Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 17 November 2016
Remembering 1916: An Ornament to Cork
The opening event of the Honan Chapel on 5 November 1916 was marked with great speeches and insights into the work involved in its construction from the funders to the craftsmen. There are so many beautiful features of the Honan Chapel and UCC over the years have published articles, online resources and a book edited by Virginia Teehan and Elizabeth Wincott Heckett, and held conferences on the beautiful building. Indeed, the next conference is on this Saturday 19 November in UCC (details at end of column).
The Honan Chapel is a national icon of Irish craftsmanship, some features of which I relate below and all warrant articles and multiple column inches in years to come. The erection of the chapel was entrusted to the well-known building firm of Messrs John Sisk and Son. The work was carried out under the superintendence of Mr Peter O’Flynn as Clerk of Works. John Sisk set up his construction business in 1859 and by the early twentieth century had an impressive record of work around the province of Munster, building schools, hotels, banks and 30 churches.
An open letter on 30 May 1916 in the Cork Examiner by the members of the Cork branch of Stonecutters’ Union of Ireland, recorded their appreciation to Sir John O’Connell for providing much needed employment to their members for close on two years and a much-needed stimulus to the stone cutting industry. They noted their pride in the distinctive national style of architecture and its construction in Cork limestone and marble, which meant the circulation of such a large sum of money in Cork at a time of difficult economic conditions.
Cork Examiner reviews of the building on the 6 November point to the beauty of the interior and that it may strike the visitor as very simple but to execute the ornamentation “required painstaking care and skill and possession of the artistic faculty as well”. The carving was carried out by workmen under Henry Emery, an architectural sculptor and decorator. Liverpool born Henry Emery was active across the country from the 1870s until the 1930s and had his practice in Dublin. He was apprenticed initially to the stone and marble works of Alfred P Sharp of 17 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin. Sharp was also a builder. Circa 1877 Henry Emery was placed in charge of the stone and wood-carving side of the business. He was taken into partnership by Sharp in the late 1890s.
The Honan Chapel interior adopted the most decorative features in Cormac’s famous Chapel at Cashel in the arcading. Hence the walls were painted in a simple white with grey tints by artificial colouring. In each of the capitals of the pillars nearest to each stained glass window, on which a coat of arms of one of the diocese of Munster is displayed, part of the same coat of arms is carved. The most effective use of the arcading was to use it as a framework to a beautiful series of Stations of the Cross made of the inlaid art technique opus sectile. The altar was built of the same white limestone of which the rest of the fabric was built. The tabernacle was also of limestone modelled in the form of an early Celtic reliquary. The door bears a beautiful enamel by Mr Oswald Reeves.
The series of stained glass windows of the Munster Saints from the eminent studios of Harry Clarke and Sarah Purser begin on the north wall of the nave near the chancel with the window in honour of the Patron Saint of the Diocese – St Finbarr. Then it runs to St Albert, the Patron Saint of Cashel, St Declan of Ardmore, St Ailbe of Emly, St Fachtna of Ross and St Munchin of Limerick. The first window on the south side is devoted to St Ita of Killeedy, St Colman of Cloyne, St Brendan the Navigator, St Gobnait of Ballyvourney, St Carthage of Lismore and St Flannan of Killaloe. The east window over the Altar shows the Redeemer, while the three lights over the west entrance bear the three great Irish saints, Patrick, Brigid and Columcille.
The altar-plate, the vestments, altar coverings, everything down to the seating accommodation is not only Irish in design, but Irish in workmanship. As far as possible local craftsmanship were employed. The vestments for use in the chapel was made at Messrs William Egan and Son’s factory in Cork. The same firm made the chalice and ciborium, both exceptionally fine specimens of silver and gilt. As an interesting aside, on 21 January 1916 Mr Barry M Egan principal of the firm of William Egan and Sons passed away at his residence, Carrig House, Tivoli. Born in Cork seventy-three years previously, Mr Egan came from a family that for generations had been connected with the trade and art of working with metals. At the early age of 12 years he entered upon his apprenticeship as a watchmaker, jeweller, and silversmith in his father’s workshop. From his earliest years his ambition was to revive the manufacture of silver plate for which Cork was so noted in the eighteenth century.
Honan Chapel Symposium, Saturday 19 November, Aula Maxima, UCC, 9.15am-6pm, programme and registration at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cork 1916, A Year Examined by Kieran McCarthy & Suzanne Kirwan is now available in Cork bookshops.
870a. Honan Chapel, UCC, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
870b. Section of mosaic of floor of chapel, entitled the River of Life (picture: Kieran McCarthy)