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 Windle Scrapbook

Laraine O’Connell

Sometime in the early 1970s my mother-in-law, Dr Madoline O’Connell, gave me an old scrapbook that she thought might interest me; it had been compiled by her grandfather, Sir Bertram Windle. Initially I was charmed by the collection of late Victorian memorabilia, especially the hand-made Christmas cards (some of which I removed and had framed) indeed, it was not until quite recently that I have examined the contents of the scrapbook in great detail and with a more tutored eye.

My interest in that particular subject had been piqued by a Seminar on the Honan Chapel and its collection that I had attended in January 2000. The Craftsman’s Honoured Hand provided a forum for a number of important experts on the Irish Arts and Crafts movement to come together and deliver papers on the Chapel and, more importantly perhaps, on the wonderful collection of artefacts that were wrought to furnish it. Many of these items had lain discarded and neglected for years and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to view these precious items at close quarters.

It became apparent to me that the personal tastes of Bertram Windle, as reflected in his scrapbook, were represented in the decorative style that unites the architecture and furnishings of the Honan Chapel in a unique manner. I returned to the scrapbook and realised that the items contained in it pre-dated the building of the Chapel in UCC by as much as 20 years, this is what makes them significant.

It would appear that Sir John O’Connell and Sir Bertram Windle were destined to meet; both men were devout Catholics and dedicated educators who not only shared a vision, they made it a reality.

The whole notion of the “scrapbook” has gone completely out of fashion. Rightly perhaps, it has distinctly Victorian connotations and brings to mind maiden aunts, diligently compiling records of the achievements of others in order that they might participate (albeit vicariously) in the events of the outside world. However, the scrap-book kept by Bertram Windle in the dying years of the nineteenth century reveals, through its eclectic contents, the wide range of interests of this “Renaissance” man. Many years before he ever came to University College Cork 1 and some twenty years or so before the Honan Chapel was built, Windle displays an interest in art, art history, the arts and crafts movement and church architecture, especially the Romanesque style.

The contents of the scrapbook testify to an awareness of art works by such well-known English artists as Aubrey Beardsley – whose illustrations are a perfect expression of Art Nouveau – Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, all of whom died in the last decade of the century. It would appear that Windle moved in artistic circles; hand-made, personalised Christmas cards from friends reveal that they shared a lively sense of humour. One, in particular, may indeed be a caricature of Windle himself who had, during his time in Birmingham, once been portrayed as a “prehistoric man dressed in skins, grasping a stout club and a book on anatomy” 2 . This is not an image that can be easily reconciled with the austere figure in the portrait that hangs in the Aula Maxima, although it has to be said that it refers primarily to his interest in pre-history rather than to his personality.

His medical background (Professor of Anatomy) may explain the inclusion of reproductions of The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp painted by Rembrandt, in 1632 and the particularly grisly, Dissection of the pestilential body. However, from the art historical point of view, a reproduction of a print by Mantegna accompanied by the story of the miracle of SS Cosmas and Damien, is fascinating. This must surely be the first reference to transplant surgery in history!

Bertram Windle was a prolific writer, his publications testify to his diverse interests. However, his son-in-law, John J. Horgan, when writing about Windle, identifies this as something of a problem:

The amazing breadth of his intellectual sympathies and studies led to a diffuseness of work and interests which prevented him from reaching a leader’s place in any department of learning (343).
He seems to be suggesting that Windle’s “embarrassing range of ... interests” (344), may have prevented him from rising to the top of one particular discipline. The contents of the scrapbook certainly imply a depth of interest in the whole spectrum of artistic endeavour.

Windle’s Catholicism finds expression in photographs of eminent churchmen of his day, but it is, perhaps, his own photographs that are most interesting. Sadly, not all are labelled, but it is clear that on his travels around Britain he regularly sought out churches of particular architectural significance. One examples is the Church of the Holy Cross in Ramsbury, Wiltshire; illustrated by a reproduced photograph of the interior of the church and the remains of a high cross which appear to have been clipped from a book or periodical. There are, among the newspaper clippings, original pencil sketches and pen and ink drawings, almost certainly by his second wife, Edith Nazer. One, at least, is signed and is a study of a Romanesque-style portal from a church at Ribbesford, Bewdley (near Kidderminster).

An unusual inclusion, for a layman, is a catalogue from a company that supplied prints for schools, mission rooms and hospitals 3. The Fitzroy Pictures were didactic art works with clear religious or moral content designed to hang in public meeting places, and their purpose was to “educate the eyes and minds of the rising generation”. In this matter, it would seem that Bertram Windle and John O’Connell were thinking along the same lines; the UCC Gazette of December 1914 records that O’Connell gave a set of Arundel and Medici prints to “promote artistic appreciation among students” 4. The collision of interest between these two men creates a somewhat uncanny feeling that Windle was destined in some way to be part of the Honan Chapel project. Was it then mere serendipity that brought Bertram Windle and John O’Connell together? Or was it preordained that these talented men, both with a strong interest in arts and crafts, should come together in Cork and help create a masterpiece?

I could not help noticing that at the bottom of the newspaper cutting “A Miracle of Plastic Surgery” 5, there is a completely unrelated snippet:

The bazaar held lately in aid of the Cork Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital has realised the handsome sum of £4,000. This added to the subscriptions already received or promised, will be sufficient to commence the rebuilding of a new ophthalmic hospital, which will prove of great service to the South of Ireland.
This piece is dated January 19th 1895, almost ten years before Windle could even have been considered for the position as President of Queen’s College Cork. It must, therefore, have been nothing more than mere coincidence that this article is included in his scrapbook, but somehow it reinforces my belief that it was destiny that brought Bertram Windle to Cork to be part of the Honan project.


1 Bertram Windle was appointed President of Queen’s College, Cork in October 1904.

2 Horgan, J.J. Parnell to Pearse, p342. Also: Taylor, M. plate facing p 145.

3The Fitzroy Pictures. G. Bell & Sons, Covent Garden, London.

4UCC Official Gazette: VOL IV. No 13, Dec 1914, p 118.

5BMJ, Jan 19, 1895.


Horgan, J.J. Parnell to Pearse. Dublin: Richview Press, 1948.

Murphy, John A. The College: A History of Queen’s/University College Cork, 1845-1995. Cork: CUP, 1995.

Taylor, Monica. Sir Bertram Windle: A Memoir. London: Longmans, 1932.

Teehan Virginia & Elizabeth Wincott Heckett, eds. The Honan Chapel:A Golden Vision. Cork: CUP, 2004.

Posted 2006-10-30

Does anyone have any comments to add for discussion?

James Cronin, 2006-11-2