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1,000 year-old bell with link to St Patrick goes on show

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Stella Byrne, casework manager from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of archaeology at National Museums NI, and the bronze bell on display at the Ulster Museum

Stella Byrne, casework manager from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of archaeology at National Museums NI, and the bronze bell on display at the Ulster Museum

Stella Byrne, casework manager from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of archaeology at National Museums NI, and the bronze bell on display at the Ulster Museum

An early Christian hand bell thought to be linked to St Patrick has gone on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast - two years after it was found next to a shrine used to house the relics of a saint.

The bronze bell, which dates back to the ninth or 10th century, was found near Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, in 2016 in the parish of Ballyclog - which means 'area of the bell'.

Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of archaeology at National Museums NI, said: "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, offering protection when taken into battle, they could ward off evil, cure the sick and of course tolled for the dead at funerals."

The bell was cast in a clay mould and had a handle. In its interior were the corroded remains of an iron 'clapper' which struck the side to make it sound.

The bell was rung in churches to call people to worship and a monk would structure his day around it.

Dr Ramsey said: "They may also have been rung as a warning in times of danger as during the Viking raids.

"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."

The bell was found with fragments of a shrine used to house the relics of an unnamed saint.

Dr Ramsey added: "The bell, along with these other finds clearly points to the existence of an early church site possessing high quality metalwork in keeping with its important status and role within the Ballyclog area of Co Tyrone."

A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund paid for the display and has helped launch a community engagement programme.

Stella Byrne, casework manager from the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "The sound of bells ringing is a deeply rooted part of our heritage, calling people to worship, marking tragedy and celebrating joyous occasions. This bell and the associated education program will help people learn more about the early use of bells, skilled craftsmanship and monastic life."

The bell is available to view in the museum's Saints and Scholars gallery.

For more information, visit www.nmni.com

Belfast Telegraph


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