Sunday, 29 January 2017

Searching for Brigid’s Well.

My older post on making Brigid's crosses HERE

Brigid’s Eve draws nearer and with thoughts of making crosses, I wandered down to the Lough Field to look at the reeds. 
Standing alone in this quiet place a phrase, spoken by a Donegal Seanchaí, came to mind:

“ There were two St Brigids.
There was St Brigid up in Kildare, but this is the Brigid from this place.”

This set me wondering about the Brigid who walks the land locally and who is remembered here in stories of stones, wells and small offerings. 

Stone by the roadside in Killeigh.
A local story relates that Brigid rested and left the imprint of her leg upon the stone.

St. Brigid’s Well, Rosenallis.
The saint is believed to have founded a church here and blessed the spring well.

Coins and white quartz at the well.

Brigid’s Cross made from reeds.
The old custom here was to make the cross from oak twigs, 
bind it with reeds and place it in the thatch for protection. 

St. Brigid was believed to have been born in Doire Aircean, Derryarkin, on the bog north of 
Croghan Hill, Co. Offaly and Brigid Begoibne, Brigid the Smith, had her workshop beneath the Hill. 

Another Brigid, not of fire but of healing waters, had a sacred well which flowed from Croghan.
In the distant past Croghan Hill emerged as an island from the surrounding lakes, a sacred place where water, earth and sky met. 

Map showing the Hill and bogland today.

A place where legends of the pagan goddess and saint intertwined. 

The Hill, reminiscent of a breast, appears to have long been a place of the sacred feminine.

The old name for the Hill is Cruachán Bri Éile, the prominent hill of Éile, an elusive mythological woman or goddess who was sister to Queen Maeve.
One source tells that the River Shannon erupted from a well, known as Linn Mna Feile, 
'the Pool of the Modest Woman’, sacred to Éile, found beneath Croghan. 

Several sacred wells were associated with the hill, some visible on old maps, though all but one are now lost. 

Only two old names were recorded Fuarán Well and Finneenashark Well, which cured headaches 
and was accompanied by an ancient Ash tree. 

With Lá Fhéile Bríde approaching I decided visit Croghan to search for clues to the whereabouts of
Brigid’s sacred well.

The Bronze Age mound upon the summit has never been excavated but is thought to contain 
the remains of Éile and her chariot. 
In local folklore it opens at Samhain, leading into the hollow hill and the Otherworld. 

Could this be the site of the elusive Well?

Croghan village.

I found the small village of Croghan and drove up the hill to view the site of St. Maccaille’s church, founded around 465 AD, and the remains of the cemetery.
In Christian lore it was here, at the hands of Maccaille, Bishop of Croghan, that St. Brigid received the veil.

Perched high on the hillside it is easy to imagine that the church was built here to claim the site 
from its’ pagan predecessors and proclaim the new religion.

A sacred well with a tree, seen in the illustration below, stood in the graveyard. 
This well was named for St. Maccaille, it’s older name unrecorded. 

 Did this well once belong Brigid ?

As the sky darkened I drove to the other side of the hill, to Glenmore, considered to be the place where earlier pagan veneration took place.  
Once a forested glen, three springs formerly emerged here from the rock of Croghan Hill, two of which rose beneath an ancient Ash tree.

My plan was to walk the land hereabouts looking for evidence of wells or bullaun stones, although 
I knew that two of the wells had long become dry. 
Driving uphill was fine until I approached the glen itself when the track became impassable by small car or even booted feet.

On a previous visit I had found the well, now dedicated to St. Patrick, 
although Brigid is still remembered here with fiery tinsel and a Brigid's Eye.

The older name for Patrick’s well is not recorded but like many other legendary Holy Wells, 
the water here will never boil and any stone taken from the site will return of its’ own accord. 

Disappointed I descended the Hill and stopped to look around the modern church of St. Brigid.
There was no sign nor information about her well but I did find a small stained glass panel of her.

Brigid holds her woven cross aloft in St. Brigid’s Church, Croghan.

My final glance at Croghan Hill was through dark, bare branches. 
I felt my way to Brigid’s Well was barred by too many changes or perhaps it had never existed at all.

Back home, by the fire, I dug deeper into an old book to discover that Brigid’s Well could once be found on the summit of Croghan, the exact location long forgotten. Her spring may even have been part of the mound's sacred space as it was in the passage tomb at Newgrange.
The story warned that if her well was ever discovered again the water would rise up violently to drown the cattle which graze upon its’ slopes, so it seemed fortunate that my search was fruitless.


When I closed my eyes that night images of the womanly hill appeared. 
Drifting towards sleep her well formed from the darkness, surrounded by ancient stones, shaded
by twisted branches, offering healing, reflection and respite from the modern world.

At the Sacred Well.

Brigid’s Well still flows within the Otherworld. 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

‘A Dark Beauty’ - Harry Clarke's Controversial Window.

Small panel, originally part of the Geneva window.
Now on permanent display in the HUGH LANE GALLERY, Dublin.

The windows of Harry Clarke are like jewels, strung out across Ireland. 

Long after visiting, their glowing colours,

eloquent faces

and subtle detail remain in the memory.

The artist, Henry Patrick Clarke, was born in 1889 in Dublin, where his father owned a decorating firm,
Joshua Clarke & Sons. 

The business later grew to include a stained glass workshop in which Harry became an apprentice whilst continuing his education at evening classes in the Metropolitan College of Art and Design.
Aged 25, Clarke married the artist, Margaret Crilley, and later, with his young family, spent time in London working as a book illustrator. 

Clarke’s first commission was to illustrate the Little Mermaid
by Hans Christian Anderson.

After the death of his father they returned to Dublin in 1921 when Harry and his brother, Walter, took over the business.
Clarke was later diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis which was exacerbated by the use of chemicals and lead in his stained-glass work. Despite poor health Harry created over 150 windows, many on religious themes. 

However, it is his darker, secular windows with their astonishing blues, passionate reds and fanciful characters which really captivate me.

The glorious 'Eve of St. Agnes' window at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.

Details from 'The Eve of St. Agnes'.

In 1926, at the peak of his career, Harry Clarke was commissioned by the Irish Free State Government to create a masterpiece. His instructions were to make a window for the International Labour Building in the League of Nations, Geneva, which would be a gift from the Free State to promote Irish cultural identity internationally.

Harry’s vision was to combine words and images to illustrate the work of fifteen modern Irish writers. Of those to be included some were members of the Gaelic League, others were associated with the Abbey Theatre, some were ‘disgraced’ writers and several were Protestant.

The Geneva window, described by Thomas Bodkin as 
‘the loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’. 


A year later was he given permission to proceed with his design on the condition that he first present sketches to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Patrick McGilligan.

The top tier of the window is dominated by two female saints.
 St. Brigid, from Lady Gregory’s play ‘The Story brought by Brigit’,
is surrounded by the flora & fauna of Kildare.

Joan of Arc, from George Bernard Shaw’s 'Saint Joan', 
stands in full armour against a backdrop of the Wicklow Mountains.

Clarke’s work on the Geneva window was interrupted by other commissions and by his increasing ill health.
With advancing tuberculosis in both lungs he was admitted to a Swiss sanatorium in 1929 and was forced to entrust the final stages of the window to his studio artists.

The second tier shows the embrace of lovers.

Christy Mahon holds Pegeen with her flaming hair & scarlet dress,
from Synge’s 'Playboy of the Western World'. 
Whilst, from Seamus O’Sullivan’s poem, 'The Others', 
a couple are watched from standing stones by dancing green spirits. 

He returned to Dublin in May 1930 and though still unwell, Harry completed the window. 

The thirds panel depicts James Stephens’s fantasy novel, 'The Demi-Gods'.
Here three phantoms startle Patsy McCann at the fire 
whilst his daughter, Mary looks on. 
The scene from Sean O’Casey’s 'Juno and the Paycock',
includes a bottle of Guinness standing on the table.

The finished Geneva window was then inspected by officials at the Government Buildings on Merrion Square, Dublin.

Image ©

The third tier begins with Robert Emmet dressed in the green uniform, 
from Lennox Robinson’s play, 'The Dreamers'. 
Next is Yeats’s 'Countess Cathleen', who sells her soul to the devil so that 
she can save her tenants from starvation.

After the viewing, President Liam Cosgrave, objected to the inclusion of the work of certain authors, feeling that the images ‘would give grave offence to many of our people’. 
Others were shocked at the nudity and sexuality portrayed and wanted to prevent its installation in Geneva.

“ a nation famed as a Catholic stronghold was to be represented as bizarre 
almost viciously evil people steeped in sex and drunkenness and, yes, sin. ” 

Image ©

The most controversial section, from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel, 'Mr. Gilhooley', 
shows the anti-hero drunkenly leering at his young mistress Nelly
whilst she dances in gossamer veils. 
To the right recline Deirdre & her lover Naisi from AE’s play. 

By this time Harry’s health had deteriorated again, forcing him back to the sanatorium where he received letters updating him about his creation. He was also awaiting payment for the Geneva window commission.

A scene of mourning, taken from Padraic Colum’s poem 'Cradle Song'. 
A young mother embraces her dead infant whilst the Virgin and Child appear above 
& men come in from the fields to pay their respects.

In George Fitzmaurice’s play, 'The Magic Glasses', 
Jaymony obtains a set of magic glasses that allow him to escape into 
a world of fantasy where all desires come true. 

On 6th January 1931, fearing that he would die abroad, Clarke began the journey home to Ireland.
Hours later, aged 41, Harry Clarke died in Switzerland. He never discovered the fate of his window.

The last panel depicts Seamus O’Kelly’s 'The Weaver’s Grave',
where a widow & a young gravedigger exchange glances between the tombstones. 
Finally, a minstrel from Joyce’s poem, 'Chamber Music', stands on a river bank surrounded by a lush landscape.

After his death Harry’s widow finally received payment. She was told by the government that they had decided against presenting the Geneva window to the League of Nations, instead it would remain in the buildings on Merrion Square.

Margaret Clarke did not want Harry’s masterpiece to be hidden from public view and she bought the window back from the State two years later, paying the full price of £450. 
The Geneva window was finally displayed in front room of the Harry Clarke Studios, in the Hugh Lane Gallery and in the Fine Art Society in London. One journalist wrote:

“ This was the last piece of work Harry Clarke ever did before illness took him away forever. 
In it he is at his most imaginative and the glory of colour, which was his chief gift, 
is a strange blend of dark beauty and almost spectral luminosity. ”

In 1988 Harry’s sons, David and Michael, sold the Geneva Window to Mitchell Wolfson 
of the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami, Florida, where it remains.

Harry Clarke was buried in the graveyard of the Catholic Cathedral of Chur, Switzerland. 
His widow marked the grave with a headstone commemorating Harry’s life as an Irish artist.

Margaret understood she had paid for Harry’s final resting place but in fact she had only leased it for 15 years and his remains were removed to an unmarked communal plot.
When Clarke’s son visited, in the 1970’s, there was no trace of his father's grave.

Self portrait by Harry Clarke.

‘He might have incarnated here from the dark side of the moon … 
Harry Clarke is one of the strangest geniuses of his time’  
- George AE Russell

To discover more about Harry's life and work visit: HARRY CLARKE.NET