Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass

Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass: The Works of Harry Clarke, the Artists of An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass) and Artists of Succeeding Generations to the Present Day: Revised New Edition. Edited by Nicola Gordon Bowe, David Caron and Michael Wynne. Hardback, 320pp, 150 colour illustrations (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2021), €35/£29.99. ISBN 9781788551298

Reviewed by Stephen Huws, Trinity College Dublin

Fig. 1: Wilhelmina Geddes, Rhoda Opens the Door to St Peter (1934), National Museums NI Collection: Ulster Museum (BELUM.U2132). The front cover of the first edition is retained as the dedication page, in memory of Nicola Gordon Bowe and Michael Wynne. Photograph © Jozef Vrtiel, with permission of Merrion Press.

The study of Irish stained glass seems to be experiencing something of a boom at the moment, and the publication of the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass: Revised New Edition represents a coming together of many of the researchers and strands of interest in progress. Covering the entire island of Ireland and more, the first edition was a landmark on its publication in 1988 but has long been out of print. The list of editors remains the same as the first edition, despite both Michael Wynne and Nicola Gordon Bowe having sadly passed since then. Therefore, it has fallen to David Caron to bring this new edition to light, and the result is a remarkable achievement.

Structurally the book has three principal parts: introductory essays by Bowe and Caron on the development of Irish stained glass from the dawn of the twentieth century to the present; the gazetteer, listing the vast quantity of surveyed glass by location; and finally, biographies of the chief artists behind the windows.

This edition retains some of the restrictions in its scope from its predecessor. First, it only covers glass made by artists working in Ireland. This includes work made by these artists for clients abroad but does not include work made by artists of Irish birth whose careers were spent principally outside of Ireland. The book does not include any imported work, of which there is a large amount in Ireland, particularly from England and Germany. Some of these imports were very uninspired, but there is a great deal of excellent imported glass in Ireland too. However, as the Gazetteer is focused on glass created after 1900, when the Arts and Crafts mode of stained glass production took off in Ireland, this focus of time period then presents another reason for the exclusion of imports: the most important of the imports were in the nineteenth century. While an expanded remit would be welcomed, that would be an enormous undertaking, and the focus of the book is clear and well argued for.((For the lack of medieval glass in Ireland see the work of Josephine Moran, discussed by Roger Rosewell in ‘Discovering Irish Glass’, Vidimus, 3 (January 2007), Features page .))

Fig. 2: Michael Healy, Last Judgement (1936-40), Catholic Cathedral, Loughrea, County Galway. Photograph © Jozef Vrtiel, with permission of Merrion Press.

In other ways, however, this second edition has expanded the windows included greatly from the first. Whereas the first only included work by Harry Clarke and the major figures of the An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass) studio, this edition includes any stained glass of merit created in Ireland where a named artist can be identified. The focus is on those artists who designed and made their own windows. This excludes glass made by the larger studios where individuals responsible cannot be ascertained, which is a shame as there is much good work to be found among these windows. But, again, the reasoning behind their omission is clear, and that the book never intended to record all stained glass in Ireland is acknowledged. An important addition to the scope of the book is the extension of the period covered from the death of the stained glass artists Evie Hone and Wilhelmina Geddes in 1955 up to the present day.

Nicola Gordon Bowe’s excellent introduction is preserved from the first edition. In addition to this is a new preface and a wide-ranging essay by David Caron which takes us from the conclusion of the time period covered by Bowe up to the present. The artist biographies which conclude the volume have also been updated, expanded, and in some cases replaced with new pieces. For example, the new entry on Evie Hone has been written by Joseph McBrinn who is currently working on a book about her (continuing a project begun by Bowe).

Other contributors to the Gazetteer include: Paul Donnelly, researching the Harry Clarke Studios for his PhD; Finola Finlay, who contributes on George W. Walsh and whose blog Roaringwater Journal is a beacon for Irish stained glass enthusiasts; and Ruth Sheehy, whose book on the career of stained glass artist Richard King was a landmark publication in the field.((Ruth Sheehy, The life and work of Richard King: religion, nationalism and modernism (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2020).)) With the able assistance of these and four further contributors, each of them an expert in one or more of the artists discussed, Caron has expanded the Gazetteer greatly from the first edition while retaining its authority on all matters of Irish stained glass.

While the essays and biographies make this book required reading for anyone interested in Irish stained glass, it is the Gazetteer itself which forms the bulk of the book and will ensure its continued usefulness to all glass-seeking owners. This section provides a county-by-county breakdown of Ireland as well as shorter sections where glass can be found in the UK and USA, and also in Zimbabwe, India, Greece, and more. It is a perfect book to dip into when planning trips to ensure these gems can be included on any itineraries. The scale of this book’s achievement is reflected by the number of entries in the Gazetteer. While 800 windows were listed in the first edition, this edition includes over 2,500, and the number of artists represented has risen from nine to a remarkable ninety-four (twenty of whom also receive biographies). These new artists include those from the same generation as An Túr Gloine and Harry Clarke who were not covered in the first edition and those active right down to the present day. This will hopefully shine more of a light on those artists whose work has received much less attention.

The book is sumptuously illustrated with high quality colour images on nearly every other page. The majority of these were taken by Jozef Vrtiel, who is also credited with the idea for the new edition. The 150 colour illustrations included here are an excellent increase on the four colour and sixteen black and white of the first edition. The plentiful images work to guide the reader to the windows and artists of most interest to them and chart the astonishing variety of Irish stained glass.

This is then an excellent volume for anyone with an interest in Irish art, stained glass, or ecclesiastical decoration. It is a useful guide for the enthusiast as well as an essential handbook for the scholar. It improves on the original in every way, making it a thoroughly worthwhile acquisition for those already in possession of a copy of that first edition. But as that edition has long been out of print and is very expensive on the second-hand market, the availability and price point of this new edition are also extremely welcome. The accessibility of this book will hopefully inspire a new generation of interest in Irish stained glass. But this is not the culmination of study of this field. As the wealth of the material shows, there is still much to be done. The study of Irish stained glass is in a very exciting place right now, as this book demonstrates with abundance.

Fig. 3: George Stephen Walsh, Annunciation (1967), Catholic Church (Church of the Annunciation), Finglas West, Dublin. Photograph © Jozef Vrtiel, with permission of Merrion Press.

Fig. 4: Harry Clarke, The Song of the Mad Prince (1917), National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square, Dublin. Collection NGI. Photograph © National Gallery of Ireland, with permission of Merrion Press.

Fig. 5: Helen Moloney, details of Creation, Fall and Redemption of Mankind (1966), Catholic Church (Holy Family), Southampton, Hampshire. Photograph © Fr James Bradley, with permission of Merrion Press.

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