New stained glass offers a window to the past in Clonakilty church

Two spectacular stained glass windows depicting a series of historical and cultural ‘turning points’ over some 700 years in a West Cork town, have gone on display in the local church.

The colourful eight-foot reticulated ‘lancet’ windows depict some 40 different scenes from Clonakilty’s history — among them the arrival of the Normans to the town in 1292, the draconian Penal Laws, the horrors of the Great Famine, the construction of the Clonakilty Linen Hall, the establishment of the local GAA club, and the activities of a local family of shipbuilders and brewers.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clonakilty. Picture: Denis Boyle
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clonakilty. Picture: Denis Boyle

The windows also commemorate the construction of the Church of the Immaculate Conception itself in the 1870s, as well as the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy to the town and a local legend about the appearance of the Virgin Mary at nearby Inchydoney.

Local artist and historian Tomás Tuipéar, who carried out the necessary research and designed the windows, which were hand-painted, fired and assembled in Dublin, explained that the theme chosen was a time-line celebrating “the long, colourful and often difficult” history of the town, along with its social, cultural, and working life.

The two new stained glass windows, which were part-sponsored by an anonymous benefactor, will be installed in the place of two former plain glass, lancet windows in the transept of the church. They are currently on display inside the church, and will be installed at the end of the summer tourist season.

Sign artist and historian Tomás Tuipéar, who researched and new designed the stained glass windows. Picture: Katherine O’Shea
Sign artist and historian Tomás Tuipéar, who researched and new designed the stained glass windows. Picture: Katherine O’Shea

“In 2018 it was decided to replace these plain glass windows with stained glass,” said Mr Tuipéar, adding that, after being approached by the parish priest of Clonakilty, Monsignor Aidan O’Driscoll, to come up with a design for the windows, he carried out extensive research into the town’s history, following which it was decided that the windows would celebrate a timeline of Clonakilty.

“I selected seminal moments over 700 years, beginning in 1292 with the granting of a documented market charter to Thomas de la Roche and running through to the present day,” he said.

“The Great Famine is depicted with a recreation of a drawing from the London Illustrated News of a Clonakilty woman holding her dead baby, who was asking for money to bury her child.

The woman is unknown to us but she is now immortalised in the window,”

Mr Tuipéar said he hoped the windows would act as an educational tool for local students.

“The working life of the town is also depicted,” he said. “Clonakilty was a major producer of linen since 1696 and at one point 10,000 people were employed in the various processes of linen production here.”

The right lancet window is dedicated to the local Deasy family, who were prominent local ship-builders, brewers, and exporters in Clonakilty over a period spanning some 230 years — Deasy schooners conveyed Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’, and his family to France from nearby Galley Head on several occasions.

One of the stained glass windows, which commemorates the linen industry.
One of the stained glass windows, which commemorates the linen industry.

“The recreational life of the town is also recalled,” said said Mr Tuipéar. “The local GAA club was formed in 1887 by John Sisk who was engaged in the ongoing construction of the church and he was the first captain of the Clonakilty GAA.”

A local legend about the appearance of Our Lady at Virgin Mary’s Bank also features.

A brochure explaining the background to the detail of each window will be available in the church from Easter Sunday.

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