Harry Clarke was undoubtedly Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist. He produced a series of remarkable stained-glass windows and book illustrations that breathed new life into both mediums. His magical works still have the power to enchant all those who encounter them, writes PADDY RYAN.


My introduction to the magical-stained glass executed by Harry Clarke was during a tour of the Church of Saint Barrahane in the beautiful village of Castletownshend in West Cork. While the focus of the tour was on author Edith Somerville who lived in the area, our attention was drawn to the Harry Clarke stained-glass window.

As Ms. Somerville was actively involved with a bull breeders’ association, Clarke neatly inserted a purple bull into his depiction of a saint sharing his cloak with a beggar. I was smitten and couldn’t wait to see more of this genius’s work.
I was not disappointed. There are few counties in Ireland that do not have a Harry Clarke work, usually in a church, where his deep blues, vivid greens and glorious reds, add an other-worldly touch to more sombre surroundings.

Born in Dublin in 1889, Harry was a son of Joshua Clarke who had built up a successful stained-glass studio, thanks to new churches that began to pepper the country after the Great Famine. Completing his education at Belvedere College, Harry Clarke won medals and scholarships to further his studies in Dublin and London.

While his inclination seemed be for graphic art, it veered more towards stained-glass after a tour of French Cathedrals. It is believed that the famous windows of Chartres Cathedral were a major influence on the stained glass he would later produce. But from an early age, Clarke suffered poor health which, it is believed, was exacerbated by constant exposure to toxic chemicals used in the production of stained-glass.

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