St. Mary's Church - Atlas Obscura

St. Mary's Church

Ballinrobe, Ireland

For fans of the stained glass art of Irish illustrator Harry Clarke, this church is the place to be. 

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Henry Clarke was an Irish stained-glass artist and book illustrator whose works are beloved in his home country but are not universally known. Born in Dublin, he was a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement.

His father, Joshua Clarke, was a church decorator whose company later branched out into the creation of custom stained glass. Harry apprenticed with his father, and by the age of 21 he was creating award-winning designs and pieces alongside a successful career as a book illustrator. He left behind an amazing catalog of finished work when he died tragically of tuberculosis at the age of 41. 

Individual examples of Clarke’s windows can be found all over Ireland, and he completed a commission for a window for the Centre William Rappard in Geneva, Switzerland. By far, the largest concentration of Clarke’s stained glass work in a single location can be found in St. Mary’s Church in the charming village of Ballinrobe in County Mayo.  The side walls of the church house eight pairs of narrow windows, 16 panels in all.

Eight of these depict scenes from the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and eight feature images of Irish saints. Each window is a textbook example of Clarke’s exuberant style, with rich jewel tones, intricate floral and abstract backgrounds, and expressive depictions of the hands and faces of the subjects. 

Harry Clarke’s works, both on paper and in glass, are beloved in his home country, and anyone visiting Ireland should be sure to look for opportunities to stand beneath his windows and marvel at the creativity and imagination of Ireland’s master of liquid light.

Know Before You Go

Visitors might want to ensure they can enter the church by contacting them ahead of time. Many churches in Ireland are open for visits or prayer throughout the day.

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