Belfast Telegraph

About chime too as Ballymena's century old church bell fixed for Christmas

By Nevin Farrell

A Ballymena church bell will be ringing out for the first time in two months and in time for Christmas Day after undergoing repair.

It will be music to the ears of parishioners after the peal of the bell at All Saints' Church stopped for the first time in more than 120 years in October due to a fault.

Yesterday church sacristan Barney McKeown - a former member of showband The Freshmen - rang the bell once again.

The sound of the tolling across Ballymena from the Broughshane Road church, on the edge of the town centre, has been a regular feature of life since the massive bell was installed in 1893 by Fr Alexander McMullan.

Not only does it call worshippers to Mass, but each day at noon and 6pm the Angelus is also marked.

Parish priest Fr Paddy Delargy told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday: "We discovered about a year ago that the bell was slightly off its bearing and there was a possibility that there might be damage done if we didn't get it repaired. So we called in a very expert firm who were able to identify what needed to be done.

"There was scaffolding put around the bell and the inner workings were taken away to Co Cork, and the bell has been repaired and they have now installed it.

"We are glad to have the bell ringing again in time for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday, and we will be ringing out the bells for Christmas."

The priest is delighted the bell is working again, as he could not remember a time when it had not sounded.

Fr Delargy said it features the inscription 'Peace and prosperity to Ballymena', and said the first time the one-and-a-half tonne bell tolled in the 1890s was for the funeral of a churchman associated with St Patrick's Church of Ireland in the town. The cortege of the Very Reverend JW Murray, Dean of Connor and a former Rector of St Patrick's, came from the old rectory near All Saints, and then the bell of St Patrick's took up the lament for the rest of the journey.

"There was an interconnection with the other churches at that early stage," Fr Delargy explained.

Mr McKeown (73) rings the bell at least twice a day as part of his duties.

He said: "I am here 31 years and ringing the bell for the Angelus is one of my duties. It has been badly missed.

"It was getting to a point were people were saying: 'What is wrong with it? We miss this bell badly, is it ever going to be ready?'

"It is such a characterised feature of the town and you can hear it for miles.

"People put their tea and spuds on with the bell, too."

Mr McKeown officially rang the repaired bell for the first time at midday yesterday.

"It rings 18 times, three threes and a nine, and the same again at 6pm, and I also ring it for Saturday evening Mass and Sunday Mass," he added.

Martin Hough of Cork-based MBH Engineering Services, who repaired the bell, said the work was a labour of love. He said: "I worked in England and could see there was nobody specialising in this kind of work in Ireland, and I have been heavily involved in restoring the bells at Rosscarbery in west Cork, where I am a regular ringer now."

Mr Hough said that the Ballymena bell could be even louder than previously after the repairs.

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