Court rules on ownership of windows in Bewley's café

Updated / Friday, 20 Jan 2023 20:31

High Court made a ruling over six Harry Clarke windows in Bewley's café

By Dyane Connor

The High Court has ruled that four of the six Harry Clarke stained-glass works in Bewley's cafe on Grafton Street are "windows" and belong to the owner of the building.

The judge said the remaining two pieces are not considered to be windows but are works of art and belong to the tenants, Bewley's Café.

The six stained-glass works by the renowned illustrator and stained-glass artist have been at the centre of an ownership dispute between RGRE Grafton Ltd, which owns the building, and Bewley’s Café.

They are estimated to be worth €1 million.

RGRE Grafton Ltd, the company of developer Johnny Ronan, had argued that the six "windows" were "part and parcel" of the premises.

The tenants argued that they are not "windows" but are moveable artworks that are not part of the structure of the premises.

The tenants said the works are decorative and ornamental and are never used as windows.

At the centre of the dispute are four panels called 'The Four Orders' and separate work comprising of two panels called the 'Swan Yard'.

Mr Justice Denis McDonald said at the time of their installation in 1928, 'The Four Orders' works were installed in the position shown in a 1998 video and that they operated as conventional windows at that time admitting light and providing ventilation to the café.

The judge said: "They were therefore part of the external skin of the café at that time and also weathering the café.

"Had there not been windows in the four openings in question, the café would have been left with gaping holes in the walls."

He ruled that these four works are owned by the landlord, but said the tenant has the benefit of them for the duration of the lease.

The tenants said the works are decorative and not used as windows (Pic:

In relation to the 'Swan Yard' works, Mr Justice McDonald said the works were installed as part of a double layer of windows.

He said while they also provided light to the café and some ventilation, they were not part of the external skin of the café and did not contribute to "weathering it".

They had been moved to an internal wall in the café and he ruled that these two stained glass panels are owned by the tenants.

This legal action was initiated after a dispute over rent arrears.

In 2020, RGRE sought possession of the premises over non-payment of rent, but this was resolved following mediation and arrears of €749,000 were paid.

There followed a dispute in which Bewley's sought to offset further rent payments by offering to sell the Harry Clarke windows to RGRE.

But RGRE said Bewley's could not sell what it already owned

In a statement, RGRE said it welcomed the decision, which it said means the 'Four Orders' windows will "remain at their Dublin home on Grafton Street and are protected from being sold or otherwise removed from the building".

It said it was disappointed that the court determined the two other Harry Clarke-stained glass windows - the 'Swan Yard' windows - are the tenant's fixtures.

RGRE Chief Executive Rory Williams said the court's decision means that the "legacy of a notable Irish artist is protected and Harry Clarke's windows will continue to catch the eye of the public in the building and city they were designed to enhance".

In a statement, Bewley's said that while confirmation of ownership of the artworks was welcome, it was "disappointed with elements of today's judgment".

"We will now consider our options with our legal team. Our wish remains that the Harry Clarke stained-glass artworks be transferred into public ownership through a donation to a suitable institution."