Watsons of Youghal – Revivalist Masters Part 2

In Part 1 I laid out the background to the Watsons of Youghal Revivalist-style windows, a design innovation for which they should be particularly celebrated. In this post I will provide further examples and tell you where you can see some.

The Watson Archive is housed at the Crawford Gallery in Cork. In it are original cartoons showing the careful working out of interlace patterns and of lettering styles. Since these cartoons are on long pieces of paper which remained rolled or folded in storage for many years, they are in fragile condition and therefore what one consults in the Crawford Archive is the file of photographs of these papers. While not ideal, this at least allows serious students of stained glass to see some of the original work upon which the windows were assembled. There are also smaller drawings and paintings – these were done as original designs from which the cartoons could be drawn and from which the colours could be worked out.

It’s a real thrill to come across a window that is based on one of those designs: see above and below for a perfect match! Incorporation of interlacing can also help to identify an un-signed window as being a Watson: it was what set them apart, when the figures themselves – the saints or angels – might be well-nigh indistinguishable from those of other stained glass manufacturers.

Interlacing is the preferred word for the complex looping and braiding of ribbons, which twist in and out and around each other and often end in the head of a fantastical animal. Artists studied the Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts, copied the elaborate decorations and eventually figured out their own designs. Just walk through any older cemetery in Ireland to see the craftsmanship with which many crosses were carved with interlace motifs.  So it was with Watsons: they became expert at fitting and filling spaces in a window with Revivalist designs.

One of the best places to see Watson Revivalist windows, because it’s a small space and you can get close to the windows, is the Oratory at Gougane Barra. The vision for the building was that of Fr Patrick Hurley who developed the ‘ancient’ monastic settlement on the island, a scholarly man well versed in the Revivalist art and literature of the period who specified that the oratory itself would be built in the Neo-Romanesque style based on 12th century Irish churches such as Cormac’s Chapel (see this post for more on this). In the Oratory all the windows except a Marian image depict Irish saints, some of whom are local to Cork (Finbarr [above], Fachtna [below], Gobnait and Eltin).

Another West Cork church with Watson Revivalist windows is in Ardfield, south of Clonakilty. I used some of these in my Symbols and Stories post so take a look at those now. Note that, in contrast with the Gougane Barra Oratory, the iconography in Ardfield is essentially International-Catholic (St James, Jesus, Mary), very much in line with the Devotional Revolution which I described in my post Saints and Soupers: the Story of Teampall na mBocht (Part 7, the New Catholicism). Instead of repeating the Ardfield images here I will send you instead to the little country church in Castletown-Kinneagh, near Enniskeane, and one of my favourite windows – the Infant of Prague. In the extensive renovation of this church the parishioners, ably led by Fr Tom Hayes, worked hard to save this window from a porch which had to be demolished and re-located it in a light box inside the church. While not perfect for back-lighting, this has the great advantage of allowing the viewer to get really close to the window to observe the painting techniques and the details. 

Next we will stop by St Ita’s church in Gortroe, near Youghal. Here you will find one of Watson’s Revivalist windows dedicated to that same Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy (below) about whom Fr Hurley wrote in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society and whose travails I described in my Post Thaddeus McCarthy, The Bishop Who Never Was. In the sanctuary is a three light window, the Sacred Heart flanked by Thaddeus and St Ita, while a Lourdes window occupies the south wall (a detail from that window is my lead image in this post).

Protestant churches were also attracted to Revivalist touches and one of the most interesting windows I’ve seen is in St John’s Church of Ireland in Knight’s Town on Valentia Island in Kerry. The two light window depicts the angels of Prayer and Praise, with book and harp. The angels are beautiful if over-familiar depictions, but it is the surround that shows how Watsons worked hard to customise windows according to the wishes of the clients.*

The windows commemorate James and Anne Graves. James Graves was the first Superintendent of the Anglo-American telegraph station on Valentia and he held the post for forty years. Accordingly, the framing surround of each window shows not only nicely worked-out interlace but the telegraph cable, punctuated by cross sections of that cable in red and green. Marine rope, telegraph poles and ceramic insulators also make an appearance, and the international telegraph alphabet is represented by black dots on a white background. The window was executed in 1912 and cost thirty five pounds.

So far I have illustrated this post from windows in small churches, but the very large Catholic Church of St Carthage in Lismore, Co Waterford, has several very fine Revivalist windows. Some are credited to Cox and Buckley and were completed in the 1890s; others were done after the company had changed its name to J Watson and Co. The church itself, in a flamboyant Lombardo-Romanesque style, is well worth a visit and the windows certainly enliven the interior. The iconography is a mixture of International-Catholic and Celtic-Revival/local iconography, with, for example, the Archangel Michael and St Carthage (see Part 1) side by side.

I included a detail from the Vision of St Ita window in Part 1, but it’s worth having a look at more of that window. The end of the nineteenth century saw the publication of many texts related to Irish saints – translations from Irish by such scholars as Whitley Stokes (see my post on The White Hound of Brigown) and Canon John O’Hanlon – and these became the religious equivalent of the stories of Finn McCool, Cuchulainn and the great Irish mythology cycles as written by Standish O’Grady and others at the time. St Ita was the foremost female saint of Ireland after St Brigid, and she is traditionally thought to have come from Waterford. She was given to visions and raptures and this is what is depicted here. And just look at those wonderful birds in the canopy above her head.

This demonstrates the popularity of these hagiographies with Irish Catholics and their clergy at the time – the artists responsible for these windows had to make sure they were well read on the lives of Irish saints. Both the Columcille window (above) and the Patrick window (below) exuberantly display their artist’s knowledge of the lives and deeds of these saints as well as their immersion in all the tropes of Celtic Revival imagery (wolfhound, anyone?).

The Rose Window has a panoply of Irish Saints (including Saint Otteran, Patron Saint of Atheists!) each one occupying one of the rays of the rose with cherubs encased in interlace. As they say in property ads – must be seen to be appreciated.

My final window astounded me when I first saw it – in fact I think it was my introduction to Watson’s use of interlace and it really is a virtuoso performance. I’ve used the bottom panel from it further back in the post to demonstrate how a cartoon ends up as a window, but the whole window deserves pride of place. It’s in the Catholic church in Inchigeelagh, Co Cork, and so we have circled back again to St Finbarr of Gougane Barra – an excellent place to stop.

I’ve included illustrations in this post from Cork, Kerry and Waterford but I would be interested to hear from anyone who has found Watson Revivalist windows anywhere.

Part 1 of this post is here

Introducing the Holy Wells – of Kerry!

Remember the New Year Resolution – spend more time in Kerry? We lost no time in implementing it, and spent three days there this week. Our main purpose was to accompany Amanda and Peter as they started Amanda’s new project – to extend her Holy Wells of Cork recordings into Kerry as well. Of course, Robert and I had a small list of must-see items as well, which will likely appear in future blogs.

Above: Ballinskelligs Bay. Top photo: the mystical Skelligs. The larger one is Sceilg Mhichil (Skellig Michael) and the smaller is Sceilg Beag (Little Skellig). The Skelligs have featured in the Star Wars franchise, but are better known to us here as the home of hermit monks in the Early Christian Period

It’s always great fun to be out and about with Amanda and Peter. We had a few misgivings about the weather forecast, and indeed we had everything thrown at us – snow, hail, sleet, rain, gales – and brilliant sunshine! The sunshine persisted for our main day, to our delight, but the weather gods made up for it that night with a howling gale that knocked out the power to our hotel, the Royal Valentia. Undaunted, they served us up a great breakfast, and figured out how, with no electricity or internet, to charge our credit cards.

Robert’s post is mainly about Valentia Island, so I am concentrating on the holy wells. All of them will be written up in Amanda’s customary detailed style on her blog, so this is just a flavour of what we saw. By the way, if you are new to holy wells, check out her series of “On Wells” posts now. It will get you up and running.

St Crohane’s Holy Well site, with the well in the background, a Marian grove in the centre, and a mass rock in the foreground

Our first well was one that Robert and I had tried to find and failed on a previous trip to Kerry. This time we were with the expert and there it was – St Crohane’s well, behind an old graveyard with not one but two ruined churches and spectacular views across to the Beara. The well was once the centre of a mighty three-day pilgrimage and although that no longer happens, the well is cared for and visited.

The view from St Crohane’s, across to the Beara

I was thrilled to find a Richard King stained glass window in Ballinskelligs (future post) in a church dedicated to St Michael, patron saint of the Skelligs. Below the church is the holy well also dedicated to Michael. This is a curious site (below), almost certainly built on a fulacht fia, like the Trinity Well in Duhallow. This also was the centre of a huge pattern in its day.

We visited two wells dedicated to St Finnan (or Finan or Finian), a monk who is also associated with Lindisfarne and Iona. The first of these was a neglected little well on St Finian’s Bay – the pounding surf was a bit of a distraction (see below and final picture).

The neat little well house is the beehive-shaped structure to Robert’s left

The second was on Valentia Island and took a bit of finding until we stumbled upon the magic path through the woods. A classic well, with everything you needed to have a drink, and surrounded by slabs of slate. Robert had a sip – brave man, and now apparently safe from rheumatism.

Amanda always comes prepared with detailed research and notes, but wells can still be difficult to find

Our other Valentia well was dedicated to St Brendan (in one account, St Finnan was one of his acolytes) and was located at an amazing, windswept site, with crude cross slabs and a possible turas (pilgrim route) through the bog. Robert has more images of this haunting place.

Amanda gazes out across the bog, trying to make out the traces of a pilgrims’ path and possible stations

Two little wayside wells were encountered along the way, one along the road and one in the middle of Caherciveen – this last one, Well of the Holy Cross, a little sad and neglected, as urban wells tend often to be.

Although this was a holy well, dedicated to St John, it appears to have been repurposed as a Marian grotto, with St Bernadette in a small shelter of her own

Our final well was also the most spectacular – St Fursey’s well, located on the slopes of Knocknadobar (cnoc na dtobar – mountain of the well). Once, people climbed to the top of the mountain at Lúnasa for a three day festival. Although the festival is no more, in the 1880s local people erected stations of the cross, 14 of them, going all the way up the mountain to the top. Some of us managed to get to the second station, but saw a hardy soul way above us, well on his way.

Station 2 on the pilgrim trail from St Fursey’s Well to the top of Knockandobar

As ever, organising a trip around holy wells provided us with three days of adventures and experiences in jaw-dropping scenery and the opportunities to do lots of side-trips. The light in January is clear and sparkling and the roads are quiet, unlike at the height of tourist season.

The white dots going up the hill are the Stations

Although many restaurants, hotels and b and b’s close for the winter, enough remain open so that a hearty bowl of soup and a good coffee is never too far away. And three cheers for The Royal Valentia – open all year, great food, friendly staff and good in a crisis!

 

Valentia Adventure

At the very end of January – when we should have been in the dark depths of winter – we headed off to Valentia Island in County Kerry, and enjoyed sublime golden sun. This time of the year often gives us the best light: we experienced this on our expedition through the Yellow Gap in West Cork a fortnight ago, and again during these three days in our neighbouring county last week. It’s to do with the low sun: somehow it enriches the amber hues of the landscapes, which are themselves enhanced by backdrops such as the one above. An ancient stone is set against a distant turquoise ocean and dark, snow-capped mountain peaks.

Holy wells were on the agenda (see Finola’s post here), as we were joining our friends Amanda and Peter Clarke from the Sheep’s Head. Amanda has nearly come to the end of her chronicle which records all the Holy Wells in County Cork, and she is now starting to explore those in County Kerry. I’m not going to say too much about the wells we saw, as Amanda will cover them in great detail, but the expedition certainly provided great opportunities for observation and photography, and caused us to wonder – again – at this unique aspect of Ireland’s history and traditions.

All the photographs above are from a remote and atmospheric site on the north west side of Valentia Island: St Brendan’s Holy Well. It’s a long way off the beaten track: desolate, bleak and boggy – but justifies making the effort. There are ancient stone crosses, carved slabs, cures to be had, and history. St Brendan himself journeyed there from Tralee in the fifth century, climbed the cliffs at Culoo, and found two dying pagans at the site: he anointed them and they became Valentia’s first Christian converts.

Above – the way to St Brendan’s Well, Valentia Island, passes by O’Shea’s Pub . . . one of the furthest flung bars in the world, that you can’t—and could never—buy a proper pint at . . . The story is here.

I certainly endorse that sign in the centre, seen on Valentia Island. Hare trapping in South Kerry is illegal – and so it should be! But – how could we not follow a sign that says: Slate Quarry – Grotto?

The Grotto – in this case a statue of the BVM together with Saint Marie-Bernadette Soubirous, the girl who witnessed Mary’s apparition in Lourdes – was installed in the Marian Year of 1954 in a cave high above the entrance to the Valentia Slate Quarry on Geokaun Mountain, at the north end of the Island. The Quarry had been opened in 1816 and supplied slate to the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, London railway stations and many another building project. The quarry excavated a huge cave into the mountainside, and closed after a major rockfall in 1910.

Fr James Enright, who was the PP of Valentia in the Marian Year, saw a golden opportunity in such a setting for a commemorative grotto. Fr Enright decided exactly where the statues were to be positioned, but the burning issue was how were these heavy items going to be put in place and worked upon at over 90 feet from ground level? The answer came in the building of a deal timber ladder.

 

Jackie Clifford , who was a blacksmith based in Gortgower, made the iron to bind and reinforce the ladder and was helped in his forge by Denny Lyne and subsequently aided by other islanders. Having been transported to the quarry in sections, it was assembled there and put in place by the volunteering islanders. The ladder was over 100 feet long, being four feet wide at the bottom narrowing to a foot. and a half on top. The sections of ladder were joined at the various points with a four foot lap. Many island volunteers were enlisted with each townland taking their turns to work. The initial work involved levelling a massive mound in order to form a proper base. This was quite labour intensive, being done with pick and shovel. The ladder was hauled into place by means of a block and tackle pulley system with people at the ends of ropes from above and to the sides in order to control it and put it in place. As one islander succinctly put it “The greatest miracle to happen there was the erection of the ladder”.

 

Subsequent to the ladder being put in place, a number of daring and intrepid islanders had to climb it for the purpose of erecting the statues. The statues were hoisted up by rope with other tools and building materials. The concrete for the base was mixed by shovel above.

(Quote from The Kerryman, January 2015)

The Quarry has recently reopened, and it’s quite surreal to stand in front of the grotto with the sound of heavy machinery reverberating at the huge cave mouth from deep within the mountain.

Have a look again at the signs above: one points to ‘Tetrapod Trackway’. This is surely a must-see for any visitor to Valentia Island as the fossilised Tetropod footprints here, representing the point at which life left the Devonian Seas 370 million years ago to begin to evolve on dry land, are the best examples of only four sites found to date in the world! We hurried to have a look – but the site was closed for repairs. You can see a picture of the tracks here.

In the winter sunlight, the little village of Portmagee which stands at the threshold of Valentia Island and connects to it by a bridge opened in 1971, looks like a picture postcard. In fact, the bridge was opened twice – once on New Year’s Day, when it was blessed by the Bishop of Kerry – and again at Easter, because there was some debate about whether the first opening had been ‘official’ or not!

Here’s a railway map and photo dating from around 1901 showing ‘Valentia Harbour Station’. In fact, it’s not on the island at all, although Knightstown – the ‘planned village’ designed by Alexander Nimmo for the Knight of Kerry in the 1830s can be seen across the water. The station – the terminus of the most westerly railway in Europe – is on the mainland, to the east of  Valentia Island, which could be reached by a ferry. The Farranfore to Valentia Harbour Railway was 39½ miles long and operated from 1892 to 1960. The photo below shows the Valentia River Viaduct just outside Cahersiveen, now derelict but hopefully to have a new lease of life when a planned cycling greenway is developed along the old railway track.

Valentia Island has a great deal more to offer than I can show in a brief post. It’s well worth making the journey and staying for a little while: there is such varied landscape to be experienced – a microcosm of the West of Ireland, in fact – and much history if you want to delve under the surface.

The tailpiece shows a view from Knightstown looking across to Valentia Harbour on the mainland and the site of the former railway terminus: