Hand bell that may have links to St Patrick goes on display at museum

The Ballyclog bell is on display in the Ulster Museum.
The Ballyclog bell is on display in the Ulster Museum.

An early Christian hand bell believed to have associations to Saint Patrick has gone on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

The bronze bell, which dates back to the 9th or 10th century, was found near Stewartstown in Co Tyrone in 2016 in the parish known as Ballyclog – the townland of the bell.

Made of bronze and cast in a clay mould, it has a handle for carrying. Inside the bell are the remains of an iron ‘clapper’ which struck the side to make the bell sound, but as it has corroded the bell is now silent.

The new display has been made possible through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has also enabled a community engagement programme around the item of shared heritage to take place.

Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of archaeology at National Museums NI, explained the bell’s significance, saying: “Along with religious books and the hooked staff or crozier carried by a bishop, bells became potent symbols of the Christian faith and even feature on stone carvings from this period.

“Many hand bells were reputed to have connections to early saints so it was common for people to believe bells like this had miraculous powers.”

To mark the recent discovery and display of the Ballyclog bell, there will be a special event at the Ulster Museum on November 10.

Entitled, ‘Early Christian Ireland: Hand Bells, High Crosses, Music and More’, a series of talks will look at life in early Christian Ireland, at the use of church hand bells and at the identity of a mysterious musical instrument.