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glass act Stained-glass panel and artwork in Bewley’s to be donated to the public as owner retires

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Retiring: Owner Paddy Campbell with one of his works in Dublin’s Bewley’s Cafe. Photo: Eugene Langan

Retiring: Owner Paddy Campbell with one of his works in Dublin’s Bewley’s Cafe. Photo: Eugene Langan

Retiring: Owner Paddy Campbell with one of his works in Dublin’s Bewley’s Cafe. Photo: Eugene Langan

The iconic stained-glass panels in Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street are among valuable artworks set to be donated to the public as owner Paddy Campbell heads into retirement.

Ownership of the decorative glass panels, commissioned by Bewley’s from artists such as Harry Clarke, Pauline Bewick and Jim Fitzpatrick, has already been transferred to the cafe’s parent company.

It is understood the artworks will be later donated to a “ suitable institution” as part of 78-year-old Mr Campbell’s retirement wishes.

This could potentially afford the parent company a lucrative tax break in the future.

But as an accomplished artist himself, Mr Campbell says his motivation is that the cultural heritage be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The glass panels will stay in situ on Grafton Street as part of the process.

“Bewley’s belongs to the people of Ireland. The Harry Clarke panels, in particular, are a national treasure that we would love to see move into public ownership through a donation to a suitable institution,” he said.

Mr Campbell’s own works feature as part of the collection, which also includes the decorative stained-glass panels, primarily on display in the Grafton Street cafe at the moment.

The stained-glass panels are extremely valuable, and are insured by Bewley’s for a replacement cost of €2m.

The transfer of ownership will mean that the parent company can now continue to financially support the cafe into the future. Bewley’s has had a turbulent year as, like other cafes, it was shut down on March 16 when the Government announced national Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

In May it looked as if the famous venue would remain shut for good with the loss of 110 jobs.

It had been the subject of a protracted legal battle with landlord RGRE, a company controlled by developer Johnny Ronan, over rent arrears.

But in August it was confirmed the cafe could reopen on a phased basis.

Speaking at the time about his high-profile dispute with Mr Ronan over the €1.5m-a-year rent for the iconic cafe, Mr Campbell said it wasn’t “personal” but “very much about business”.

Now as he prepares for retirement, Mr Campbell said: “My wife Veronica and I are proud of the Bewley’s collection which has been built up over many years, bringing great joy to our customers wherever it has been displayed.

“We realise the need to preserve Bewley’s unique heritage, which has become an integral part of our culture over the last century.

“Our wish is that the artworks would remain in the Grafton Street premises and be freely accessible to the general public to enable viewing.

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The iconic stained-glass window in Bewley's cafe

The iconic stained-glass window in Bewley's cafe

The iconic stained-glass window in Bewley's cafe


“To unlock the value of these artworks for Bewley’s Cafe, their ownership has been transferred to the cafe’s parent company, enabling the parent to continue to financially support the cafe.”

Mr Campbell also paid tribute to the support of customers as the business navigated a difficult year amid the pandemic and uncertainty about the future.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response of the public this year. People need their connection with Bewley’s more than ever during these difficult days.

“I will miss the day-to-day buzz, the sounds and the people, but I am happy that we have built on the legacy of art, culture and conversation which was started by the cafe’s founder Ernest Bewley.

“This cafe is the beating heart of Dublin, but also at the heart of my own family with three generations – myself, my son and grandson – working here up to now to ensure that we provide a memorable visit for every guest.”

Mr Campbell this year became the first non-Italian winner of the Giotto e l’Angelico prize – a prestigious annual award for contribution to cultural life in the Tuscan region.

One of his most striking sculptures, Life and Death, adorns the main piazza of the town of Vicchio.

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