Harry Clarke Quiz – The Answers

Well done to everyone who took part and I hope you enjoyed it. (And it’s not too late – you can always try the Quiz, if you haven’t already done so, before proceeding.) It wasn’t easy. In fact, if I had tried to answer it myself, as opposed to setting it, I don’t think I would have got them all right. That’s important, as it illustrates the very conundrum posed by the question of what is, in fact, a genuine Harry Clarke, designed by him and either at least partially executed by him or executed under his very close supervision, as opposed to a Harry Clarke Studios, that is one done by other artists working in his studio, especially after his death. I hope you remember your answers, as the poll only tells me the percentage of people who answered correctly. OK – here goes.

Saint with Hood 1
Yes: 70% No: 30%
Correct Answer: Yes

In fact it was designed and totally executed by him. It depicts St Fachtna, Patron Saint of Rosscarbery, and is a detail from the 1919 Nativity at St Barrahane’s Church of Ireland in Castletownshend, West Cork. The window was commissioned by Edith Somerville and her siblings in memory of their parents and was one of Harry’s first private commissions after he burst on the scene with his triumphal set of windows for the Honan Chapel at University College, Cork. Harry was still trying to find his feet as a stained glass businessman at this point with the artist in him taking precedence over the need to make money at this. He lavished such care and attention on this window that his father, Joshua Clarke, despaired of their ability to recoup what it was costing. In the end he and Harry had to come to an arrangement whereby Harry paid for workshop time and the use of his father’s glaziers. It was an important lesson in the need to balance his drive as an artist with making a living and led to his taking on assistants and artists to help him with the volume of work. To see the whole window, take a look at my post The Nativity – by Harry Clarke.

Saint with Hood 2
Yes: 33%  No: 66%
Correct Answer: No

Two thirds of you knew at once that this is not a Harry Clarke – in fact, it isn’t even a Harry Clarke Studios. This is the head of St Colman from the Honan Chapel, but it is not one of the 11 windows that Harry supplied, but rather one of the windows done by An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), the cooperative studio established by Sarah Purser and Edward Martyn to promote the use of Irish windows by Irish artists. Read more about An Túr Gloine in this post: Loughrea Cathedral and the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement. The St Colman window was the work of A E Child, who mentored many of the Túr Gloine artists and who taught Harry at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.

Nativity 1
Yes: 80% No: 20%
Correct Answer: No

Four out of every five of you thought this was a Harry Clarke, but in fact this was the work of one of the Harry Clarke Studios artists, probably in the period immediately following Harry’s death, when there was pressure on them to produce Harry look-alikes. The window, which is very difficult to photograph, is high up in the wall of a transept in St Patrick’s Church in Wicklow Town. I think this is one I would have identified as a Harry Clarke, as it is such a close reproduction of his style.

Nativity 2
Yes: 58% No: 42%
Correct Answer: Yes

Yes, this is indeed a Harry Clarke. However, it’s not as straightforward as the Nativity window described in Saint with Hood 1, above, in which every aspect of the project was the work of Harry himself. It’s one of the collection of windows in the Diseart Centre in Dingle, in what was formerly the Presentation Convent. These windows were commissioned in 1924. Nicola Gordon Bowe assigned a status of Harry Clarke (B) to this one, that is ‘initially conceived and designed by him but executed by his Studio under his close supervision’. She wrote: 

At the beginning of 1924 Harry Clarke was at the peak of his career, in both stained glass and illustration. However, his health was beginning to deteriorate, among the causes being the extreme pressure of work, the extra responsibility his father’s death had put on him, and the upheaval in his life caused by the reconstruction of the Studios and the conversion of the two extra houses acquired in North Frederick Street. . . He engaged Austin Molloy to help him with cartoons, probably those required for a series of windows illustrating The Life of Christ at the Presentation Convent, Dingle. . . Although the Studios were responsible for most of the work on the Dingle windows. . . this series of six pairs of lancets is notable for some passages either worked or directed by himself. These include the sensitively painted head of the oldest king in the Nativity light. . .

In The Nativity – by Harry Clarke, you can see the whole window and a detail of the three kings. Five years after he had expended such personal concentration on the Castletownshend Nativity, Harry was under so much pressure from incoming orders that he could no longer handle all the work himself. By this time he had employed a small but brilliant contingent of assistants and artists and rigorously trained them to reproduce his style and bring his designs to fruition.

Presentation
Yes: 38% No: 62%
Correct Answer: No

This is a detail from an enormous Harry Clarke Studios Window in St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford, installed in 1932, after Harry had died. The Cathedral burned down on Christmas Day 2009 but was rebuilt and the windows were wonderfully restored by Abbey Stained Glass Studios for the 2014 re-opening. If you search online for ‘St Mel’s Cathedral stained glass’ most of the results will simply refer, erroneously, to ‘the Harry Clarke windows’. The scene of the Presentation is in the predella (lowest panel) of the St Anne window. 

St Augustine
Yes: 53% No: 47%
Correct Answer: No

This depiction of St Augustine is in the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Charleville, Co Cork, which is packed with interesting stained glass, including a series of twelve from Joshua Clarke and Sons erected between 1919 and 1922. Harry was working in his father’s studio at the time, doing his own windows and also assisting with the supervision of work under his father’s imprint. In a letter to Holy Cross, Joshua says, “Harry will look to the new windows and see you get very good ones.” And they are good, but the only one that looks (to me, that is) like Harry took an active hand in it is this one of St Augustine. It has the large expressive eyes, sensitive mouth, compassionate expression and long tapering fingers that we see in the full development of his style. I suspect that’s what those of you who answered Yes were responding to. However, it cannot be called a Harry Clarke, or even a Harry Clarke Studios – instead, it bears the stamp of J Clarke and Sons and remains an interesting question.

Crucifixion
Yes: 52% No: 48%
Correct Answer: No

A round window above the altar in Ballydehob Church in West Cork, the style is typical of the period after Harry died and the artists within the Harry Clarke Studios were still basing their windows closely on his designs. While the faces and figures are not convincing, the flow of the ornate garments are an echo of the fantastical and imaginary faux-medieval costumes he loved. 

Malachy Meets Bernard
Yes: 48% No: 52%
Correct Answer: Yes

The predella from the right hand light of a three light window, this small scene show St Malachy meeting his mentor, St Bernard. Of the three lights, the St Bernard and St Rita windows are by Harry Clarke and the central light is by William McBride. They date to 1924 and are in the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, Dublin.

St Sebastian
Yes: 71% No: 29%
Correct Answer: No

John the Baptist Church in Blackrock, South Co Dublin, is full of interesting stained glass, including an Evie Hone. There are several windows by the Harry Clarke Studios and the St Sebastian is one of them. This is one I would have voted yes to myself, as the faces of the onlooking soldiers are so Harry Clarke.

Scene from Wedding Feast at Cana
Yes: 80% No: 20%
Correct Answer: No 

Although officially this is not listed as a Harry Clarke window, you can certainly be forgiven for thinking it is, as everything about it shouts Clarke, including the sheer richness of detail. In fact, this window was one of the last to be worked on on his studio while he was still alive (although mostly absent at a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland) and he did indeed have some input (although we don’t know how much) into the design of parts of the window, including this scene. It is a detail from one of three lights, which together incorporate seven Scenes from the Life of Christ in the Catholic Church in Timoleague, West Cork. The whole window is very fine indeed and I will be writing a future post about it as it is the subject of some excellent research by Clarke scholars, and a good example of the complexities of ascribing the label ‘Harry Clarke’. 

Saint with Helmet
Yes: 61% No: 39%
Correct Answer: Yes

No ambiguity here – this is the head of St Adrian from the O’Keefe Memorial Window by Harry Clarke in the Church of the Assumption, Wexford. You can view the full window and read more about this window in my post That He Might Better Rest. Harry designed and executed this window in 1918/19 having first travelled to Wexford to meet with the fallen soldier’s grieving mother.

Lourdes Apparition
Yes: 56% No: 44%
Correct Answer: Yes

I might have been tempted to say no to this one as I find it ultra-conventional, but it is indeed a Harry Clarke, designed by him and executed under his supervision. It is one of two windows in a small country Church in Duhill, Co Tipperary. The other window is a startling contrast to the piousness of this one but I will leave that discussion for another day.

Patrick at Slane
Yes: 34%  No: 66%
Correct Answer: No

Good eye! This image is a detail from the huge Patrick window in the Church of Sts Peter and Paul in Athlone and it’s by Richard King, done in the Harry Clarke Studios in 1937 several years after Harry died. It’s unusual for any HC Studios window to be signed – that’s part of the difficult of  identifying which of the Studios artists worked on their windows – but in this case we do know that Richard King made several of the Athlone windows. Read more about those windows in my post Discovering Richard King, where you will also find a link to images of all the Athlone windows.

Brendan the Navigator
Yes: 68% No: 32%
Correct Answer: Yes

This is the head of Brendan the Navigator from the Honan Chapel series which propelled Harry Clarke into the forefront of Irish design when they were installed in 1916.

So – how did you do? Want to argue about any of the answers?

Quiz! Do You Recognise a Harry Clarke?

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, or if it was designed by him and the execution done under his close supervision. The portrait above was done by his wife, Margaret Crilly Clarke, in 1914 when Harry was only 25 and not yet plagued by the consumption that was to carry him off in 1931 at only 41 years of age. For the last few years of his life, Harry was increasingly hampered by illness, and also busy with illustration work. He employed a very talented group of artists to execute windows of his design and trained them rigorously to reproduce his unique style, for which there was a huge demand. After his death, those same artists continued to work in the Harry Clarke Studios and to produce windows in that style because that’s what people wanted, and so it can be difficult to know whether a window is a true Harry Clarke or a Harry Clarke Studios. For some windows, only research in the extensive Studios archives (housed at Trinity College) can establish the answer for certain. There are excellent reasons to be proud of many Studios windows, and it shortchanges the outstanding artists who worked on them if we keep insisting that everything was done by Harry himself. I want to explore this topic further, but I’d like to start off with a quiz to see if we’re as good as we think we are at recognising a Harry Clarke from a non-Harry Clarke. So polish up your glasses and take the quiz! Answer YES if you think this is a Harry Clarke (according to my definition) and NO if you believe it is not. I might even have thrown in the odd image that is neither Harry Clarke nor Harry Clarke Studios. Answers next Sunday.

Good luck everyone!

Transcending Violence: Harry Clarke’s Sublime Lea-Wilson Window

Percival Lea-Wilson was assassinated by the IRA 100 years ago tomorrow, June 15th, 1920. The story has been well documented and is truly a tale of horror. Lea-Wilson was a Captain in the British Army detail looking after the prisoners who had surrendered from the General Post Office during the 1916 Rising. He was distinguished by his rough treatment of the prisoners and in particular for humiliating Tom Clarke by ordering him to strip naked in public.

Lea-Wilson is standing on the right

His actions were observed by many, including Michael Collins. Four years later Lea-Wilson, who had since re-joined the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was shot dead on the street in Gorey, Co Wexford, possibly by direct order from Collins. Perhaps many Irish people would not have mourned his passing, but Lea-Wilson’s wife was devastated and the depths of her feeling led to the creation of one of Harry Clarke’s masterpiece windows.

Percival as he might have looked around the time of his marriage to Marie

There is a second amazing story about Marie Monica Lea-Wilson (her friends called her Monica) and her acquisition of yet another masterpiece, Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, (below) now a centrepiece of the National Gallery in Dublin. My post is about the Clarke window, but you will find lots online about the Carravaggio, for example here and here.

Marie Ryan, a Catholic, grew up in Charleville, Co Cork, where she met the young Percival when he was posted there as a member of the RIC. Percival was from a well-to-do family in London (his grandfather had been Lord Mayor and his father was a stockbroker) and had been privately educated at Winchester and Oxford. They married in a Catholic Church, but Percival did not convert – the window I am writing about is in the Church of Ireland Church in Gorey, the church he attended when he moved there as a District Inspector with the RIC, having re-joined after his stint in the army.

Harry Clarke’s Lea-Wilson window, Christchurch, Church of Ireland, Gorey, Co Wexford

Marie Lee-Wilson never got over his death and never re-married but went on to become a highly-regarded paediatrician. Here she is in later life with her colleagues at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in Dublin, now closed.

In shock after his assassination, she wrote to Harry Clarke and asked him to create a window for her husband. The theme of St Stephen was agreed and other elements which Marie suggested or requested were to be incorporated, such as the Wilson coat-of-arms.

The Wilson coat of arms with the motto Facta non Verba – deeds not words

At this time, Harry’s reputation was well established and he was in great demand. Marie may have been familiar with his window in nearby Wexford town, the Church of the Assumption, commissioned by Mrs O’Keeffe for her war hero son the year before. Harry had difficulty hiring and keeping apprentices and assistants, upon whom he relied given the pressure of work. In the case of Marie’s window, he persuaded Kathleen Quigly to come to work at the studio more steadily, by offering to increase her wages, and it was Kathleen who worked on this window with him, always under his close supervision and following his design.

Another detail to note is the insignia of the Royal Irish Constabulary in the top left corner – a harp within a belt

The choice of St Stephen is telling. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for “blasphemy” – that is, speaking up for his truth in a Jewish Synagogue. Here’s the passage from Acts 7, King James Version.

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

It is evident that Marie perceives Percival as a martyr, but in her choice of inscription, lay not this sin to their charge, she also invokes a sprit of forgiveness rather than of bitterness or revenge. The wife and lover in her mourns him deeply and sees his death as an injustice and as undeserved. But the Irish Catholic woman is fully alive to the political and social upheavals of her time and understands the complications of such a situation. Her choice of iconography and scripture embodies the hopelessly tanged web of relationships and reprisals that characterised the Irish War of Independence and her own invidious position as the wife of a British Office and RIC man.

Harry Clarke understood all this too, and his sensitive design works out the emotions and the messages she wished to convey. Here is Nicola Gordon Bowe’s description of the window, from the magnificent Life and Work of Harry Clarke.

. . . the subject is St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whom Harry has shown carrying the symbolic palm of martyrdom and bearing a book in his left arm while his right hand is extended, palm forward, suggesting his innocence. The stones by which he was slain are shown leaded into the rich purples, mauves, rubies and pinks of his simple vestments, contrasting with the emerald green of the book he holds. His face is pale and angular, the head inclined to the left with a long nose and sad, pensive eyes. This soulful Celtic face is reflected in the equally direct unstylized treatment of the hands and sandalled feet. The two girl angels above and below the Saint are gentle and childlike. . .

Interestingly there is another window, beside this one, also dedicated to Lea-Wilson and also done in the Clarkes’ establishment. But this one, although similar in many ways to the first, is not signed by Harry but bears the signature of J Clarke and Sons. It must have been done by somebody else working in the studio – perhaps by Kathleen Quigly?

The second Lea-Wilson window

This one was donated by Percival’s ‘companion and brother freemasons’. The image is of a warrior in armour and a striking red cloak. There is an upper and lower angel, to match Harry’s design. The lower angel holds a fleece, indicating that this is an image of Gideon, the biblical soldier who slew a far greater army of Midianites, under God’s guidance. As such, it does not appear to hold the same reconciliatory feeling that Harry’s window does.

Looking at the two windows, it is apparent why it is often difficult to say what is ‘a Harry Clarke’ and what is not. The design of the Gideon window is closely based on the St Stephen window, even to the floral decoration in the background. Elements of Gideon’s apparel are familiar – his helmet, for example echoes that of St Martin’s in the Castletownshend window I wrote about here.

Can you make out the signature and address? To the left of ‘and brother’ is J Clarke and Sons, while to the right of ‘freemasons’ is 33 Nth Frederick Street Dublin

But that’s the thing – Harry trained his apprentices rigorously to reproduce his style and whoever did this window would have been competent and comfortable at producing a look-alike. The fact that is is not signed by Harry, however, must be the primary guide in ascribing it to the Joshua Clarke Studio, rather than to Harry. It is possible that budget was an issue – an almost-Clarke would have been less expensive than a wholly-Clarke.

Gideon and the angel above him are painted in an exact rendition of Harry’s style

What is extraordinary about the Lea-Wilson story is that not one, but two great works of art stem directly from it. The story most often told is the Caravaggio one – I hope this post helps to redress that balance.

If you are anywhere close to Gorey, go visit Christchurch. There are more Harry Clarkes in that church and several other notable windows. For more Roaringwater Journal posts on Harry Clarke and on Irish stained glass, click on this link.

Painting With Light

What are we seeking right now? If social media is right, it’s distraction. But also beauty, comfort, reassurance… With that in mind, I have created a video slideshow of some of my favourite stained glass windows.

I could have used a totally different selection and perhaps I will do another one sometime. Meanwhile, this took me all day to do – learning how to do stuff like this seems to get harder as the years roll by. Funny how that works.

The music is Sí Beag Sí Mór by O’Carolan and it’s played beautifully by Susan Nares on the harp – thank you, Susie! Susie made this recording for Robert’s Swantonstown Sessions (have you checked in there yet?). The stained glass I’ve chosen is by Harry Clarke, George Walsh, Hubert McGoldrick, Murphy Devitt, Mayer of Munich, Joshua Clarke and Co., Thomas Denny, William Dowling, Richard King, Watsons of Youghal, and Earley and Co. For much more on Irish Stained Glass, including some of the artists I have chosen, have a glance over this page.

Here it is – I hope you enjoy it.

That He Might Better Rest

In my time browsing and photographing stained glass windows I have come across many WWI memorial windows in Protestant churches, but only three in Catholic churches – an extraordinary ratio, given that over two hundred thousand Irish men fought in that war, with Catholics far outnumbering Protestant Irish soldiers (simply because they represented a far greater portion of the population). It is estimated that thirty five thousand Irish soldiers died in that conflict. 

The O’Keefe War Memorial window in the Church of the Assumption, Wexford town, by Harry Clarke (above, and detail top image) 

There are many reasons for the lack of memorials in Catholic churches – for example, the vast majority of Irish soldiers in the British Army came from poor families who could not have afforded such a memorial. But also it has to do with the collective amnesia we developed about our participation in British wars. As I wrote in Outposts of Empire, returning soldiers came back to a new Ireland, one in which nationalist aspirations dominated, and many young Catholic men preferred not to speak about their British Army service.

A figure, possibly St Anthony, in the top tracery light of the O’Keefe window

But the three windows I have seen are beautiful and interesting, using some different icons from so many Church of Ireland windows, which tend to feature Michael the Archangel defeating the dragon or a knight in armour fighting “The Good Fight” with regimental standards and lists of engagements in the bottom panel.

St Aidan of Ferns

I have started with everyone’s favourite, Harry Clarke, who designed and executed this window in the Church of the Assumption in Wexford town. The fallen soldier was 21 year old Lieut Henry O’Keefe and Harry travelled to Wexford in Sept of 1918 to meet his mother and discuss the window, which was installed the following year.

St Adrian, Patron Saint of Soldiers

The design is classic Harry Clarke. Serenely floating high on the left panel is the Madonna and child, clothed in an elaborate and bejewelled blue gown which extend across to the second panel where two saints have come to pay homage. The image of the Madonna evokes the bond between mother and child, while the two saints are carefully chosen: St Adrian is the patron saint of soldiers and St Aidan of Ferns represents Wexford. Above, in a tracery light, a monk, possibly St Anthony, gazes out in an attitude of prayer.

The O’Keefes were a prominent Wexford merchant family and their coat of arms is shown in one panel. Numerous tiny details – a ship, leaping fish, crucifixion images, a tiny image of the Church of the Assumption itself, as well as Harry’s ubiquitous floral ornamentation, fill every section. The overall result is highly emotive. I can imagine the O’Keefe family visiting often and finding comfort in the beauty and compassion of the imagery.

Harry Clarke designed two WWI memorial windows simultaneously and they are completely different. Above is the cartoon for the O’Keefe window and, on the left, for a window, Angel of Hope and Peace, for the Holy Trinity Church of Ireland in Killiney, Co Dublin

Our second example is from the West Cork Church of the Immaculate Conception in Enniskeane. Probably by Watsons of Youghal, this window is a memorial to Dr Thomas J Fehily, a native of the parish who qualified and practised medicine for many years before enlisting.

Local historian, Anne Lynch has given a good account of his life in a Southern Star article. She writes, Ballineen was a long way from the action when World War I started in the summer of 1914. However, two local brothers, both medical doctors, saw the war as an opportunity to utilise their medical skills. In doing so, it cost one brother his life, while for the other, it was the start of an illustrious career in the British Empire. The doctors were the Fehily brothers.

This is an Ascension window and at first I was puzzled by this choice for a war memorial window but as I thought about it, it became clear – Jesus ascends to heaven having sacrificed his life for his fellow man, while his sorrowing mother weeps below.

The final window is in the neo-Romanesque church of Spiddal in Co Galway and is dedicated to the memory of George Henry Morris, a hero of the war, and second son of Lord Morris.  A painting of George Henry by William Orpen ends this post.

There is an affecting account of a visit to his grave by his grandson Redmond Morris with his own children, where they even manage to take a photograph in the very spot that George himself was last photographed. By all accounts a brilliant man and a highly respected officer, George died within two weeks of arriving in France. Read more about him on his Wikipedia page and note that he was the father of Lord Kilanin, for many years the esteemed President of the International Olympics Committee.

The window is by Catherine O’Brien, one of the artists of An Tur Gloine.  See this post about Loughrea Cathedral for more about this design co-op: Edward Martyn was also involved with the design and furbishment of this Spiddal church. O’Brien has depicted a golden-haired figure reaching upwards to a divine light, with the words lux perpetua luceat ei – Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Them. The figure is a rider (denoted by his spurs only) and a riderless horse is seen at the bottom right. The location in Connemara is captured with thatched cottages and sea cliffs.

One of our most famous War Dead was the poet, Francis Ledwidge. His poem, A Soldier’s Grave, has given me my title, and I will leave it here now in honour of the many brave Irish men who gave their lives in WWI.

Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath.

And where the earth was soft for flowers we made
A grave for him that he might better rest.
So, Spring shall come and leave its sweet arrayed,
And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.

George Henry Morris, painted by William Orpen

The Finola Window

You will all know about Finola’s interest in stained glass, and in particular her admiration of the work of artist George Walsh: she wrote an article about him in the Irish Arts Review this year. So I hatched a plan, together with George, to give her a window of her very own! Here it is, just installed in our house, Nead an Iolair. Not so long ago, Finola wrote another Irish Arts Review piece about Ireland’s newest stained glass window, and there’s a Roaringwater Journal post about it here. I think it’s safe to say – as of today – we have in our house Ireland’s new ‘newest stained glass window’! It’s an artwork with a story – several stories, in fact. I’ll tell you some of them.

This is George Walsh. He apprenticed in the world of stained glass under his father – also George – who apprenticed under Harry Clarke, so he has an eminent lineage. He worked with his father in the United States and Ireland, and eventually set up his own Dublin studio, where he has been prolific. Finola is currently visiting and cataloguing every one of his publicly accessible projects which can be seen on the island of Ireland: it takes us to some far-off and fascinating places. To date her list includes 61 buildings which have George Walsh windows, and it’s certainly not complete.  While most of George’s work can be found in churches, he has also produced a secular opus and our window has now added to that. George says that he enjoyed this commission because it was very different from so much of his work, but I guess that he always enjoys his work – you can tell by the exuberance, dynamism and sumptuous colouring of his pieces.

The Finola Window tells the story of our Finola, but is also about a famous Finola (or Fionnghuala – fair-shouldered) in Irish mythology: she is the heroine of The Children of Lir, one of Ireland’s most well-known ancient wonder-tales. Fionnghuala (above, being transformed into a swan) is the eldest of the four children of King Lir – the others are Aodh and twins Fiachra and Conn. Their mother, Aobh, died when they were young and the King remarried. Unfortunately, this is where the story turns into a wicked stepmother tale, as the King’s new wife, Aoife, becomes jealous of the children, and casts a magic spell on them. I hope you are keeping up with these names! Our Finola – a stepmother herself – has always been sensitive about negative portrayals of that position, so I asked George to play down the role of Aoife and in fact he has left her out of the window altogether. I’ll just let you know, however, that she received full punishment for her malice by being turned into a Demon of the Air – and she still hangs around on dark, haunted nights. Watch out!

All four children were turned into swans by Aoife, and their fate was to spend three hundred years on Loch Dairbhreach (a lake in Co Westmeath), followed by three hundred years on Sruth na Maoilé (the stormy Straits of Moyle between Ireland and Scotland), and a further three hundred on Inis Gluairé (an Atlantic island in Erris, Co Mayo). The swans kept their human voices and they spent much of their exile singing beautiful songs which became all the traditional music of Ireland.

George has skilfully woven into this window many elements of our Finola’s life: in the details above you can see Newgrange – where Finola dug as a student; Irish rock art – which was Finola’s main area of study as an archaeologist; my hands playing my concertina (all the musical notes are descending from the swans); eagles flying over Nead an Iolair; the Scholar and his Cat Pangur Bán (the Irish medieval poem is one of Finola’s favourites); St Brendan’s voyage (Finola is  a great teller of the tales of Irish Saints) and – of course (at my specific request) a golden hare! George Walsh has always been a master of detail, something we have particularly admired in his work. We feel he has excelled himself here. These images are some of the resources given to George while he was making the window:

Image gallery for George – top: Finola’s 1973 drawing of a piece of Kerry rock art; centre – the flight of the eagles over Nead an Iolair; lower – my hands playing music from the swans through my concertina!

I was privileged to see some of the work in progress in George’s studio earlier in the year. He showed me how he uses ‘flashed glass’ where a thin layer of coloured glass is melted on to clear glass. Acid etching is used to take off the coloured surface leaving a design. You can see where the etched piece (below) is being prepared to fit in the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ of glass shapes that will be joined by leading to form the final window.

Above – George’s ‘cartoon’ design sketch together with his explanation of the subject matter: these now hang close to the completed window in our house

The culmination of the Children of Lir story comes when St Patrick’s bell is first heard on the shores of Ireland (detail below), and Fionnghuala and her brothers are released from the spell. As they regain human form their bodies are aged and they have time only to receive baptism into Christianity before they crumble to dust.

Decorative borders, details and motifs abound in George’s windows and ours is no exception. It’s a bit like the marginalia in a medieval illuminated manuscript: your eye is constantly drawn to all the minutiae. We will never tire of looking at it. The panel is mounted in a west facing window in our study: when the sun comes around to that side in the evenings the whole room becomes alive with flowing colour.

Thank you, George, for so wonderfully fulfilling my vision of a window especially for Finola. I couldn’t imagine anything more fitting and she is – of course – over the moon! Here we are in George’s studio on the day of the ‘reveal’.