Bag an old church window in summer sale

Convent stained glass among 1,000 lots at Fonsie Mealy auction

The room devoted to stained glass in the wonderfully-refurbished Dargan Wing of the National Gallery of Ireland is a reminder of the importance of this art form in Irish culture. For generations of Irish people, going to church afforded a first encounter with art – stained-glass windows, frescoes, religious paintings, statues, carved or painted Stations of the Cross and silver and gold ceremonial utensils.

As the country becomes gradually more secular, the occasional decommissioning of churches, and the rather more frequent closure of convents, has resulted in religious artefacts frequently turning up at auction or in the shops of antiques dealers. Aside from their monetary value and aesthetic appeal, such items are increasingly collectible as powerfully nostalgic mementoes of Ireland’s deeply faithful past.

Recent auctions of the contents of convents have attracted very large attendances – often surprising auctioneers – and achieved high sold rates.

Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers has developed a specialism in stained glass church windows and, two years ago, auctioned a collection made by the Harry Clarke Studios in Dublin, sold in seven separate lots, which made a combined total of €88,500 – more than three times the collective top estimate of €25,000. All were acquired by Irish bidders – among them the Jesuits who spent over €50,000 on two pieces depicting the Catholic Order's co-founder, St Francis Xavier.

The Co Kilkenny-based auction house again has some very appealing lots of stained glass in this week's two-day auction in the saleroom at Chatsworth Street in Castlecomer. On this occasion, the spotlight is on the Earley Studios – less well-known than Harry Clarke's – but of first-rate quality.

Earley and Company was a supplier of ecclesiastical furnishings based in Camden Street, Dublin, which closed in 1975. The company designed, made and installed stained-glass windows throughout Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Some of the Earley Studios' windows in the auction were originally in the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, Castletownbere, Co Cork, including Lot 620, [see pic] described as "a magnificent large and colourful stained glass" window titled St Patrick Our National Apostle – Pray For Us, illustrating the fifth-century "pagan" Lóeguire, High King of Ireland, being converted to Christianity by the saint, measuring approx. 234cms x 110cms (7ft 8 inches by 3ft 7 inches) estimated at €4,000-€6,000 ; and, Lot 614, a suite of four stained-glass panels, each approx. 137cms x 46cms (54" x 18"), with domed top, now mounted in temporary wooden frames, depicting, respectively, St Michael the Archangel, St Brigid, St. John the Evangelist and St Gabriel (€3,000-€5,000).

Also from the Earley Studios, but from an unnamed private Irish collection, are Lot 615, a circular stained glass panel, inscribed in centre "Cor Jesu Spes Nostra," depicting The Sacred Heart of Jesus, decorated with heads of angels and symbols of the Passion and Crucifixion, inside an outer border of colourful flowerheads, approx. 88cms (34½") diameter, (€1,500-€2,500); and, Lot 619, The Daughters of Charity – The Butterfly Nuns, a panel, depicting two nuns, with their distinctive headdress, aiding a poor man and children, measuring approx. 64cms x 59cms (25 x 23 inches), in a custom-made illuminated box (€2,500-€3,500). [see pic]

Stained glass aside, the auction features more than 1,000 lots of art and antiques as well as sporting guns & militaria, ceramics, clocks, silver, glassware, garden furniture, jewellery and chandeliers .

The highlights among the art are Lot 623, The Fish Market, Roundstone an oil-on-canvas by Kenneth Webb estimated at €10,000-€15,000; and Lot 640, an "Italian School" sculpture, dating from circa 1800. The Crouching Venus which was originally in Powerscourt House, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow (€7,000-€9,000) [see pic]; and Lot 589, a watercolour, The Water Babies, by Rose Barton (€2,000-€3,000).

Among the furniture, Lot 649 is described as "an exquisite and exceptionally fine quality early 19th century Italian ebonised centre table", the top decorated profusely with inlaid ivory including images of Neptune and Venus, (€3,000-€4,000) [see 2 pics: one side view of table and one close-up of the ivory-inlaid top]. Lot 366 is an 19th century Irish cast-iron model of The Phoenix Rising from the Flames, [see pic], estimated at €2,000-€3,000, painted in silver and rust red, which was made by the Royal Phoenix Iron Works at Parkgate St., Dublin, and purchased by the father of the unnamed vendor owner over 80 years ago. It once was mounted on the wall of the company's premises at 42b Parkgate Street (later Lucan Dairy) and was removed in 1963 when the wall was demolished to make way for a filling station. The auctioneers said it "bears a striking resemblance to the 'Phoenix' mounted on the column on the main road in the Phoenix Park" while two others similar were located at the side gate of The Phoenix Lodge [subsequently the Vice-Regal Lodge and now Áras an Uachtaráin.

Viewing begins in the saleroom at Chatsworth St, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, tomorrow, Sunday (July 23rd ), from noon. see fonsiemealy.ie.

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