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Harry Clarke and St Michael’s Church

Harry Clarke and St Michael’s Church – Jack Gorman provides us with a history of Harry Clarke and his connection with St Michael’s Church Inchicore.

St Michael’s church originally built in the 19th century as a garrison church for the adjacent Richmond barracks. The barracks would play an important role after the 1916 rising  it would become a holding centre for over 3,000 suspected rebels before their sentencing. Richmond barracks is now a museum and community space. Saint Michael’s Church was used as a school in the early 20th century and given over to the Roman Catholic Church, when the barracks was decommissioned in 1926.Probably, the most striking feature of St Michaels is the five harry Clarke studio windows behind its alter (c.1940).

Harry Clarke was born on March 17, 1889, in Dublin, Ireland. Raised in a family with a strong artistic tradition, his father Joshua was a church decorator, Harry exhibited an early talent for drawing and design. Clarke’s artistic education began at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, during his early years, Clarke was influenced by the medieval stained glass tradition. He developed a deep appreciation for the Gothic and Renaissance periods, drawing inspiration from the storytelling and craftsmanship found in European cathedrals.

In 1913, at the age of 24, Harry Clarke established his own stained glass studio in Dublin. The studio quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality works that seamlessly blended traditional craftsmanship Clarke’s ability to fuse his love for medieval art with contemporary styles set him apart from his peers. He experimented with various materials and methods to achieve the effects he desired. One of his most notable contributions to the field was the innovative use of plating, layering multiple layers of coloured glass to create depth and intensity of colour in his works. This technique allowed Clarke to achieve a level of luminosity and vibrancy that was unprecedented in stained glass art.

Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows often featured themes from literature, mythology, and religious narratives. Clarke’s work was not confined to churches he also created, book illustrations, and designs for decorative panels. Several of Harry Clarke’s masterpieces are prominently displayed in churches and public buildings across Ireland and beyond. St. Agnes window in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery is considered his master piece.

Harry Clarke’s early death in 1931, at the age of just 41, marked the end of a brilliant career. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on through his stained glass masterpieces, which continue to captivate prole to this very day. Clarke’s influence on the stained glass tradition is evident in the work of subsequent generations of artists who have sought to emulate his innovative techniques and commitment to storytelling through glass.

Harry Clarke’s contributions to the world of stained glass artistry have left an indelible imprint on the cultural and artistic landscape of Ireland. His ability to seamlessly blend traditional craftsmanship with innovative techniques and a gift for storytelling has solidified his place as a master of Irish stained glass artistry.

Harry Clarkes work was not without controversy long before the court case over the ownership of the Bewleys windows made by Clarke there was the matter of the Genova window. Somewhat unknown by many in Ireland today  the Geneva Window is one of the crowning achievements of Harry Clarke’s career as a stained glass artist. Made in 1929, just two years before his untimely death, this masterpiece is a testament to Clarke’s unparalleled skill, artistic vision, and innovative techniques.

The Geneva Window was commissioned by the Irish government keen to make a big impression on the international stage it was for the International Labour Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. This organization, founded in 1919 as part of the League of Nations, aimed to promote social justice and labour rights on an international scale. The window was intended to symbolize the unity and cooperation of nations in the pursuit of common goals. Clarke took the commission.

The window depicted scenes from literature by fifteen of Ireland’s finest writers. The likes of George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and William Butler Yeats .But in March 1929 his health deteriorated and he was forced to travel to a sanatorium in Switzerland. Harry left two of the Studio staff to complete the final processes on the Geneva window. On Harry’s return to Dublin in March 1930, the window was  viewed by government ministers  soon after Clarke received a letter from President Cosgrave in which he expressed his opinion that some of the panels were to be replaced but The Irish government ultimately rejected the window  outright and it was never installed in Geneva.

The window was installed in Government Buildings in Merion Square until Margaret, Harry’s widow, bought it back in 1932 The window was exhibited for some years at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, and by the Fine Art Society in London. In 1988 the Geneva window was sold by Harry’s sons to an art collector, Mitchell Wolfson. The window has finally found a home and is considered a rare masterpiece at the Wolfsonian, at the University of Florida, Miami.

The establishment of a new museum to celebrate the work of Harry Clarke is being proposed by Dublin City Council. The Council hopes to house it in what was the old premise of the writers museum on Parnell Square that is also home to Michelin star restaurant “Chapter One”. The Council’s plan to acquire the property from Falite Ireland to make what will be called the “Harry Clarke Museum of Irish Stained Glass”, a fitting tribute to one of Irelands greatest artists.











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