Clarecastle’s Catholic church has an interesting window by one of Ireland’s premier stained glass artists, Michael Healy (1873–1941), who was a contemporary of Harry Clarke and worked at the rival Dublin studio, An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass), founded by Sarah Purser in 1903.
The window in question was altered so it’s not quite as the artist originally intended. We know what his original visual conception for the window was like because the small-scale and very precise watercolour illustration (or ‘sketch design’) is in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland. The words ‘Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother’ appear prominently in the design and the main image depicts Christ on the way to Calvary struggling under the weight of his cross, glancing back at his mother who reaches out as if to assist him while an approaching soldier appears ready to intervene. Its and image that is both tender and tense, with a silhouetted crowd looming on the horizon. Above in the apex are two kneeling angels, one holding the imprinted Veronica’s Veil, the other with a chalice referencing Christ’s impending sacrifice. Two further depictions of Christ appear side by side as predella (base) panels: Christ celebrating the Last Supper, and Christ depicted in the familiar Ecce Homo pose. Healy has indicated where an inscription would appear at the base with just the words ‘Oct. 1926’ legible. The illustration can be viewed on the National Gallery site at:
There were, it appears, two Clarecastle people who were instrumental in the commission coming about: the donor, Miss Mary Anne Slattery, who had a shop in Clarecastle. In 1925 Miss Slattery died in Clarecastle at the age of 84 and left funds to the Church; and the person who ordered the window from Michael Healy/An Túr Gloine the following year and he was the local PP, Canon Peter Bourke. The sketch design in the National Gallery would have been presented to Canon Bourke for approval. Usually this is fairly straightforward and it is approved, however in this instance some changes were made. Although the window was reconfigured and a lot of original glass replaced by modern clear glass (this occurred in the mid-1960s when alterations were made to the Church following Vatican 11) Eric Shaw unearthed some archival wedding photographs from the 1960s which show the original bottom third of the window and what we see in them is that when Healy made the actual window, instead of having two small panels side by side at the bottom, he only made one, that of Christ in the ‘Ecce Homo’ pose, with hands bound. The other thing we can see is that there is no inscription included. I wonder why that is.
The cost of the window was £168. This was funded from Miss Slattery’s estate, as well as a water font. She of course never got to see the window, and Canon Bourke did not get to enjoy it for long himself. The An Túr Gloine records (housed in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art in the National Gallery) indicate that it was installed in the Church on 5 May 1927, and we know the Canon died the following year.
I am currently writing a book on Michael Healy which is due to be published next year. If anyone has any information relating to the window I would be very happy to learn of it. Perhaps a photo of the complete window in its original state before the alterations? Or perhaps information on the donor, Mary Anne Slattery? Why was a decision made to remove the original hand-blown glass and when did the alterations to the Window occur?
Dr David Caron: email@example.com