Bell Shrine of St. Patrick

by Dermot O'Gara

On June 26, 1932, in circumstances of great pomp and ceremony, a bell was removed from its glass case in the national museum and sounded to a congregation of over a million people in Dublin's phoenix Park.

The occasion was the Pontifical High Mass of the 31st International Eucharistic Congress, and the bell was that of St Patrick, which had sat silent for many centuries.

The bell was sounded again in 1979 when Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at the same venue an event that represented the largest ever gathering of people in Ireland.

The bell itself is simple and relatively unadorned, but its Shrine, the ornate casing in which the bell had been kept is among the most beautiful examples of Irish craftsmanship.

The shrine is thought to have been commissioned by the kings of Ireland's five provinces, and crafted by Cudulig ua Himnainen in Armagh, at turn of the twelfth century.

The Mulholland family were appointed hereditary keepers of the bell and shrine, and remarkably, it remained in their possession until the eighteenth century, when it became the property of a Belfast man by the name of Adam McClean. McClean had been the pupil of Henry Mulholland in a school in Edenduffcarrick, County Antrim. Before he died, Mulholland told McClean that buried at the back of his house was an oak box, and that he was bequeathing the box and its contents to him.

McClean must have been delighted to discover that in the box was not only an ancient Irish bible, but the legendary bell and shrine of St Patrick.

They remained in McClean's possession until his death when his sons sold it to one Dr Todd of Trinity College Dublin. Some years later the Royal Irish Academy purchased the bell and shrine for €625, before handing it over to the national Museum of Ireland where it remains to this day.


 © 2009