Going to Mass
by James Humbert Craig RHA (1877-1944)
It is a bleak, blustery, grey day in Connemara in the west of Ireland, and yet the people, young and old, set out on the country road to go to Mass.
They come from far and near, from the little scattered homes, to worship God. It seems to me that, to them, it is more than an obligation, more than a ritual. It is at the heart of their faith as it has been for hundreds of years.
James Humbert Craig, son of a wholesale merchant from Belfast and a Swiss mother, was born on 12 July 1877. There was a long tradition of art in his mother’s family and she encouraged her little son’s efforts with pencil and pen as well as helping him to experiment with brushes and
paints. When old enough he tried working in his father’s business, but it held no satisfaction for him. He bowed to the inevitable and pursued a career in art. For a short period he attended the Belfast College of Art, but other than that he was virtually self taught. From a cottage in Cushendun, Co Antrim , where he set up a studio, he wandered through the Glens of Antrim, seeking subjects for painting. Sometimes he went further afield to the hills and coast of Donegal or to the wild beauty of Connemara in the west. He observed nature closely. With an artist’s eye, skill and sensitivity he sought to interpret nature rather than to copy it. His work has been compared with that of Paul Henry and, like Henry, he won success as a painter. Occasionally he took his painting paraphernalia across the water to paint in foreign lands – Switzerland, France or Spain. He exhibited at the RHA in Dublin for many years, becoming an associate member and finally a full member in 1928. He was also elected to the Ulster Academy of Arts. At his death in 1944 he was laid to rest in Cushendall in Co Antrim.
In Going to Mass, he painted the people as if they were one with the landscape, using the same loose brushstrokes as those he employed to suggest the foaming sea, the glimmer of light breaking through the threatening clouds, and the little, hard-won cultivated plots within the boundaries of dry stone walls.
When we go to Mass, whether to small church or great cathedral, we come together to take part in a living experience. The Mass is our response to the limitless giving of God to us. We respond, not as spectators but as participants, with love, worship, thanksgiving and surrender. It is a mystery, beyond the grasp of human thinking. Faith alone gives meaning to it.