Book Review by Joseph Murphy
Marguerite Helmers: Harry Clarke’s War – Illustrations for Ireland’s Memorial Records 1914 – 1918; Irish Academic Press.
Ireland’s famous stained glass artist Harry Clarke was born in 1889. Renowned as a stained glass artist and book illustrator Harry Clarke was commissioned in 1919 to illustrate Ireland’s Memorial Records 1914 – 1918, a memorial to the 49,435 people killed in action or who died of their wounds in World War 1.
Clarke took almost four years to complete the work in 1922 which has been little known in comparison to his stained glass art and his book illustrations. Because of deeply held divisive opinions and disparate agendas of different political organisations and groups, including The Irish Republican Brotherhood and Sinn Fein amongst many others, Ireland was very ambivalent about her WW 1 dead. In fact, as Marguerite Helmers says, ‘The whole thing was taboo.’
Marguerite Helmers, Rosebud Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin is the author of Harry Clarke’s War – Illustrations for Ireland’s Memorial Records 1914 – 1918 published by Irish Academic Press.
Meticulously researched with a Foreword by Harry Clarke expert Nicola Gordon Bowe and an Afterword by Myles Dungan the book is beautifully produced and illustrated and is a must have on the bookshelf of any Harry Clarke fan.
Clarke designed a Celtic inspired title page and eight illustrated bordered pages for which he took inspiration from Medieval Prayer Books. The borders depict soldiers in silhouette, ruined houses, graves, trenches, the Gallipoli Peninsula, cavalry, airplanes, tanks, bursting shells and search lights. The illustrated borders include badges of seventeen Irish Regiments and also a kangaroo in honour of the contribution of the Australian and New Zealand Allies. There is also the maple leaf for the Canadians.
Ireland’s Memorial Records is an eight volume record of the names of the fallen. 100 copies were eventually published in 1923. A copy is on display in the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge in Dublin. Even to this day it is telling that the book room is only opened at a visitor’s request.