18 February 2019

A church in Killaloe
with a collection of
Harry Clarke windows

A detail of Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on images for full-screen viewing)

Patrick Comerford

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 BorĂº’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.

Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, built in 1837-1838 and consecrated in 1840, with Saint Molua’s Church or Saint Lua’s Oratory to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.

Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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 offering of two turtle doves in Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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 Flight into Egypt in Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.’

The ‘Ryan Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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 death of Saint Francis depicted in the ‘Ryan Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.

The ‘Courtney Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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 in Saint Flannan’s Church depicts the Supper at Emmaus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.

Inside Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Visiting the library that
tells the moving story of
a church in Ballybunion

Saint Augustine’s, the former Church of Ireland parish church in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, is now a local library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Two years ago, for the first time, I visited Saint Augustine’s Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, on a Saturday afternoon [19 February 2017]. It was my first time to visit the most westerly town and church in this group of parishes, although the church is now used as a library.

I have visited Ballybunion many times since that afternoon, but until this past weekend I never managed to see inside this church.

Three of us went for a walk on the beach in Ballybunion this Saturday afternoon [16 February 2019], and for the first time in two years I found the library was open and I was able to visit one of my former parish churches.

Walking on the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on image for full-screen view)

The library and former church stands at the corner of Sandhill Road in Ballybunion. This building that was once Saint Augustine’s parish church in the Church of Ireland. It is a single-storey Gothic Revival style church. The walls are of snecked limestone with Portland stone dressings. The entrance is through a projecting porch.

Saint Augustine’s Church was originally built at Rattoo, near Ballyduff, in 1877-1879. However, after the original Church of Ireland parish church in Ballybunion was demolished in the 1950s, it was decided to move Saint Augustine’s to Ballybunion.

From 1669 to 1882, the parish of Ballybunion was held by the Rectors of Aghavillan. Killehenny Church was built as the parish church in Ballybunion on a site donated by HB Harene, close to the cliffs, and was consecrated in 1858.

The parish was united with Rattoo in 1883, and the first rector of the new union was the Revd Cecil Richard Hoggins, a former naval chaplain. Hoggins was succeeded by the Revd Charles Edward Fry. Later, it was recalled, ‘the rector suffered terribly from shyness. His manner was painfully nervous.’

In 1922, the parish was joined with Listowel. By then, Killehenny Church and its clocktower had become familiar landmarks in Ballybunion.

But for almost a century, the church was battered by the weather and the elements. A local historian, Russell McMorran of Tralee, mused that it must have been an exciting experience going to church there on a stormy, winter’s day.

After almost 100 years, the decision was taken in 1957 to close the church and to demolish it.

Meanwhile, another Church of Ireland church in the neighbourhood had fallen into disuse. Saint Augustine’s Church was originally built at Rattoo, near Ballyduff, in 1877-1879, on a site ‘within the shadow of the ancient round tower.’ It was built by Wilson and Gertrude Gun for their family, friends, tenants and workers, and for the Staughton family, who were neighbouring landlords.

The church, dedicated to Saint Augustine of Hippo, was designed by the Kerry-born architect, James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924), an eccentric snob who also wrote high-Victorian melodramatic novels. He claimed to have ‘carried out professional work in every county in Ireland’ and the Dictionary of Irish Architects lists over 200 of his works.

Fuller undertook considerable work for the Guinness family and Lord Ardilaun, most notably Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway, the refurbishment of Farmleigh House, next to the Phoenix Park, in 1881-1884, the refurbishment of Iveagh House on Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and the Superintendent’s Gate Lodge in Saint Stephen’s Green.

His other works include Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath, the wonderful terracotta-decorated Gallaher building at the corner of D’Olier Street and Hawkins Street, Dublin, the former National Bank building on Arran Quay in Dublin, the now lost gate lodge for Cherryfield House in Firhouse, and the rectory at Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan.

The library in Ballybunion retains many of the features of Saint Augustine’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The foundation stone of Fuller’s new church at Rattoo was laid on 20 September 1877 by Wilson Gun, who paid the cost of the contract, excluding the tower and belfry. The church was consecrated in October 1879.

Fuller designed Saint Augustine’s as a single-storey Gothic Revival style church. This church, dated 1879, has a four-bay nave, a single-bay single-storey gabled projecting porch to the south-west, a single-bay single-storey lower chancel to the north gable end, and a single-bay single-storey gabled vestry projection to the north-west.

There is a steeply-pitched slate roof with a clay ridge comb, the gable parapets have Portland stone copings and there are profiled cast-iron gutters on a Portland stone corbel table.

There are rock-hewn snecked grey limestone walls with Portland stone quoins and springers, and buttresses with Portland stone dressings. The Portland stone plate-tracery windows have paired pointed lancets and cinquefoils over. There are triple lancets with trefoil heads to transept.

The Portland stone doorcase has a double-leaf boarded door and limestone steps. There are triple windows to the porch.

There are exposed timber trusses inside the former church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Inside, there are exposed timber trusses and white marble plaques on the west wall. The retaining timber door to the vestry is set in an arched niche. There is a snecked rubble wall to the street, with replacement concrete copings.

When the old church in Ballybunion was demolished, Saint Augustine’s was dismantled stone-by-stone by local builders Boyle and Harnett. The work involved numbering, cleaning and polishing each stone as the building was transported and reconstructed in its exact original state on the present site in Sandhill Road, Ballybunion. Wilson and Gertrude Gun were buried beneath the nave of the church in its new location.

The church was rededicated on Saint Augustine’s Day, 28 July 1957, by Bishop Hodges of Limerick. Radio Eireann broadcast the ceremony, and this was the national broadcaster’s first-ever outside broadcast event.

The Church of Ireland community in Ballybunion was strong until the end of the 1980s, and the decision was taken to close Saint Augustine’s in 1987. The church was deconsecrated on 1 June 1987, almost 30 years after it had been moved to this site.

The church was handed over to the Co Kerry Library Service and it opened to the public as a library on 20 December 1990. Ballybunion Library is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

As well as lending books, the library hosts several successful events, including an Active Retirement Group’s Creative Writing Workshop and a Children's Book Festival.

A plaque on the west wall in the former parish church in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, commemorates Wilson and Gertrude Gun (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)