OUR STAINED-GLASS WINDOWS AND THEIR CREATOR, STANLEY TOMLIN
During the final decades of the Penal Laws (1695 to 1829) many of their prohibitions and restrictions had lost their powers, either through repeal or lack of enforcement. Thus, in the second half of the 1700s Catholics had recovered a great deal of their freedom to worship and to improve their standard of living – some, indeed, achieving reasonable prosperity. The effect of this in the parish life of the time can be seen in, for example, the building of fine churches in Ballinspittle in 1752 and Timoleague in 1771. The first post-reformation church in Kilbrittain of which there is definite information was built at Barleyfield cross in 1740 and a Mass-house was built in Kilshinihan in 1743. The next hundred years or so saw the construction of imposing churches in almost every parish in Ireland,
The Penal Laws were finally abolished in 1829 and, with freedom to worship in public fully restored, Irish Catholics embarked on a country-wide programme of church-building made possible by the generosity of Catholics rich and poor and, indeed, of many of the Protestant landlords who freely donated ample and well-situated sites and frequently supplemented them with financial aid. The demand for tradesmen, craftsmen and artists which this spawned could not be fully satisfied with native talent and many British workers availed of the opportunities for employment which were on offer.
James Pearse, who was to settle in Ireland and become father to the great patriots, Padraig and Willie Pearse, was a sculptor who was born in London in great poverty and whose family later moved to Birmingham. He came to Ireland about 1860 and set up a studio in partnership with Edmund Sharpe. The studio was in Great Brunswick St and it was in this street, but at a different address, that Padraig and Willie were born, causing it to be subsequently renamed Pearse St.
The Head sculptor in James Pearse’s studio was another English artist, Patrick Tomlin. When he eventually left the firm to set up his own studio he was replaced by his nephew Charles Edward Tomlin. Charles Edward’s son, Stanley, grew up to become a stained-glass artist. He was born in 1916 and began work in the famous Harry Clarke studios in 1932. He was there until 1941 when, because work dried up during World War II, he was let go, together with the other unmarried employees.
Stanley Tomlin’s next employment was at A W Lyons in 20 Westland Row. A W Lyons was a firm of builders’ suppliers who saw an opening in supplying stained glass. Stanley Tomlin was engaged by them to set up a stained-glass section within the company. It was in this studio that our windows were made.
THE CRUCIFORM WINDOW
Our centre window is cross-shaped. Cruciform windows are not very common because of the challenge of making them, in contrast with simply incorporating a crucifix in a regular oblong window. It takes great skill, apparently, to balance the various vectors in the shape so that the window won’t tend to sag or collapse under its own weight. Ours is the second of two identical cruciform windows made by Stanley Tomlin.
The Irish Glass Bottle factory was built in Ringsend, Dublin in 1871 to take advantage of black clay from Dublin Bay for making dark-coloured porter bottles. It survived until its eventual closure in 2002. Among the buildings erected by this industry on its 24-acre site was a chapel. A. W. Lyons were commissioned to provide three stained-glass windows for this chapel – the cruciform prototype of the Kilbrittain window and two smaller windows. These were executed by Stanley Tomlin. When the derelict factory and ancillary buildings were demolished in 2008 the cruciform window was found to be in very poor condition and was bought by a collector in Birmingham. Of the two small windows, one is back in the Tomlin studio and the other is installed the chapel at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital on Adelaide Road, Dublin.
The second cruciform window was made from the template of the Glass Bottle Factory window in 1951. It is inscribed with the name and address of the firm: ‘A W Lyons, 20 Westland Row, Dublin’, together with the 1951 date and the signature of ‘S Tomlin’. It seems to have been specially commissioned by Fr. Jeremiah Coakley for Kilbrittain. We have a record from the Irish Times of Nov 7th 1951 referring to this window on the occasion of its being in an exhibition of stained glass by A.W. Lyons in Dublin.
“The main exhibit in the show, a crucifixion for Kilbrittain Church, Co. Cork, is unusual in that the window itself takes the form of a cross. Within this strict limit, the artist has made a very compact and striking design” (Irish Times, Wednesday, November 7, 1951)
The cruciform window was donated by Geoffery O’Connell of Barleyfield House and it cost £300 at the time.
In 1957 Stanley Tomlin and his wife Diana formed their own stained-glass company, ‘Irish Stained Glass’. The company supplied windows for Ecclesiastical and civil projects all over Ireland. After Stanley’s death in 1976 his son Alan, who had been working with his father, continued as stained glass artist/designer and managed the business with his wife Barbara. Alan has identified the accompanying two windows depicting Our Lady and St. Joseph respectively as also being the work of his father. One of these windows was donated by May Kiely and the other by the O’Hea family. They cost £150 each.