One Window, Eight Stories

Story 1. Bobbie

The first story is about a boy, Bobbie Bole, a student at Drogheda Grammar School in the 1940s. He’s the part of this account we don’t know much about, but he must have been a special boy. When he died, in 1942, many people donated money to create a memorial in his memory. It was decided that a stained glass window would be a good way to remember him,

Story 2: The Competition

The school established a competition for the window, and invited stained glass artists to submit designs. The subject was to be Christ Among the Doctors, also known as The Finding in the Temple. Here’s the story, from the King James Version (just because I love the language of it):

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

It’s a Biblical Verse that is, for obvious reasons, associated with students and scholarship, making it an appropriate subject for this occasion. It’s been the subject of many famous paintings, including this one by Albrecht Dürer.

There were two submissions that we know of, and the first was by none other than Evie Hone. We know this because her full-size sketch for the window is displayed on the wall of the Holy Cross Church in Dundrum, having been acquired for the church by Fr Kieran McDermott. I am grateful to David Caron, General Editor of the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass, and administrator of Irish Stained Glass on Instagram, for the photograph and information. The accompanying text refers to the drawing as a cartoon and states that it was done for the Drogheda Grammar School, but ‘never realised.’ It does indeed look like a cartoon, in that glass cutlines have been included, and is very recognisably in her 1940s style. 

The second submission was by the Harry Clarke Studios. The Studio won the commission on the merits of the sketch they submitted, but that bit comes later.

Story 3: Erasmus

The window was duly installed in the chapel in the Drogheda Grammar School, an academic institution originally part of the Erasmus Smith Charter Schools. Erasmus Smith made his money supplying Cromwell’s army. In part payment he was given land in Ireland. After the Restoration, this put him in an awkward position with the Crown and so he

 manoeuvred to protect his position and to further his essentially Puritan religious stance, which he modified to suit the religious sensibilities of the new Royalist regime. He achieved this in part by creating an eponymous trust whereby some of his Irish property was used for the purpose of financing the education of children and provided scholarships for the most promising of those to continue their studies at Trinity College, Dublin


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus_Smith
Erasmus Smith By Circle of John Michael Wright Public Domain

One of the schools that was established under the Trust was the Drogheda Grammar School – which is both ironic and fitting, given that Drogheda was one of the towns notoriously devastated by Cromwell.

Story 4: The School

Today, Drogheda Grammar School is a respected non-denominational, co-educational secondary school. It is operated under a management committee and subscribes to a Quaker ethos. Originally a boys’s boarding school, up to 1976 it occupied a prominent place in the town centre, right beside St Lawrence’s Gate, but even by the 1950s was becoming in need of refurbishment.

When it moved out to the present site, the window was put into storage, where it remained until 2012 – out of sight, but not forgotten. A brand new school was completed in 2012 and the window was installed into a Reflection Room.

Story 5: Brittas Bay Antiques

Wait – how did this story manage to wind its way to a quirky antique store by the beach in Wicklow? Well, at some point in the last couple of years Niall (below and yes, he really is that tall) and Chrissie, the proprietors, picked up a box of curios from someone, and discovered a Harry Clarke Studio sketch inside it. They advertised it online and someone stumbled across it, paid for it, and asked me to pick it up for her. I was happy to do so. (The shop is an Aladdin’s Cave, by the way – most enjoyable browsing I have done in years!)

Story 6: Etain

So c’mon Finola – ‘someone’ asked you to pick it up? Who exactly? It was my friend, Etain Clarke Scott, daughter of David Clarke and grand-daughter of Harry Clarke and Margaret Clarke. She and her siblings live in Texas, although they grew up in Dublin and make frequent visits over here. It was on her last visit, with her sister Veronique, that she asked me to pick up the sketch.

This is Etain (left) and Veronique (right) – as you can see they are both beautiful, and lots of fun! (And she will probably kill me from stealing this photo from her Facebook page.)

Story 7: The Research

At this point, we knew that the sketch was a window design produced by the Harry Clarke Studios for the Drogheda Grammar School – it said so right under the sketch, but we didn’t know whether the window had ever been made or whose work it was. The first question was easy – a quick Google led us to the school website and to the story of the window. I suspected that the artist was the Studio’s manager and chief designer, William Dowling, who took over the role from Richard King upon King’s departure in 1940. Regular readers will know by now that long after the death of Harry (in 1931) the Studios had continued with what I have called The House Style since what people wanted was ‘A Harry Clarke’. 

I consulted with my stained glass colleagues – David Caron, Paul Donnelly, Jozef Voda and Ruth Sheehy, all contributors to the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass and all very knowledgeable indeed on the work of the Studios during this period. I offered in evidence a couple of examples of Dowling windows of the same subject – Christ Among The Doctors or The Finding in The Temple. The one above is in Wicklow and the one below in Balbriggan.

There was much helpful discussion  by email: it was at this point David contributed the information and photograph about the Evie Hone cartoon, and both Paul and Ruth identified the handwriting as Dowling’s and agreed that the style was his. Etain remembers Willie Dowling well as a kind and avuncular presence in the studio, always impeccably dressed, and she was pleased at this attribution. That’s Dowling below (left), with Stanley Tomlin, at the Studios at a later date.

Story 8: Taking the Photographs

We had the sketch and now we knew whose work it was and also that it was in situ in the school. What we didn’t know was what the window actually looked like. Was it exactly as the sketch has intended? Had changes been made to the shape or dimensions of the window? This often happens when older windows are inserted into newer openings. I contacted the school and asked for permission to come and photograph the window, which was graciously given. 

What I found was that the stained glass had been carefully inserted into a larger window, protected front and back with toughened glass, and the story of the Bole Memorial Window was provided in a framed script on the wall. Although Etain’s sketch shows a window with a rounded top, this opening was square. If the window had been changed to fit more recently, it had been done so skilfully that it was not obvious or indeed detectable.

In fact, the window far exceeded my expectations. It is beautiful. Dowling had used good glass and the effect is jewel-like and vibrant. He has gone to town on every panel, painting, aciding, scratching, and filling even the smallest piece with decorative detail. 

The figures of the Doctors are expertly rendered, while the small Joseph and Mary are similar to his Balbriggan and Wicklow panels. Jesus looks suitably solemn and earnest, as befits the good model that was intended for the students.

Afterword

Thank you to the Drogheda Grammar School for facilitating the photographic session. It was wonderful to hear, from the school Principal, Hugh Baker, that the window is treasured. Thanks to my collegial group of stained glass scholars for their advice and additional photographs. Most of all, thank you to Etain for entrusting me with the sketch and sending me down this story lane.

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.

Loughrea Cathedral and the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement

How did a church in an Irish country town become a repository for some of the greatest treasures of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century? That church is St Brendan’s Cathedral in Loughrea, Co Galway, which we visited last week.

Evie Hone’s St Brigid window

The Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against soulless methods of industrial production which emphasised repetitive tasks and removed the link between the worker and the final product. Such factory processes were eventually applied to works of art, such as stained glass windows, where numerous workers would be employed to assemble a final product. Within the movement, artisans, artists and makers sought to get back to a former time, often conceived as medieval and highly romanticised, when craftsmen and women designed and executed exquisite works from start to finish.

Queen of Heaven window by Michael Healy

So where does Loughrea come in? Well, for a start, it was the home of Edward Martyn, a wealthy enthusiast for all things Gaelic Revival including language, theatre, literature, music and art. Heavily influenced by the philosophies of the Arts and Crafts movement, particularly by those of William Morris, he worked with Sarah Purser to found An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass) as an artist/maker stained glass studio. Not a small part of their initial success was his ability to promise commissions from the decoration of St Brendan’s Cathedral.

The Stations of the Cross are by Túr Gloine artist Ethel Rhind and are executed in the unusual opus sectile mosaic technique

Thus it is that this church, in outward appearance very much like the prevailing neo-Gothic style of the end of the nineteenth century, is packed with the work of the most eminent women and men artists of the opening decades of the 20th century. Yes, that’s right, women and men – the Arts and Crafts movement empowered women artists like few such movement had before (or since, perhaps).

The Agony in the Garden by A E Child, detail

It takes a moment to realise what you have entered – initially the church interior seems familiar and unremarkable, almost heavy in its preponderance of marble, tile and dark wood.

But as the eyes adjust, you can be permitted a gasp or two as you realise that all the capitals are carved with scenes from the life of St Brendan, that there are fine sculptures here and there, that the arm of each pew has been individually decorated with idiosyncratic characters, that are are art-nouveau-looking light standards throughout the aisles, that the stations of the cross are unlike any you’ve seen before, and finally that the stained glass windows are numerous and beautiful.

Two scenes from the Death of Brendan, carvings by Michael Shortall

All the Túr Gloine stained glass arts are represented here: A E Child, Michael Healy, Ethel Rhind, Catherine O’Brien, Beatrice Elvery, Evie Hone and Hubert McGoldrick. There is even a small St Brendan window by Sarah Purser herself – a rarity as she mostly confined herself to the management of projects rather than glass-painting.

One of the very few stained glass windows actually executed by Sarah Purser herself – a Brendan image in the porch of the church

The stone carving is mostly the work of Michael Shortall, a student of John Hughes, the foremost sculptor of his day who provided bronze figures for the church. Eminent architect William Scott was engaged to design church furnishings and was responsible for the side altars, the entrance gates, the altar vessels and candlesticks, the baptismal font and altar rail.

Each pew arm has a whimsical creature – this one was no doubt intended to concentrate the mind on mortality

The woodwork was all done locally, with the workers encouraged to use their skills to depicts beasts and mythical figures, in much the same way that medieval craftsmen had done.

The museum contains an outstanding collection of sodality banners designed by Jack B Yeats and his wife, Cottie, and embroidered by the Dun Emer Guild. Above is the original design and the finished product

But that’s not all. Beside the church is a small museum, similarly packed with treasures. In particular, here is where you will see the work of the Dún Emer Guild, a women’s cooperative enterprise that designed and supplied materials (altar cloths, vestments, rugs, tapestries) to churches and others. Strongly influenced by traditional Irish designs such as scrollwork, interlacing, high crosses and Book of Kells symbols, the works supplied to St Brendan’s are wonderful examples of Irish Revival motifs, skillfully embroidered in gorgeous colours.

The Museum holds other artefacts too, including extremely rare medieval wooden carvings: most wooden statues were destroyed by the Puritans and very few have survived. There are also fifteenth century vestments, original drawings and sketches by Irish artists, altar vessels, and stained glass cartoons.

Twelfth or Thirteenth century wooden statue of the Virgin or Child

This post is a small introduction to the wonders of Loughrea Cathedral. About 40 minutes east of Galway and just south of the M6, this church is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of Ireland and its Arts and Crafts movement. The only comparable experience is the Honan Chapel in Cork.

Michael Healy’s magnificent Resurrection window

All I can do here is show you a representative sample of what we saw and encourage you to go see the totality for yourself. You won’t regret it.

The massive cathedral gates, designed by William Scott