Irish Bells

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER VI....concluded

Bells.—The Irish for a bell is clog, akin to the English clock. St. Patrick and his disciples constantly used consecrated bells in their ministrations. How numerous they were in Patrick's time we may understand from the fact, that whenever he left one of his disciples in charge of a church, he gave him a bell: and it is recorded that on the churches of one province alone—Connaught—he bestowed fifty. To supply these he had in his household three smiths, whose chief occupation was to make bells. The most ancient Irish bells were quadrangular in shape, with rounded corners, and made of iron: facts which we know both from the ecclesiastical literature, and from the specimens that are still preserved.

The bell of St. Patrick, which is more than fourteen hundred years old, is now in the National Museum in Dublin: it is the oldest of all; and it may be taken as a type of the hammered-iron bells. Its height is 6 1/2 inches: at the mouth the two dimensions are 4 7/8 by 3 7/8 inches. It is made of two iron plates, bent into shape by hammering, and slightly overlapped at the edges for riveting. After the joints had been riveted, the bell was consolidated by the fusion of bronze into the joints and over the surface—probably by dipping into melted bronze—which also increased its resonance. This is the bell known as the "Bell of the Will"; and it is much celebrated in the Lives of St. Patrick.

St. Patrick's Bell

A beautiful and costly shrine was made to cover and protect this venerable relic, by order of Donall O'Loghlin, king of Ireland (died 1121) and this gorgeous piece of ancient Irish air, with O'Loghlin's name and three others inscribed on it, is also preserved in the National Museum. A beautiful drawing of it made by Miss Stokes is shown on the opposite page. Many others of these venerable iron bronzed bells, belonging to the primitive Irish saints, are preserved in the National and other Museums, several covered with ornamental shrines.

Shrine of St. Patrick's Bell

About the ninth century the Irish artificers began to make bells wholly of cast bronze. A beautiful quadrangular bell of this class, made some short time before A.D. 900, now known as Mac Ailello's Bell, is to be seen in the National Museum. It tells its own history in an Irish inscription, of which this is a translation:—"A prayer for Cummascach Mac Ailello." This Cummascach, son of Ailill, for whom the bell was made, was house-steward of the monastery of Armagh, and died A.D. 908.

Mac Ailello's Bell

The very ancient Irish bells, whether of iron or of bronze, were small, and were sounded by a clapper or tongue. All those in the National Museum are furnished inside at top with a ring, from which the clapper was hung, and in some the clapper still remains.


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