18 February 2019
A church in Killaloe
with a collection of
Harry Clarke windows
After preaching in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, on Sunday morning [19 February 2019], and presiding at the Cathedral Eucharist, I walked around this charming town on the banks of the Shannon, and after lunch in Ponte Vecchio it seemed appropriate to visit Saint Flannan’s Roman Catholic Church on The Green in Killaloe.
The area surrounding Saint Flannan’s Catholic Church is Kincora, the former site of King Brian Ború’s palace, although there are no visible remains of the palace today.
Saint Flannan’s Church is particularly known for the beautiful stained-glass windows that are the work of the internationally renowned stained-glass artist Harry Clarke (1889-1931), his father and his studio.
This T-plan, double-height parish church was built in 1837-1838. It has a three-bay gabled entrance front, four-bay side elevations and single-bay transepts. There is a pitched slate roof with a cast-iron downpipe, a dentilated eaves course and metal cross finials. There is coursed cut-stone on the entrance front and rubble stone on the remaining walls.
There are lancet openings with cut-stone voussoirs, stained glass windows and windows from the Harry Clarke studios.
The four-centred arch door openings have timber matchboard doors. The features inside include render panels behind the High Altar, a timber cross-rib vaulted ceiling, a winged dove at the crossing, a carved marble altar and tabernacle, a choir gallery with a sheeted balustrade and chamfered timber columns.
Although the church was completed in 1838, it was not consecrated until 1840. The church was consecrated by Patrick Kennedy, Bishop of Killaloe (1836-1851). The sermon was preached by the Temperance campaigner, Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856). It is said that by the following day 20,000 people had taken the temperance pledge in Killaloe.
The real gems in this church are the two magnificent Clarke stained-glass windows on each side of the High Altar. These windows are two remarkable examples of Irish stained-glass art. One celebrates the life of an early Irish saint while the other depicts Gospel scenes from the childhood of Christ. Although quite different in subject matter and also very different in their artistic styles, the windows are the work of father and son, Joshua and Harry Clarke.
Harry Clarke is regarded as Ireland’s greatest stained-glass artist. Internationally, his name is synonymous with quality craftsmanship and imaginative genius in his stained-glass work. His use of deep rich colours, his delicate depiction of beautiful elongated figures with their finely carved features and deep expressive eyes, are characteristic of his work.
The ‘Scanlan Window’ to the right of the altar, was commissioned in February 1927 and was created by Harry Clarke. His design for this window is similar to the Presentation window, one of eight windows he designed three years earlier in 1924 for the Chapel of Our Lady at the Convent of Notre Dame, now the Ashdown Park Hotel at Wych Cross, near Forest Row in East Sussex.
The main panel in Harry Clarke’s window in Killaloe depicts the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple by the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph (see Luke 2: 22-38). The Virgin Mary is portrayed handing the Christ Child to the righteous Simeon, with the prophet Anna in the background. Saint Joseph stands below then holding two turtle doves as the offering for the Temple. Three angels oversee the event from above.
The top panel of this window depicts the Annunciation, while the lower panel depicts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt (see Matthew 2: 13-15).
The window is in memory of Eliza Scanlan, who died 21 May 1925, and her son Michael.
In their book, Strangest Genius: the stained glass of Harry Clarke, Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen say that ‘the window is a fine example of the spectacular colours and exquisite decoration of drapery and robes that Clarke is so famous for creating.’
Two other windows in the church also have connections with Harry Clarke and his family and studios.
The ‘Ryan Window’ to the left of the High Altar, was made in the studio of Harry Clarke’s English-born father, Joshua Clarke (1858-1921) of 33 North Frederick Street, Dublin. Joshua Clarke moved from Leeds to Ireland at the age of 18 in 1877 and became a Roman Catholic. As part of his church decoration business, he made stained-glass windows.
The main panel in the ‘Ryan Window’ depicts the figure of an Irish saint and bishop, either Saint Patrick or Saint Flannan, and is flanked by other panels with depictions of four angels, the Christ Child with Saint Joseph (above) and the dying Saint Francis (below).
The window was commissioned by the Revd Michael Ryan of Melbourne in memory of his parents, John and Susan Ryan. Joshua Clarke’s signature is in the bottom right corner.
A third window, the ‘Courtney Window’ in the south wall, depicts the Sacred Heart. This window is also thought to be the work of the Clarke Studios.
The panel on the High Altar depicts the Supper at Emmaus (see Luke 24: 13-35).
Two plaques in the nave of the church commemorate Victorian coadjutor bishops of Killaloe: Nicholas Power (1804-1871), who was coadjutor bishop in 1865-1871 as Bishop of Sarepta, and attended the first Vatican Council; and Bishop James Ryan (1806-1889), who was coadjutor bishop in 1872-1888 as Bishop of Echinus.
Outside, in the grounds of the church, Saint Molua’s Church or Saint Lua’s Oratory, is a separate, single-bay, single-storey, gable-fronted rubble stone-built early Christian oratory that was moved to this site when the original site was being flooded in 1925-1929 as part the Ardnacrusha scheme. But more about that tomorrow morning.