The Honan Chapel & Collection - Essays and Discussion

This collection of essays about the honan serve to provide a forum for discussion, and facilitate in the gathering of knowledge about the chapel and collection.

Short Essays

Introduction: The Art of the Honan Chapel

James Cronin, History of Art & Centre for Adult Continuing Education, University College Cork, Ireland

The Honan Chapel, dedicated to St. Finbarr of Cork in 1916, is a unique case-study illustrating the role played by the Dublin schools in helping to renew Cork craftsmanship in the first decades of the twentieth-century. The chapel and its liturgical collection are products of the Irish Arts & Crafts Movement. This accounts for the overall unity of style. The designers were searching for a new sense of Irish national identity on the threshold of political independence from Britain. This was expressed by looking back to the traditions of Celtic art and Hiberno-Romanesque architecture and blending them with contemporary tastes for Art Nouveau.

The building of the Honan Chapel and its original liturgical furnishings has been comprehensively examined by Virginia Teehan & Elizabeth Wincott Heckett in their seminal work The Honan Chapel: A Golden Vision (Cork, University Press, 2004). The story of the Honan Chapel did not end on completion of the project in 1916. Items added to the collection since 1983 are an important part of the chapel’s evolution and have been included. These new furnishings reflect revision of the liturgy since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). This website aims to introduce you to the chapel and its furnishings through new online essays and an image collection.

The Honan Chapel occupies a special place in the spiritual life of the university community since its consecration on 5th November 1916. Although the chapel is dedicated to Cork’s patron St. Finbarr its name commemorates the chapel’s benefactors, wealthy Cork merchants, the Honan family. When the last member, Isabella Honan, died in 1913 the executor of her will, Sir John O’Connell, allocated £40,000 of the Honan estate to Queen’s College now University College, Cork. Under the foundation charter of Queen’s College Cork (1845) the college is non-denominational. As it had no place of worship, some of the money from the Honan estate was used to build a chapel to serve Roman Catholic students.

Inspired by the aspirations of the Arts & Crafts Movement, Sir John O’Connell and the President of Queen’s College Cork, Sir Bertram Windle, insisted that the design of the chapel should represent the best of Irish artistic traditions. Twelfth century Hiberno-Romanesque architecture inspired the fabric of the chapel. Inspiration for the furnishings was found in the Insular manuscript tradition of the Book of Kells and the Irish metal working tradition of the Cross of Cong. Cork craftsmen were employed in order to provide work for the local community and also to encourage local talent. A local architectural firm, McMullen & Associates, designed the chapel. John Sisk & Son of Cork built it. Henry Emery of Dublin was assisted by apprentices from the Cork Technical School in the carving of the stone capitals of Munster Saints framing the entrance. Cork Silversmiths William Egan & Sons were responsible for many items of altar plate. John Lees of Cork and local seamstresses working for William Egan & Sons designed the original vestments. The Yeats sisters and Evelyn Gleeson of the Dún Emer Guild, Dublin, worked on the original dossals, hanging behind the altar, and the antependia, hanging before the altar.

Sir John O’Connell’s aspiration to foster fresh Irish talent was expressed in selecting a twenty-five year old stained-glass artist, Harry Clarke, to design eleven of the Honan Chapel’s nineteen windows. This was his first stained-glass commission. His style, inspired by Aubrey Beardsley, is characterised by rich blue hues and linear figures. The leading cooperative workshop in Ireland for stained glass, mosaics and other related crafts was the Sarah Purser studio, An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), based in Dublin. Alfred Child, Catherine O’Brien and Ethel Rhind, the leading designers of her studio, made the remaining eight windows. Child, who managed the Purser studio, also taught Harry Clarke in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.

The Honan Chapel is not only a testimony to premier craftsmanship it also serves a living faith community and so it continues to evolve artistically. Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) calls for preservation of the Church’s artistic heritage while promoting contemporary sacred art to meet the needs of the post Vatican II liturgy. In accordance with this the Honan Chapel has been renewed since 1983.

A new generation of Irish, British and international artists have added significant pieces to this sacred space. Imogen Stuart; Ken Thompson; Eric Pearse; Evelyn Ross; Rev. Fr. Kim En Joong, O.P. and Mary Barry have designed furnishings, vestments, and hangings to serve the new liturgy. Kenneth Jones and Associates, responsible for building the largest organ in London - in St Peter’s in Eaton Square- and for the organs in the National Concert Hall and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, built the pipe organ. In both 1987 and 1992 architect Richard Hurley & Associates was honoured for his conservation work on the Honan Chapel.


Posted 2006-8-25

Does anyone have any comments to add for discussion?

James Cronin, 2006-11-2