Bewley’s and landlord agree not to sell historic windows while mulling potential appeal

High Court ruled last January that four of the Harry Clarke windows belonged to the landlord, while two were tenant’s fixtures

Bewley’s Cafe and its landlord have agreed not to sell any of the Harry Clarke stained glass windows currently in the cafe until the parties have decided whether or not they will appeal a High Court judgment about the windows’ ownership.

Mr Justice Denis McDonald ruled last January that four of the windows in the cafe by the renowned Irish artist form “part and parcel” of the building, meaning they belonged to the landlord, Johnny Ronan’s RGRE Grafton Ltd.

The judge held that two windows, known as the Swan Yard works, constitute tenant’s fixtures so are owned by tenant Bewley’s Cafe Grafton Street (BCGS) Ltd and its subsidiary Bewley’s Ltd.

The six windows are said to be worth €1 million.


On Monday, Kelley Smith, senior counsel for the Bewley’s companies, said the parties have each undertaken not to charge or sell their respective windows in the event that one of them lodges an appeal of the ruling.

The parties agreed on the orders to be made by the court following on from its ruling, she said. Bernard Dunleavy SC, for RGRE, indicated his client consented to the order being made.

Ms Smith said the orders reflect the judge’s findings on the ownership of the windows.

Mr Justice McDonald made the orders sought.

The window dispute has its origins in the non-payment of rent due to difficulties created by the Covid-19 lockdowns.

In 2020, BCGS transferred its interest in the windows to Bewley’s Ltd which in turn licensed BCGS to continue to use the windows. RGRE sought possession of the cafe premises that year over non-payment of rent, but this was resolved after mediation, leading to €749,000 being paid.

There followed a dispute in which Bewley’s sought to offset further rent payments by offering to sell the Harry Clarke windows to RGRE.

Bewley’s argued the windows were never part of the property and have from time to time, subject to statutory requirements, been moved freely within the premises and are owned by it.

RGRE said the windows were part and parcel of the structure sold when RGRE bought it from the previous owner. Bewley’s could not sell to it what it already owned, RGRE said.

Mr Justice McDonald said the four windows forming the “Four Orders” works functions as a part of the external shell of the premises.

Originally fitted in 1929, the Swan Yard pair was transferred in 1987 to a new internal wall separating the cafe from a new fire escape. These, he said, in reality became light boxes within the new internal wall of the building, making them “purely mock windows”.

In circumstances where the Swan Yard works were installed parallel to existing windows, they were properly classified as additions to the structure or fabric of the cafe, he said.

The judge said he could not be influenced by concern that his decision may eventually result in the break-up of two suites of Harry Clarke’s works which can currently be viewed together in their original setting.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times