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Stained-glass windows saved from arsonists

A SET of irreplaceable Harry Clarke stained-glass windows, which could be worth at least €100,000, was saved from Belcamp College just days before arsonists destroyed the property.

Developer Gerry Gannon is the owner of Belcamp College and the stained-glass windows, which include an important series of portraits in glass of 12 Irish saints.

Mr Gannon is still in negotiations with Nama over his business plan.

Authorities were alerted to the threat of vandalism on the site by Fr Paul Byrne OMI of the Oblate religious order, which sold the 208-acre site to Mr Gannon's development company in 2004 for €105m.

Security staff at the site had come under threat in recent weeks from violent gangs armed with machetes, who were involved in a major gang fight.

In the last year, the Belcamp College site in Dublin was used by gardai to practise riot-control techniques.

But in recent weeks, following the rise in anti-social behaviour by youths, including a number of previous fires, there were fears that the windows could be destroyed.

Fingal County Council, with Mr Gannon's agreement and assistance, removed the windows from the building.

The fears of arson materialised and the building was gutted by fire -- but not before the windows had been removed to the National Museum of Ireland for safekeeping.

Ironically, the OPW, acting on behalf of the National Museum, has signed a €20m storage contract with Mr Gannon, whose 195,000sq ft site at the former Motorola operations in Swords will be used for the storage of artefacts by the museum.

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Any contacts that Mr Gannon has with Nama do not preclude him from tendering for, and winning, competitive tenders that are issued by the State.

According to the publication The Belcamp Story, which was written by Tom O'Shea and published in 1994 to mark the school's centenary, Belcamp's chapel windows illustrate Clarke's artistic development, with windows made at three stages of his career.

Clarke produced the six chancel windows, costing £294, in 1926. They portray the mysteries of the Rosary.

He also produced two rose windows and 12 stained-glass windows in the nave, portraying 12 Irish saints, including Kevin, Patrick, Brendan, Brigid and Colmcille.

The value of the windows now could be more than €100,000.

As part of the his creative process, Clarke researched the life of each saint in order to add incidents and symbols associated with them to the windows.

The windows were renovated in 1956 and the Clarke family also designed the decorations and stations of the cross in the chapel.

The Dublin-born artist died from tuberculosis, aged just 41, in Switzerland in 1931.

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