Ireland’s Newest Stained Glass Window

It’s in Tralee, in St John’s Church – and it’s breathtaking!

It isn’t often that new stained glass windows are installed in Irish churches. In fact, depressingly, many churches fall into disrepair from lack of use and the windows break (or are broken). Nowadays we are more likely to be losing stained glass than gaining it. So it’s a huge cause for celebration when a community commissions a new piece. Hats off to Tralee!

The Garden of Eden or an image of reconciliation: one of the window details

This window is out of the ordinary in many ways. Let’s start with who commissioned it, which leads us on to the theme. Although it’s installed in the Catholic church, it was a joint initiative of the Catholic and Church of Ireland congregations. There may be other windows that can claim that distinction, but I don’t know of them. (Readers?)

The theme is Reconciliation, and the central figure is the return of the prodigal son. The right panel is of Jesus reading from the Book of Isaiah and the left is of John the Baptist, patron saint of the church.

The father embraces his prodigal son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a natural choice to illustrate reconciliation, with the father embracing the son who has squandered his inheritance but returns home, contrite, to his family. Instead of punishing him (as his brother resentfully feels the father should do) his father embraces him, orders that the fatted calf be slain for a feast, and says, It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Jesus Reading from Isaiah is perhaps at one remove from a direct reference to reconciliation. It happened in Nazareth, his old home town, and he read at the behest of the elders. The passage is a beautiful one and points to ideas of love and healing, and perhaps to the real purpose of Christianity, no matter the denomination: he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.

St John is the patron saint of the church 

Possibly my favourite image is that of John. Usually, he is shown in the act of baptising Jesus, but here he is, the ascetic in his coat of camel hair, very much as he described himself, as a voice crying in the wilderness.

A myriad of tiny images fills the panels – figures holding hands (reconciliation), swallows (hope of spring, renewal), Tralee Bay, figures from Tralee history. . . there are even tiny names engraved where it is impossible to see them. Take a look at this video, where Tom Denny shows us some of those names.

Tom Denny? Yes – he’s the artist but the significance of that goes beyond the fact that he is one of Britain’s most eminent and respected stained glass artists, responsible for numerous windows in British churches. A browse of his website reveals the breadth and depth of his skill and the uniqueness of his style. The Tralee windows are typical – blazing with colour, filled with large and small figures and scenes that reveal themselves upon close inspection, rich and intricate, thoughtfully composed to draw the viewer into the subject of the panels.

Tralee Bay

You see, the Denny’s came to Tralee as part of a British military expedition in the 1500s and the name is inextricably linked with the North Kerry area. Sir Edward Denny (1547 to 1599) was one of the architects and enforcers of the Plantation of Munster, and was rewarded with lands taken from the Earl of Desmond including Tralee Castle, a knighthood and the title of Governor of Kerry. Tom is a direct descendent. 

Sir Edward Denny. Image used with the permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Denny’s stayed in Ireland for hundreds of years, branching out and acquiring land and estates. Eventually the family spent less time in Ireland and concentrated on their estates in Britain**. In Ireland, such a history as this is a complicated legacy, and Tom was eager to be part of the whole idea of a reconciliation window, donating his services to the project. Over twenty members of the Denny family came for the unveiling. This adds a rich and poignant dimension to the purpose of the window – reconciling the past with the present, and looking to the future. 

The father runs out to meet his returning son

Finally, this magnificent work of art is only one of the many artistic delights of this Tralee church. They deserve a post of their own some day, but I will give you a sneak peek by telling you that the Stations of the Cross are by none other than the famous Irish artist, Sean Keating. Here’s a detail from just one of them.

My friend Eileen drew my attention to this new window.  So thank you, Eileen – as you can see I lost no time in making the trip to see it. I am SO glad I did.

**Edit: I got this wrong. There were no English estates. The Denny’s, along with many members of the Anglo-Irish landlord class, eventually lost their lands. In the case of Tom Denny’s grandfather, although he was a baronet he was also a clergyman,  living the life of an impoverished cleric dedicated to his church. The move to England was related to his church service. RTE has now screened their program on the window and it does a marvellous job of adding fascinating detail about the window and the history of the Dennys – mostly supplied by Tom himself.

The Nativity – by Harry Clarke

Castletownshend East Window

Church of St Barrahane, Castletownshend, East Window

Images of the nativity are a special part of Christmas in Ireland – as witness the proliferation of Christmas cribs in every town and in half the shopfronts. In West Cork (and not too far away in Dingle) we are particularly fortunate to have several examples of nativity images in stained glass by the famous Harry Clarke.

St Barrahanes detail Mary and Joseph

St Barrahane detail Mary and Joseph

We have mentioned Harry Clarke, Ireland’s most renowned stained glass artist, in several posts before, and no doubt will come back to him again – his gorgeous windows repay multiple visits. In going through the many photographs I have taken I realised that Harry Clarke, at least in the windows I have visited here in the south west, concentrated on only two representations of the Christmas story – the visit of the Magi, and the flight into Egypt.

His focus on the the visitation of the Three Kings, traditionally celebrated on January 6th, is poignant, for it was on that day that Harry Clarke died in 1931, after a long battle with tuberculosis. He was, like the Magi, travelling at the time, in a vain attempt to get home from a sanatorium in Switzerland. He was only 41.

Dingle - the Visit of the Magi

Dingle – the Visit of the Magi

On a recent visit to Dingle we were lucky to find the Díseart Centre of Irish Spirituality and Culture open and to be able to view the magnificent windows in a tiny church previously only open to the nuns of the enclosed Presentation order. One of the windows was devoted to the nativity – once again, the Magi scene.

Clarke scholars will only assign a window as a true ‘Harry Clarke’ if it was designed and the construction supervised closely by him. His studios carried on after his death and windows made at that time are labelled ‘Harry Clarke Studio’ windows. While the Castletownshend and Dingle windows are undisputedly Harry Clarkes, there seem to be differences of opinion about the ones in Timoleague. When the Timoleague church celebrated its centenary, the Southern Star ran a story with this entry:

Pride of place in the church must go to the beautiful Harry Clarke windows at the back of the church as you exit. Harry Clarke achieved fame for his unique style, his incredible use of colour, his decorative designs and the beautiful medieval-styled figures that have rarely found an equal in the medium of stained glass. These windows were put in place in 1929/’30 and were among the last to be made by Clarke who died in 1931. The windows were in memory of Rev Fr Timothy O’Hea PP (1912-1929) by the parishioners and by his successor as parish priest, Rev Fr  Jeremiah O’Driscoll (1929-’49).

Timoleague, Flight into Egypt

Timoleague, Flight into Egypt

However, these windows are not listed on the authoritative site http://harryclarke.net/, implying that these are Harry Clarke Studio windows. They are certainly in the Clarke style, and very striking.

The Kilcoe Church of the Most Holy Rosary has a stained glass rose window over the entrance. A sign states that it was made by Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd (the Studios), designed by T Clarke and installed in 1943. It is in the Clarke style, and although beautiful and expertly done, perhaps lacks the level of detail one expects from a window given Harry’s personal attention. One of the small windows of the rose depicts the flight into Egypt.

Aughadown church, flight into Egypt

Aughadown church, flight into Egypt

The range of images in the Harry Clarke windows in West Cork is broad and fascinating. We will no doubt write future posts about this luminous body of work.

A Misplaced Saint

detail 11

Partly in West Cork, and partly in Kerry, the Beara Peninsula is a majestic place to explore. Some of Ireland’s highest mountains are here, and in places they sweep sheer down to the Atlantic to create dramatic landscapes, hard to match – in my own limited traveller’s view – with anything else in the world, But it’s not just landscape: the Beara offers surprises in the way of rainbow-hued village houses, off-the-beaten-tracks pubs with lively music and conversation, and the occasional gem of an altogether different kind. My post today is simply about one place – one church, in fact – which we found by chance in the village of Eyeries situated on the recently implemented long distance drive around the whole magnificent west coast of this country: the Wild Atlantic Way.

Wild Atlantic Way...

Wild Atlantic Way…

‘…Come to Eyeries Village. Embrace the tranquility…’ That’s the advice of this little community’s website. We did just that and, as we were enjoying our coffee outside Miss Murphy’s cafe in the centre of town we were only disturbed by one or two cars and diverted by the sound of the street sweeper’s brush. But the focus of our attention for this visit became the church: St Kentigern’s.

notice

As you will know, I am always on the lookout for Irish Saints, and I had never heard of St Kentigern, so I went inside expecting to find a new story. My eyes were assailed by a riot of colour! This unassuming little building hides a magnificent set of coloured glass windows telling the story of the world from prehistoric times and Ireland’s central part in that history… I have put a precis of the artist’s explanation of the designs below, but the windows must speak for themselves.

There are eleven windows in all: eight in the main body of church, two in the Sanctuary, and the last in the west wall, over the entrance doors.

So – why are they here? A very good question. I have gleaned no information from the usual sources. The best I could find (based on a chat with a passer by) was that the windows were commissioned in the 1980s, and each one is dedicated to the memory of a local person, and they were all paid for by friends and relatives of the dedicatees. It seems that there was a wish at the time to ‘brighten up’ the interior of the formerly nondescript building. I think this aspiration has been completely successful, but it’s a shame that there’s hardly a mention of the church or its windows in any of the information I could find about Eyeries.

Regarding the stained glass artist himself – George Walsh: I have found mentions of him as an artist working in Dublin. His father, George S Walsh, worked in the studios of Harry Clarke. He has carried out commissions in Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Dublin, Galway and as far afield as Newfoundland and Florida. My source thought that he is now retired and living in Dublin. It seems odd that he hasn’t gained more public recognition (unless I am missing something – comments please).

Here are the notes of George Walsh giving an ‘explanation’ of the Eyeries windows: it would be easy to miss, as it is a single fading typewritten sheet on a window cill on the south side of the aisle:

 ‘…The windows… begin with the elements sun, rain wind etc. The next depict fishing and the tradition of work on seas and rivers… Next, farming and husbandry, sowing seed etc. the final windows on this side show Saint Finbar – emigration, both going and returning old and new. The windows on the right side begin with the Dark Ages and pre-history to the next which remembers our Megalithic and Celtic past. Following on to the Christian period – Eucharist, Gospel Missionaries etc and finally to Resurrection… Sun and birds symbolise renewal and hope… The Sanctuary windows show Baptism, Water, Fish, Shell etc. Next is Mary in the form of Annunciation… the balcony windows are seen as we go out from the Church into the world in renewed spirit…’

What of Saint Kentigern? You may well ask that – he gets no mention in the church, nor in the Irish Saint Hagiographies. He is mentioned as a Scottish Saint (more commonly known as Saint Mungo) who founded the city of Glasgow in the 6th century. Look for him on that city’s coat-of-arms. I could only glean (from another local source after a bit of a grumble) that when the church was restored and the new windows were commissioned a priest of the time decided to give the church that dedication. He evidently had unearthed some obscure link, but this has apparently never been put on record. There is another possibility: he might have been the local saint whose name is now more commonly given as Chaitighern or Catherine. There is a ruined church of this dedication on the Beara, not far from Eyeries.

Church of Catherine, Close to Eyeries

Kilcatherine Church, close to Eyeries

Our elusive Saint on Glasgow's coat-of-arms

Our elusive Saint on Glasgow’s coat-of-arms