Tag Archives: harry clarke

National Gallery – looking great

The National Gallery of Ireland

The National Gallery of Ireland

As I passed by the locked and boarded front gate during the last six years I often wondered ‘When will it be open?’ The National Gallery had opened in 1864 and it was no surprise that serious work needed to be carried out to allow it to continue in the most positive way for another hundred and fifty years. The removal of old and worn, parts and their sympathetic replacement with modern, state-of-the-art materials was essential, and took time. That’s understandable and the result, I must admit, has been spectacular.

Harry Clarke piece

Harry Clarke piece

Upper Gallery

Upper Gallery

The gallery is a place that I know well having being a regular visitors for many, many years. The Millennium Wing that was opened in 2002 is a great addition and gives a modern feel to the place. And now with the extra space available the gallery can have more of its works (there are more than 16,300 works of art, comprising: paintings, sculpture, objets d’art and works on paper) on show – almost 650 items. And, of course, its size and popularity allows it to attract works from international galleries.

William Dargan

William Dargan

The recently completed work in the Dargan and Milltown wings has been suitably praised, and rightly so. There is much to see and enjoy here, and my own favourite was a complete and wonderful surprise. Knowing the gallery I did not expect to find the atrium that, on the sunny day when I was there,  was seen at its best. The beautiful space had been ‘hidden away’ but its revelation is a real treat and the sculpture at its centre, Magnus Modus (by Joseph Walsh), will bring a smile. It’s a must-see!


Magnus Modus

Magnus Modus


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Serendipity – what a surprise!

Bewleys - colour fun

Bewleys – colour fun

The aroma of coffee was strong and intoxicating, but then it always was in Bewleys. Paul and I were sitting in one of the red banquettes enjoying sticky buns, surrounded by the hum of lively conversation that was unique to the place. It was now almost midday and the sun was shining, filling the café in a magical light. It lit the stained-glass window opposite sending shafts of red, blue, yellow and green light dancing across the floor. I had to admire the craftsmanship that was now seen at its best in a kaleidoscope of shimmering colour.

‘They really are something else,’ Paul said, noting my interest in the window and the changing colours.

‘Yes…they are brilliant.’

Paul continued. ‘They are by Harry Clarke, Ireland’s greatest stained-glass window artist. The man was a genius!’ We looked closely at them, watching as tiny motes of dust floated aimlessly in the shafts of technicolour light.

‘You’re not joking,’ I replied ‘they’re fantastic.’ Of all the times that I had been in Bewleys – and they were many – I had never seen the windows in such a wonderful light and the effect was exciting.

Paul offered. ‘I studied his work when I was in college, and I’ve been a fan ever since. The detail is so good that it takes your breath away. He was a real artist.’

‘Absolutely,’ I agreed.

‘He’s done plenty of other work,’ Paul added, ‘all around the country. Some of the best are in a church in Castletownsend, in west Cork, and well worth a look the next time you’re down there. You should check them out.’

I looked forward to my next visit to Baltimore, from where I could easily visit the small town where Harry Clarke’s windows were waiting. We had a date.

Over the next couple of weeks I did some research into the works of Harry Clarke and was impressed with what I found. He learned his craft from his father, before attending college where he was awarded gold medals and scholarships. He worked on various commissions and also did many illustrations for books. But it was his skill as a master worker in glass that made his name and ensured his place in art history, before he died, aged only 41.

St Barrahane's Church

St Barrahane’s Church

And so it was on a bright day in early May that I drove down the hill, around the tall sycamore tree in the middle of the road that acted as a natural roundabout, and pulled up outside St Barrahane’s Church in Castletownsend. I climbed the 52 steps (one for every Sunday in the year!) and looked out at the still, blue waters of Castlehaven Bay where small boats bobbed in the warm breeze. It was a tranquil scene with only the sound of gulls cawing as they swooped and played in the sunshine.

HC's - Rich colours

HC’s – Rich colours

The old door creaked as I pushed it and stepped into the cool, quiet darkness. I waited for a few moments in the stillness taking in the atmosphere, and then walked slowly up the aisle. Above the old, weathered pews the sun shone through three colourful windows that were created by James Powell of London, the most famous glassmaker of his day.

HC - a lifelike image

HC – a lifelike image

But it was the works of Harry Clarke that drew me forward. Then I stopped, lost in wonderment, as I was bathed in the myriad shafts of colour. The images on the glass were so lifelike, infused with sunlight, that they might have been moving. In the quiet, almost eerie, silence I felt that I was not alone. The work is indeed the stuff of genius, and I was happy to have made the journey.

 Leaving the church I noticed a ship’s oar at the bottom of the stairs that led to the organ balcony. It was from the Lusitania that had been sunk not too far from where I stood, in May 1915. I ran a finger along the blade and felt a shiver run up my back. It was a surprise to come across a reminder of that day when almost 1,200 people lost their lives, now resting awkwardly with the beauty and calm of Harry Clarke’s window.

Outside, I was confused by what I had just experienced. I was delighted to have seen Clarke’s work, and I was now determined to find out about the tragic events that had brought the oar to this beautiful place. The old saying that ‘one thing leads to another’ never seemed so true. Serendipity indeed.

Castlehaven Bay

Castlehaven Bay


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Harry Clarke – Artist in Glass

Harry Clarke

Harry Clarke

There are few originals, but Harry Clarke most certainly was one of that rare breed. He was the third child of Henry Clarke (decorator from Leeds) who arrived in Dublin in 1877 and his wife, Brigid, and was born on St Patrick’s Day 1889.

He attended Model School (Marlborough Street) before going to nearby Belvedere College. After leaving in 1905 he took up an apprenticeship in his father’s studio, that by now had added a stained-glass section. Work was tough and his skills were soon noted in the Dublin Art School where he went to evening classes. In 1910 he work was recognised countrywide for the first time when his The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, by St Patrick won the gold medal for stained-glass work in the Board of Education National Competition.

Clarke's translucent brilliance

Clarke’s translucent brilliance

Shortly afterwards he went to London and where he worked as a book illustrator for the publisher Harrap & Co. Here he was able to transfer his skill of working in glass and his first printed work was Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen’s. Next was a set of illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a work so brilliantly done that Clarke’s reputation as an illustrator was assured.

Studio - North Frederick Street

Studio – North Frederick Street

When his father died in 1921, Harry and his brother Walter took over the studio at 6 North Frederick Street, and produced more than  160 stained-glass windows for both commercial and religious commissions. His work suffuses strong, bright colours and the brilliant drawing of elongated, expressive figures is breathtaking, especially when backlit by strong sunshine. The use of such colour was     something that he loved having been influenced by the great stained-glass windows at Chartres Cathedral.  Some of his work that is seen by thousands, on a daily basis, are his windows on the ground-floor in Bewleys Café on Grafton Street. Also, his pieces in the Hugh Lane Gallery are real favourites. As his fame grew he received commissions from England, America and Australia and he worked tirelessly in the smoky studio.

Clarke suffered with lung problems all his life so the studio environment was bad for him. He continued and was finally diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1929. While returning to Dublin from a sanatorium in Davos, Clarke died in Chur (Switzerland) on 6th January 1931, where he is buried. He was only 41.

Windows in Bewleys Café, Dublin

Windows in Bewleys Café, Dublin


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Bewleys Cafe – a flavour of Dublin

Even as it approaches its ninetieth year, Bewleys Café is as familiar as a best friend and a place I have always enjoyed. From the moment you approach the shop, depending of course on the direction of the wind, the aroma of fine coffee is enticing. It’s unique, and is appreciated by the patrons who daily pack the quirky, old building.

Egyptian-inspired decoration

Egyptian-inspired decoration


Famous pupils

Famous pupils

It opened for business in 1927 after extensive refurbishment, and was inspired by the great Paris and Vienna cafes.   The exterior Egyptian decoration reflects the contemporary discovery of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in 1922. The stained glass windows that Harry Clarke created are the highlight of the café, and are really appreciated when lit by strong sunlight. In the late 18th century the building housed Whyte’s Academy, the school where Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of  Wellington) and Thomas Moore attended. Robert Emmet, from St Stephen’s Green, a scone’s throw away, was another famous pupil.

Harry Clarke's wonderful windows

Harry Clarke’s wonderful windows

Originally a supplier of tea Bewleys later developed its coffee business, and it is now the biggest café and restaurant in Ireland with a million customers annually. It’s coffee (Arabica beans) is all Fairtrade sourced. The green beans, from Central and South America, are roasted on the premises and soon produce the familiar aroma and flavour. Add this to the in-house made bread, cakes, pizzas and salads and it is easy to see why it is has been Dublin’s favourite restaurant since it opened. It has also been one of Dubliner’s most popular meeting places, and is mentioned in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Other literary figures like Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett liked to sit and watch the world go by. That hasn’t changed, and with the hum of lively conversation in my ears, I feel it’s not likely to happen…for a long, long time!

Beans, means.....great coffee!

Beans, means…..great coffee!



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