Finola Finlay treated members of Skibbereen & District Historical Society and a big crowd of non-members to a wonderful talk on ‘The Stained Glass of West Cork’, at the West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen, on Thursday evening, January 25th, 2018.
Finola gave brief history of stained glass, from about the late 14th century when many of the churches were Gothic in style. The mid-1400s to the mid-1500s saw a decline of the Gothic style and the establishment of the new Renaissance period which was also reflected in the art of glass painting.
Finola brought us through the period of the Gothic revival of the late 18th and 19th centuries and there are many examples of stained glass windows from this period in West Cork. The early 19th century was a good time for the building of churches in Ireland.
With the assistance of a splendid slide-show of photographs, all taken by herself, Finola brought us on a virtual tour showing some of the most beautiful stain glass windows in West Cork and giving the stories behind them. And what a treasure-trove of stained glass windows we have!
The Harry Clarke windows in St Barrahane’s in Castletownshend are quite beautiful. There are other windows from the Harry Clarke Studios in West Cork, including at Kilcoe.
Finola relayed the story of how a stain glass window in the Church of the Ascension in Timoleague caused quite a controversy. In 1865, the then Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross considered a new stain glass window, by Warrington, above the altar to be inappropriate and would only consecrate the new chancel and vestry if the window was covered by a cloth. The controversy over that window continued for quite some time.
Finola told us that one of her own favourite churches in West Cork was St. Kentigern’s in Eyeries, on the Beara peninsula. There are 11 beautiful stain glass windows in all in St Kentigern’s, eight in the main body of the church, two in the sanctuary, and the last in the west wall, over the entrance door. These are an example of much more modern stain glass windows. The artist is George S. Walsh and they date from the 1980s.
Finola finished her presentation giving details of Ireland’s newest stain glass window. It’s in St. John’s Church, Tralee, and, according to Finola, is breathtaking! The theme is Reconciliation, and the central figure is the return of the prodigal son. The right panel is of Jesus reading from the Book of Isiah and the left is of John the Baptist, patron saint of the church.
We’ve been to most of the churches mentioned by Finola, but over the next few months we will visit them all again – and this time we’ll study the stain glass windows with much more curiosity and interest. We will also be studying them with a much more informed mind, thanks to Finola.
After the talk, we couldn’t help reflecting on some of those beautiful churches and chapels around West Cork; venerated places of worship, having served their respective communities for generations, some for hundreds of years. What does the future hold for these buildings? How many of them, particularly in rural places, will be open as places of worship in 20, 30 or 50 years? Not too many, we fear!
Finola and her husband Robert publish an outstanding blog, https://roaringwaterjournal.com. The blog includes a lot of information about stain glass in West Cork, accompanied by terrific photographs. Roaringwater Joural contains many other things of interest. The posts are always thoroughly researched, beautifully written and completely engaging.