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

The Egan Silver in the Honan Chapel

John Bowen

In commissioning the firm of William Egan & Sons Ltd. in 1910 to make a ceremonial mace for the newly created University College, Cork, the President of the College, Sir Bertram Windle made one profound stipulation. The mace was to be actually made in Cork. The fine tradition of silversmithing in Cork had largely ended about eighty years before, the local artisan-based industry unable to compete with an English trade organised on an industrial scale. The UCC commission therefore caused a practical difficulty for Egan’s as the skills no longer existed in Cork. The problem was resolved by bringing a small number of experienced workers from Dublin, and apprenticing boys from the North Monastery to them on the condition that they attend drawing classes in the Crawford School of Art.

That stipulation by Windle proved a catalyst for the reestablishment in Cork of the ancient craft of working in silver and gold, and it continues to the present day in a small way, although sadly, the firm of William Egan & Sons finally closed in 1986.

The fashioning of articles in silver and gold has been a recognised trade in Cork since the earliest times. The surviving items, mostly of ecclesiastical silver, that are generally believed to have been made in Cork are usually unmarked and are dated by inscriptions to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In 1656 the trade was put on a regular footing with the establishment of The Master and Wardens and Company of the Society of Goldsmiths of the City of Cork. This society, or trade guild, controlled the activities of its members until it finally ceased to exist in 1842. The high point of the indigenous production of silver and gold items in Cork coincided with the strong period of mercantile prosperity from about 1775 to 1822. This approximately spans the periods of the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic wars.

Egan is a name recognised in the context of the craft of the goldsmith and silversmith, and related trades in Cork since the 1700s. The firm of William Egan & Sons was founded in the early 1820s. It was noted in the 1850s as being at Grand Parade, and later moved to its location 32, Patrick’s Street where its premises were amongst those rebuilt after their destruction by Crown forces in 1920.

The Honan bequest, and the decision by Sir John O’Connell, executor of the will of Isabella Honan (d. 1913) to direct a portion of it towards the creation of the Honan Chapel resulted in the commissioning of Egan’s to make a set of altar plate. It is likely that Sir Bertram Windle influenced the decision to award this commission to William Egan & Sons based on his first hand experience of the capabilities of the firm, particularly in relation to work in the desired Celtic-revival style, as was the UCC mace.

The Egan-made plate in the Honan Chapel exhibits the high standards of craftsmanship of the firm’s work. It also exhibits in the cases of the Chalice and the Ciborium a particular feature of their work; that of including enamelled elements in the design. Here, that takes the form of enamelled shields depicting the arms of the University and of the Honan family. This practice together with the use of settings of semi-precious stones, characterises the firm’s finest work of the period. The Chalice and the Ciborium are arguably amongst the finest examples of the work of Egan’s in any era. The Custos is a more restrained item, but demonstrates beautiful and delicate chasing of complex Celtic interlace, as well as the finely set garnets. All of the articles are described below.

The Egan made altar plate consists of five items all bearing Dublin hallmarks for 1916, as well as the maker’s mark of William Egan & Sons. Their mark is in the form of the letters WE in Celtic-script within an oblong punch with Celtic detail in each corner. Another frequent practice of Egan’s was the application to their work of an additional mark in the form of a punch bearing a depiction of the arms of Cork, a sailing ship between two towers, to denote the fact that the item in question was actually made in Cork. This mark is present on most Egan plate of the period.

1. Chalice


Standing on a centrally-raised circular foot with a band of interlacing around a bejewelled flat rim, and similar interlacing around its junction with the cylindrical shaft. The cylindrical knop is chased with Celtic ornament and set with garnets. The wide bowl is applied with a decorative band bearing the arms of University College, Cork and of the Honan family, rendered in coloured enamels and interspersed with panels of Celtic ornament in relief. The base is inscribed; “Pray for the soul of Matthew, Robert and Isabella Honan of the City of Cork who caused me to be made”.

Height: 24.5cm. Diameter: 13cm (base), 12.5cm (lip)

2. Ciborium and Cover


Standing on a centrally-raised circular foot with a band of interlacing around its flat rim, a similar band around the top. The base is joined to a plain cylindrical shaft divided by a cushion-shaped knop profusely decorated with Celtic interlacing. The bowl is applied with the enamelled arms of University College, Cork and the Honan family interspersed with panels of Celtic ornament in relief. The cover is centrally-raised, set with amethysts, and applied with two arched bands of Celtic interlacing, the entire surmounted with a handle in the form of a Celtic cross. The base is inscribed:”Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Pray for the souls of Matthew, Robert and Isabella Honan of the City of Cork by whose Piety and Zeal this chapel of St. Finn Barr was built and finished RIP.”

Height: 36cm. Diameter: 15cm (base)

3. Paten


A plain, slightly-dished circular plate engraved with the Sacred Monogram “IHS” at the centre of its convex surface. It is ensuite with the chalice above.

Diameter: 15cm

4. Custos and Lunette


The Custos, or repository for the reserved consecrated host is in a shape which resembles that of a miniature monstrance. It stands on a stepped trumpet foot topped with a composite knop, and its hinged door is set with four garnets. The entire is covered with bands of chased decoration of Celtic interlacing including including the Sacred Monogram IHS, and is topped with a cross formed in Celtic interlace. The associated internal Lunette, or holder for the host, is entirely plain.

Height: 22.5cm. Diameter (of Custos): 9.5cm.

5. Plain Oval Dish


This is a plain oval dish without decoration

Length: 25cm. Width: 18cm.


Posted 2006-9-19

Does anyone have any comments to add for discussion?

James Cronin, 2006-11-2