About our Church



The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone is a basilica-scale church that dominates the west bank or Roscommon side of the River Shannon. But inside the church, the stained-glass windows are even more impressive than the confident statement of post-independence Catholicism expressed in Ralph Byrne’s powerful architectural design.

These windows come from the best-known studios of early 20th century Ireland, including Harry Clarke, Sarah Purser, AE Child, An Túr Gloine and the Earley Studios in Dublin.

This is an overpowering collection of the best in Irish art during the first decades of the last century, although the most powerful windows in the church are often attributed, mistakenly, to Harry Clarke himself.

These windows are typical of the Harry Clarke style in stained glass, saints with large expressive eyes and long tapering hands and fingers, angels richly dressed in headdresses and robes or as tiny figures hiding in the blue glass, and borders filled with decorative lettering and hidden elements.

But Clarke died in 1931 and the windows in Athlone were designed and installed by the Dublin-based stained-glass artist Richard Joseph King (1907-1974) of the Harry Clarke Studios in 1937, six years after Clarke died.

Richard King was born in Castlebar, Co Mayo, on 7 July 1907, and entered the firm of J Clarke and Sons in 1928. King was Harry Clarke’s apprentice and under his supervision he executed windows designed by Clarke, producing background elements, borders and details.

While Clarke was gravely ill and dying in Davos, King translated his designs into windows. When Harry Clarke died in 1931, King stepped into the breach and became the manager of the studios. He left in 1940 to set up his own studio at Vico Terrace in Dalkey, and there he produced stained-glass windows for churches in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US, as well as for many churches in Ireland.

King also had a long, distinguished career as an illustrator, producing several postage stamps and illustrations for the Capuchin Annual. He died at his home in Raheny, Dublin, on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1974.

Meanwhile, after Clarke’s death in 1931, the Harry Clarke Studios continued his tradition of highly-stylised works in stained glass until the studios closed in the 1970s.

The five King windows in the church in Athlone represent Purgatory or Christ descending to the Dead; Saint Patrick; Saint Joseph; Jesus Christ in the context of the Eucharist; and the Virgin Mary.

All five windows by King follow Clarke’s convention of placing the main figure centrally, surrounded by smaller panels that tell stories or illustrate events from the life of the central character.

The Purgatory window in the Mortuary Chapel was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937
(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Purgatory Window in the Mortuary Chapel was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937. A line-drawing of this window was part of a prominent advertisement by the Harry Clarke Studios in The Irish Times on 29 June 1937, declaring: ‘We are privileged to have executed the principal stained glass windows of which the above is an example, also the complete scheme of slab glass and leaded glazing for the new church of SS Peter and Paul, Athlone.’

The phrase at the top of the window reads ‘Ego sum Resurrectio et Vita, I am the Resurrection and the Life’ (John 11: 25).

The main scene in window shows Christ descending to the dead, or the Harrowing of Hell, with Christ carrying a banner to lead the righteous, who are seen ascending to heaven. There are prayer fragments in Greek, Latin and Irish.

In the upper left, we see Jonah, who spent time in the whale. The words read ‘Ita Filius Hominis.’ Christ compares his three days in the tomb to Jonah’s time in the fish (Matthew 12: 40).

In the upper right, we see Job who was robbed of everything he held dear by the devil, thus testing his faith. The words are ‘Miseremini, Have pity on me’ (Job 19: 21), and ‘Scio, I know,’ drawing to mind Job’s saying, ‘Scio enim quod redemptor meus vivat, I know that my Redeemer lives’ (Job 19: 25).

In the lower left, Saint Monica is on her deathbed while her son Saint Augustine looks on. In the lower right, the Mass is being celebrated on the altar in front of the Crucifix. The words ‘Pro Vivis et Defunctis, For the Living and the Dead,’ is a quotation about the Eucharist from the Tridentine Creed.
The window in the Mortuary Chapel depicting Christ in Judgment is by Earley of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A second window in the Mortuary Chapel depicting Christ in Judgment is by Earley and Co of Dublin. It was completed in 1937, and Christ sits in Judgment flanked by the patron saints of the church, Saint Peter with his keys and Saint Paul.
Two angels hold books, saying Mihi Fecistis and Mihi Non Fecistis. Beneath them, more angels hold banners saying Venite Benedicti (‘Come, you blessed’) and Discedite Maledicti (‘Depart, you who are cursed’). These Latin tags were added after the initial sketch was completed, probably at the request of the Parish Priest of Athlone, Dean Crowe.
The Saint Patrick Window was completed in 1937, five years after the celebrations marking 1,500 years since the arrival of Saint Patrick in Ireland in the year 432 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Saint Patrick Window on the left aisle was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937, just five years after the anniversary celebrations marking 1,500 years since the arrival of Saint Patrick in Ireland in the year 432. Saint Patrick, who is the central figure, is young and clean-shaven, unlike traditional images of an old and bearded Saint Patrick.

The top of this window refers explicitly the Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932, with the crossed flags of Ireland and the Vatican. The image also shows the altar used at the Eucharistic Congress in the Phoenix Park.

A panel on the left of this window, with the text Vox Hib shows Vox Hibernicæum, depicts Saint Patrick’s dream, in which the Angel Victorius – looking more like an Angle Victoria – brings him a letter as he hears the voice of the Irish calling him back to Ireland to convert them.
In this window, Saint Patrick is also seen preaching to the chieftains, lighting the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane, comparing the Trinity to a shamrock, and his victory over the Druids at the Hill of Tara or Teamhair. The words Ní múcfar i-nEirinn go deo í refer to a prophecy by the Druids that the fire of Christianity that Saint Patrick lit at Slane would never go out in Ireland.

Other images include the snakes, banished from Ireland by Saint Patrick, Saint Patrick’s bell, and his bell shrine. At the bottom of the window, Saint Patrick meets the Children of Lír who spent 900 years as swans; their spell is broken when they hear his bell, and they return as very old people.

Saint Patrick bears a medallion on his breast depicting Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh – although this is the new Roman Catholic Cathedral, and not the earlier Church of Ireland cathedral. Throughout the window are images of other Saint Patrick’s Cathedrals, in New York and Melbourne.

Many of the smaller images are places in Ireland and around the world with churches or cathedrals named after Saint Patrick. Curiously, King omitted Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Was this because it is a Church of Ireland cathedral? Other places around the world referred to in this window include Toronto, Montserrat, Honolulu, Poona, Auckland, China and Iceland.

The panel with the lettering ‘Sean Cill’ shows Saint Mathona, Abbess of Shankill, according to Murray. The man may be her brother Saint Benignus, a follower of Saint Patrick.

The panel with the lettering ‘Ailfionn’ tells the story of the Diocese of Elphin. The first bishop, Saint Asicus, a former, metalworker, presents Saint Patrick with a chalice.

One panel shows a bearded man in modern dress is carrying a staff and a large crucifix. A church is in flames behind, and the people of Ireland look on. Murray says this represents scattered Catholic emigrants returning to post- independence Ireland. The lettering reads Euntes Venientes Euntes, a reference to: ‘Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves’ (Psalm 126: 6).

Another panel shows redcoat soldiers burning cottages as a depiction of oppression.

Athlone, Sligo and many other parishes in the Diocese of Elphin are depicted in the window. Fiodharta or Fuerty is a parish in Co Roscommon and Murray says the man being baptised is Deacon Iustus. Cruachain is a parish in Co Roscommon, and Murray identifies the women receiving communion from Saint Patrick as Saint Eithne and Saint Fidelma, daughters of the King of Connaught.

Muirchu’s life of Saint Patrick says Eithne was fair-haired and Fidelma a redhead, and they were baptised at the Well of Clebach beside Cruachan. Baislic na Naomh or Baslick in Co Roscommon, near Elphin, once had an abbey. Uaran Garadh or Oran had a holy well and round tower.
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