Re: Re: reorganisation and destruction of irish catholic churches

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Altar painting restored

Kilcullen people from abroad who come home on holidays this summer should take some time to look at the cleaned-up painting behind the main altar of the Church of the Sacred Heart & St Brigid.


The painting is typical of those found in churches built during the time of the Catholic Emancipation in the latter half of the 19th century.

“They brought over Italian craftsmen to decorate the churches, because the Irish traditions and skills had all disappeared over 600 years of occupation,” says Fr Andrew O’Sullivan. “An Italian by the name of Buccini created that piece. It is signed and dated 1900. When I came here, it was one of the first things that, on a personal level, I wanted to see restored.”

buccini2942.jpgThe cleaning was carried out by Mary McGrath, a member of the McGrath family of Sunnyhill and now living in Rosetown, Athgarvan. A noted conservator, she has worked on projects in Thurles Cathedral, Lyons House at Newcastle, The Casino in Dublin’s Marino, the Dining Hall in TCD, City Hall in Dublin, and the Long Gallery in Castletown House, all among a much longer list of important restoration operations.

“She wanted to do something by way of appreciation for the late Pat Dunlea,” says Fr Andrew, “and she approached us with an offer to clean the painting.”

buccini2938.jpgMary donated her time on the project, which took over three months. Fr Andrew says that if the parish were paying for the work, it would have cost some 15,000 euros. “The job was extremely difficult because the painting had been glued onto a framework on the wall. Then, when radiators were installed behind the altar many years ago, they dried out the canvas and it became brittle.”

Talking to the Diary, Mary said there is little information about the artist, and that it could well be the only surviving signed piece by him. She believes he later went to England, and that a daughter then emigrated to the United States.

buccini2943.jpgThe painting would have been done in a studio following its commission. The artist would also have worked from measurements of the site of the piece. There’s a painting of an angel which is hidden behind the altar, and this is curious, as it would not have been seen by people in the church.

A number of previous repair jobs on parts of the canvas which had been damaged at various times had not been done well, and this didn’t help matters.

But the painting as it is now represents the perseverence and the skill of Mary McGrath. The parish is indeed fortunate on two counts, that somebody thought it could be restored, and that somebody was available to restore it.

As I say, take a closer look next time you visit the church.

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