The Bell of St. Patrick's Will
A Social History of Ancient Ireland
P.W. Joyce 1903
Bells.- The Irish for a bell is cloc, clocc, or clog, akin
to the English clock. The diminutive form cluccene is used to
denote a small bell, called also lam-chlog, 'hand-bell. 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 - Connaght - he bestowed fifty.
To supply these he had in his househould three smiths, whose chief
occupation was to make bells. The most ancient Irish bells were
quadrangular in shape, with rounded corners, and madeof iron: facts
which we know both from the ecclesiastical literature, and from
the specimens that are still preserved. In the Tripartite Life we are told
that a certain bell called Bethechan, belonging to St. Patrick, was
"a little bell of Iron"" (cluccene becc lairnd).
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: but projecting from the top is a little handle 1 1/4
inch high, which gives it a total height of 7 3/4 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 Clog-an-uudhachta,
or the 'Bell of the Will' (so called because it was willed by the saint
to one of his disciples), which is much celebrated in the Lives of
St. Patrick. 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 art, with
O'Loghlin's name and three others inscribed on it, is also preserved in the
The Archaeology of Ireland
Bell-shrines.- Byt far the most important of these is the shrine of
St. Patrick's Bell. This bell was removed from the grave of St. Patrick
by Colum Cille, according to the very accurate and authentic Annals of
Ulster, citing a lost authority, the "Book of Cuanu." The shrine was
made under the auspices of Domhnall son of Amhalgaid (bishop, 1091-1105)
by Cudulig u Inmainen and his sons, of whom nothing else is known. The
decoration is very rich on the front, though now marred by the loss of
some of the decorated panels - a loss not compensated for by the addition
of large rock crystals, clumsily set en cabochon. The design of the
interlaced filigree work on the sides is extraordinarily bold and free,
and the handle of the shrine is especially sumptuous, with, among other
details of interest, two finely-drawn figures of birds. The back of the
shrine was not expected to be seen, and the craftsmen were content to
cover it with a stiff diaper of crosses, contrasting abruptly with the
rich work of the front.
Bells and Man
One of the most widely known of these bells is the Bell of St. Patrick's
Will, or "Clog-an-eadbacta in Erse. The specific, 'Will', is perhaps to
distinguish it from the very many other bells which St. Patrick is credited
with having distributed. It is first mentioned in the year 552 in the Book
of Cuana, which states that at that time it was disinterred from the grave
of St. Patrick after having been buried there for sixty years. It is
recorded that it worked a miracle in 1044, and that between 1091 and 1105
King Donnel O'Loughlin encased it in a shrine. Until 1441 its hereditary
maers were the O'Mellan family. With the passing of Irish autonomy and the
attempted reforms in the Irish church from England, the bell faded from
history until the end of the eighteenth century. Then a man who claimed
to possess it and to be the last maer of his line transferred it to another
family, from whom the Royal Irish Academy acquired it in the nineteenth
century. It now rests in its shrine in the National Museum of Ireland.
Its dimensions in cm are: vertical bell 16.5 + handle 3.3;
horizontal rim 12.5 X 10; shoulder 12.8 X 4. Its weight is 1.7 kg.
The history of this simple bell - which in St. Patrick's lifetime was
seen as two bent and riveted iron plates, and after his death displayed
as a gold-like object (as a result of having been dipped in copper sometime
after disinterment) until it was considered so holy, or its miraculous
powers so uncontrollable, that it had to be shielded from mortal gaze
in a gem-studded case...."
Annals of Ulster
552 A.D. Thus I find in the Book of Cuanu, viz.:- The relics of
Patrick were placed in a shrine, at the end of three
score years after Patrick's death by Colum-cille. Three
splendid minna (a crown, diadem or precious thing) were
found in the tomb, to wit, his goblet, and the Angel's
Gospel, and the Bell of the Testament. This is how the
Angel distributed the treasures for Colum-cille, biz:-
the goblet to Down, and the Bell of the Testament to
Armagh, and the Angel's Gospel to Colum-cille himself.
The reason it is called the Angel's Gospel is, because it
is from the Angel's hand Colum-cille received it.
1044 A.D. A depredation by Nial son of Maelsechlainn, King of
Aileach, upon the Ui-Meith and Cualnge, when he carried off
1,200 cows, and a great many prisoners in revenge of the
profanation of clocc-ind-edechta ("The Bell of the Testament").
Another depredation, also by Muirchertach Ua Neill upon the
Mughdorna, when he carried off a cattle-spoil, and prisoners,
in revenge of the same bell.
1356 A.D. Solomon Ua Mellain, keeper of the Bell of the Testament,
general protector, rested in Christ.
1. "The Little Book of Bells"
Eric Hatch (New York, 1964), p. 13
2. "Early Christian Art in Ireland"
Margaret Stokes, 2nd ed. (Dublin, 1911), p. 49
3. "On the bell of St. Patrick"
William Reeves, in the "Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy,"
xxvii (Dublin, 1877-86), pp. 3, 10
4. A sumptuous monograph on this shrine, by Dr. Reeves, with
coloured lithographic ilustrations, was published by Marcus
Ward of Belfast in 1850. For other references see Mr.
Crawford's "Catalogue of Shrines" referred to above.
See also Coffey, "Guide" plates ix, x.
The Back of the Bell Shrine of St. Patrick
The inscription on the Bell Shrine of St. Patrick
appears on the back of the shrine, around the edges
of the shrine, in the space between the crosses and
the sides of the shrine.