the other virgins. It came to pass then, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, that the form of ordaining a Bishop was read out over Brigit. Mac-caille said, that a bishop’s order should not be conferred on a woman. Said Bishop Mel: No power have I in this matter. That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigit, beyond every (other) woman. Wherefore the men of Ireland from that time to this give episcopal honour to Brigit’s successor.

Although she is associated with many places in Ireland (there are numerous townlands called Kilbride or Kilbreedy) it is the great city of Kildare that is most closely hers. She managed the city, the Lismore Life says, in partnership with Conleth, a hermit whom she persuades to join her. Cogitosus tell us:

And as by her wise administration she made provision in every detail for the souls of her people according to the rule, as she vigilantly watched over the Churches attached to her in many provinces and as she reflected that she could not be without a high priest to consecrate churches and confer ecclesiastical orders in them, she sent for Conleth, a famous man and a hermit endowed with every good disposition through whom God wrought many miracles, and calling him from the wilderness and his life of solitude, she set out to meet him, in order that he might govern the Church with her in the office of bishop and that her Churches might lack nothing as regards priestly orders. Thus, from then on the anointed head and primate of all the bishops and the most blessed chief abbess of the virgins governed their primatial Church by means of a mutually happy alliance and by the rudder of all the virtues. By the merits of both, their episcopal and conventual see spread on all sides like a fruitful vine with its growing branches and struck root in the whole island of Ireland. It has always been ruled over in happy succession according to a perpetual rite by the archbishop of the bishops of Ireland and the abbess whom all the abbesses of the Irish revere. 

This window by Watsons of Youghal is in St Carthage’s Catholic church in Lismore and is a great example of the Celtic Revival decoration they specialised in. Note the proliferation of oak leaves above her – Kildare is from Cill Dara, meaning Church of the Oakwood, and the oak leaf is one of her attributes, along with the lamp and the crozier, also shown

Cogitosus goes on to say this of Kildare and her establishment (and don’t forget he was writing in or around 650!): 

And who can express in words the exceeding beauty of this church and the countless wonders of that monastic city we are speaking of, if one may call it a city since it is not encircled by any surrounding wall. And yet, since numberless people assemble within it and since a city gets its name from the fact that many people congregate there, it is a vast and metropolitan city. In its suburbs, which saint Brigit had marked out by a definite boundary, no human foe or enemy attack is feared; on the contrary, together with all its outlying suburbs it is the safest city of refuge in the whole land of the Irish for all fugitives, and the treasures of kings are kept there; moreover it is looked upon as the most outstanding on account of its illustrious supremacy. 

Today we honour St Brigid as one of the founding great women of our culture. She is often shown with Patrick and Columcille as one of the three great Patrons of Ireland. In the window above, also from Killarney Cathedral, Brendan has been added in because, well, we’re in Kerry.

This window is in the Church of the Most Holy Rosary at Kilcoe, near us in West Cork. It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor – we see her holding her church, which is clearly based on the 12th century Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, and surrounded by her oak leaves. However, she is also holding a set of rosary beads, something that doesn’t appear in Catholic imagery before the 13th century. It’s beautifully executed, though, by Catherine O’Brien of An Túr Gloine.

Brigid’s end was peaceful. As it is related in the Book of Lismore:

Now when it came to the ending days for Brigit, after founding and helping cells and churches and altars in abundance, after miracles and marvels whose number is as the sand of sea, or stars of heaven, after charity and mercy, then came Nindid Pure-hand from Rome of Latium. The reason why he was called Nindid Pure-hand was that he never put his hand to his side, when Brigit repeated a paternoster with him. And he gave communion and sacrifice to Brigit, who sent her spirit to heaven. Her relics are on earth with honour and dignity and primacy, with miracles and marvels.

A conventional image of Bridget in the church in Goleen, West Cork, by Watsons of Youghal. She’s looking very saintly indeed. By now, you no doubt recognise all her attributes

Summing up her life and legacy, the anonymous author of her Life in the Book of Lismore says:

For everything that Brigit would ask of the Lord was granted her at once. For this was her desire: to satisfy the poor, to expel every hardship, to spare every miserable man. Now there never hath been anyone more bashful, or more modest, or more gentle, or more humble, or sager, or more harmonious than Brigit. She never washed her hands or her feet, or her head among men. She never looked at the face of a man. She never would speak without blushing. She was abstinent, she was innocent, she was prayerful, she was patient: she was glad in God’ s commandments: she was firm, she was humble, she was forgiving, she was loving: she was a consecrated casket for keeping Christ’s Body and his Blood: she was a temple of God. Her heart and her mind were a throne of rest for the Holy Ghost. She was simple (towards God): she was compassionate towards the wretched: she was splendid in miracles and marvels: wherefore her name among created things is Dove among birds, Vine among trees, Sun among stars. . . . She is the prophetess of Christ: she is the Queen of the South: she is the Mary of the Gael.

Brigid by Michael Healy, in the stained glass room at the National Gallery, holding her church with the round tower that can still be seen in Kildare.

It is entirely appropriate that a new National Holiday is named for Brigid. About time, in fact!

*Cogitosus’s “Life of St Brigit,” Content and Value. Author(s): Sean Connolly and J.-M. Picard. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland , 1987, Vol. 117, pp. 5-27 
**Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, Edited with a Translation, Notes and Indices by Whitley Stokes, Oxford, 1890.

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.

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