Friday, 22 February 2019

A Harry Clarke window
in Millstreet I have
overlooked for years

‘The Adoration of the Magi’ in Saint Patrick’s Church, Millstreet, Co Cork … is this the work of Harry Clarke? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

After writing about the Harry Clarke windows in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, co Clare, earlier this week, I was reminded that there is supposed to be a Harry Clarke window too in Saint Patrick’s Church, Millstreet, Co Cork.

Two of the large windows in this church were erected to the memory of Denis and Margaret Crowley of Millstreet by their son Cornelius Crowley in 1944. Con Crowley (1879-1972) of Coole House, Millstreet, and Finnstown House, Lucan, was my grandmother’s brother, so these windows commemorate my maternal great-grandparents.

I have written about these windows, which are the work of Clement Watson & Co of Youghal, Co Cork, two of three Watson windows in Saint Patrick’s Church, Millstreet. Clement Watson had bought the Youghal studios after World War I from his father, James Watson.

James Watson of Youghal, James Pearse, father of PH and Willie Pearse, and Joshua Clarke, father of Harry Clarke, all moved from England at a time when there was a growing demand in Ireland for ecclesiastical decoration and an acute awareness of the need for enterprises providing employment. The Watson Archive was recently acquired by the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork in January 2015.

I had photographed these windows during recent visits to Millstreet, but had missed the possibility that one of the stained glass windows in Saint Patrick’s Church, ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ was the work of the Harry Clarke studios. I had photographed it a few years ago, and I came across again it in my files last night.

The window was selected by An Post for one of three specially commissioned Christmas stamps in 2014. The design was based on a photograph by Bill Power from Mitchelstown, Co Cork, who has an interest in Harry Clarke’s stained glass.

He was commissioned by An Post to provide the photograph after seeing his photograph of the entire window on Flickr. At the time, his image, ‘An Angel with Lute,’ was described as part of the Harry Clarke stained-glass masterpiece in Millstreet, ‘The Adoration of the Magi.’ It was used on the €1 and 68c Christmas stamps that year.

Bill Power is an award-winning amateur photographer and chair of the Mallow Camera Club. He worked as a reporter with the Corkman in the 1980s. For many years he has been interested in the work of Harry Clarke.

After his Millstreet photograph was commissioned, Bill Power observed: ‘Harry Clarke was arguably the finest stained-glass artist Ireland has ever seen and his work was highly regarded both in Ireland and internationally. Because he died so young there are relatively few examples of his work, which make them all the more precious.’

That year, An Post also published a stamp with an image of the Infant Christ is a section of the ‘Adoration of the Magi,’ a Harry Clarke stained-glass window in Saint Patrick’s Church, Newport, Co Mayo.

Michael McLaughlin’s image of the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ was also used by President Michael D Higgins for the cover of his official Christmas card. The award-winning photographer was commissioned by Mayo County Council some years ago to photograph Harry Clarke’s windows throughout Co Mayo for a publication, honouring the work of the stained-glass artist.

But is the window in Millstreet the work of Harry Clarke?

Harry Clarke (1889-1931) is Ireland’s best-known stained-glass artist. He was born in Dublin 130 years ago on 17 March 1889, the son of Joshua Clarke, an English-born church decorator who had moved from Leeds to Dublin.

He was a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement, and he was also a book illustrator. His work included the Honan Chapel in UCC, the church on Lough Derg, Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, Saint Senan’s Church in Kilrush, Co Clare, Saint Brigid’s Church, Castleknock, windows in Bewley’s Café in Grafton Street, Dublin, and windows now in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin.

He died in Chur on 6 January 1931 and was buried in Switzerland.

The window in Millstreet is to the memory of Denis and Mary Brosnan, but records in the Clarke studio archives in Trinity College Dublin show the window’s design dates from 6 August 1940.

Many windows attributed to Harry Clarke are often the work of his students and other staff members in his studio. For example, the beautiful Clarke-style windows in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone, are primarily the work of the Dublin-based stained-glass artist Richard Joseph King (1907-1974) of the Harry Clarke Studios in 1937, six years after Clarke died.

Richard King was born in Castlebar, Co Mayo, on 7 July 1907, and entered the firm of J Clarke and Sons in 1928. King was Harry Clarke’s apprentice and under his supervision he executed windows designed by Clarke, producing background elements, borders and details.

While Clarke was gravely ill and dying in Davos, King translated his designs into windows. When Harry Clarke died in 1931, King stepped into the breach and became the manager of the studios. He left in 1940 to set up his own studio at Vico Terrace in Dalkey, and there he produced stained-glass windows for churches in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US, as well as for many churches in Ireland.

King also had a long, distinguished career as an illustrator, producing several postage stamps and illustrations for the Capuchin Annual. He died at his home in Raheny, Dublin, on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1974.

Meanwhile, after Clarke’s death in 1931, the Harry Clarke Studios continued his tradition of highly-stylised works in stained glass until the studios closed in the 1970s.

Perhaps this window is the work of Richard King or of the Harry Clarke Studios. Nonetheless, it is a church window I should not have overlooked when I first photographed it five years ago.

One the Crowley windows by Clement Watson in Saint Patrick’s Church, Millstreet, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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