The Clog Ban

Vol. 1 No. 2 - 1970

The Clog Ban

by G.R. Chapman

An extract from Portadown Lurgan News 11th August, 1883

The name Clog Ban is given to a hand-bell anciently used in Ireland at funerals, and on solemn religious occasions. Its designation probably is Clog Beannighte, the blessed or holy bell, from its consecration to sacred and solemn uses. Another explanation is that it was called Clog Ban, or the white bell, from the colour of the metal of which it was composed.

It is said that a bell of this kind, found in the parish of Moira, many years ago, was called Clog Ruadh, or the red bell, to distinguish it from a Clog Ban, or white bell already known in that neighbourhood. Many specimens of this form of bell are extant. In the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy there are said to be eighteen different examples. Among these there is a very remarkable Clog Ban which is pronounced to be almost unique. This bell was preserved and used for many years in the parish of Seagoe, County Armagh.

The earliest notice I can find of this Clog Ban is a description of it in the "Newry Literary and Political Register" (1815), afterwards called the "Newry Magazine"- vol. 1., p. 264, by the late Mr. John Bell, MRIA, of Dungannon. He states:

"It was found upwards of ninety years ago (that is 1725), in the graveyard of Ballynaback (situated on the road between Tandragee and Scarva, Co. Armagh), not far from where the body of the celebrated rapparee, Redmond O'Hanlon, is buried. It is now (1815) in the possession of Paul Hennon, a cottager, who resides upon the low road nearly equidistant from Lurgan and Portadown (in the townland of Aughacommon). It is borrowed frequently from Hennon that it may be rung at intervals by a person who carries it in front of the namna guel, who sings wild hymns in praise of the dead at funeral proceedings.

Persons frequently repair to Hennon's to declare, in presence of the bell, their innocence of crimes of which they are accused. This is not a modern custom. In ancient times these bells was kept by each of the chief judges in their respective circuits. All of those which I have seen are apparently made of the same com- pound metal, and are of a small size. The one found in Ballynaback measures 10 inches in height, and its greatest width is 11 inches".

To Mr. Bell's paper is prefixed a plate, entitled "Various Relics of Antiquity found in Ireland", on which are two drawings of the Clog Ban; one showing the front elevation, and the other the form of the mouth. The rim is not correctly represented on the drawing, which is on too small a scale - about half an inch altogether - to allow the inscription to be deciphered; but a legible copy of the ancient characters is given at foot of the plate.

The Clog Ban at the funeral processions

Some aged parishioners remember the use of the Clog Ban at the funeral processions of Roman Catholics at burials in the old graveyard of Seagoe. It was carried behind the coffin, and in front of the keeners, by one of the Hennon family) in whose charge it was. Sometimes there was a pause in the procession while a service for the dead was performed in a field by the road-side on the way to the graveyard, during which the Clog Ban was rung at intervals. One intelligent woman, the widow of a former Parish Clerk, and now in her 94th year, recollects seeing the coffin being carried thrice round the old church in Seagoe graveyard, and being made to touch the four corners of the church at each round, whilst the Clog Ban was rung and the keeners chanted alternately.

Descendants of Paul Hennon are still living in the parish of Seagoe, but they are unable to give any account of the time or manner in it which the Clog Ban first came into the pos- session of their family. Paul Hennon - grand- son of the Paul mentioned by Mr. Bell - remembers when a boy often seeing the bell. It was kept in a closet off the bedroom in his grandfather's cottage, and was regarded with great veneration. It was publicly used for the last time at the funeral of his father, John Hennon, about the year 1836. At this time his grandfather was dead, and the bell was in the possession of his uncle, Bernard Hennon, but it still remained in the same house, in the immediate care of his grandmother, Paul Hennon's widow. Here it was again seen by Mr. Bell about the year 1838. He gave an account of the bell as seen by him on This occasion to Professor Wilson, who has recorded it in his Prehistoric Annals of Scotland (1851):

"The Bell of Ballynaback, better known as the Clog Beaunighte, was preserved in a family named Hennings, whose residence is on the low road between Lurgan and Portadown, in the County of Armagh. Unlike other ancient Irish quadrilateral bells, it bears on one of its sides an ancient inscription, which renders it interesting since the Church of Rome permitted only a cross, or the image of a patron saint, to be engraved on such ecclesiastical bells. It would be idle to attempt recounting the miraculous judgments on such as profaned or violated the oaths on the bell, or the wide-spread desolation which befell such as were anathematized by it; for early in the twelfth century, as we are told by Meredith Hanmer, William of Winchester, by the authority of Celestine II, in a council held at London, brought in the use of cursing with bell, book, and candle, "which liked the Irish priests well, to terrifie the laytie for their tithes".

Paul Henning was the last keeper of the Clog Beaunighte, and when any of his connections died it was rung by him in front of the riam-na guel, the old women who, according to Irish fashion, caoine and bewail the dead. It was an ancient custom to place the bell near any of the Hennings who were dangerously ill. I visited Mrs. Henning, the widow of Paul Henning, on his death-bed. She lay in a large, badly-lighted apartment, crowded with people. The bell, which had remained several days near her head, seemed to be regarded by those present with much interest. The vapour of the heated chamber was so condensed on the cold metal of the bell that occasionally small streams trickled down its sides.

This "heavy sweating" of the bell, as it was termed, was regarded by everyone with peculiar horror, and deemed a certain prognostication of the death of the sick woman, who departed this life a few hours after I left the room. The agonized bell, I was told, had on many previous occasions given similar tokens as proof of its sympathy on the approaching demise of its guardians".

Mrs. Hennon died about 1838, and it is stated that the bell was not rung at her funeral. On her death, her son, Bernard Hennon, remained in their house, and became the actual, as he had been the nominal guardian of the bell since his father's death, some years before. It did not, however, remain long in his possession.

A breach of the Excise laws

He committed, it is said, a breach of the Excise laws regulating the sale of spirituous liquors; and, as it was his second offence, a heavy fine was inflicted upon him. Being unable to pay the fine he was committed to Armagh jail. The late Archdeacon Saurin, rector of Seagoe, took much interest in Hennon's case, visited him in the jail, and eventually by his exertions and representations got the fine almost entirely remitted. Hennon and his family were very grateful to Archdeacon Saurin for his kind interposition; and as the most convincing proof of their gratitude, as well as that which was most acceptable to the Archdeacon, the sacred bell was presented to him, with the concurrence of the parish priest.

About the year 1840, the bell passed from Archdeacon Saurin to the late Very Rev. Henry Richard Dawson, Dean of St. Patrick's. On the Dean's death, in 1842, his valuable Collection was purchased by the Royal Irish Academy, and the Clog Ban has been safely deposited in the strong room of the Museum, where, by the courtesy of Major M'Entry, I had the pleasure of examining it on 13th February, 1883. Soon after the bell had been acquired by Dean Dawson, the late Dr. Petrie brought to the notice of the members of the Academy at a meeting held on June 22, 1840, as it thus noticed in the Transactions (vol. I, p. 477):

Mr. Petrie examined an ancient Irish consecrated bell, recently obtained by the Dean of St. Patrick's, and which had been for many generations in the possession of a family named Hanan, or O'Hanan, in the county of Armagh. The bell is of the usual quadrangular form in use amongst the Irish from the introduction of Christianity into the country till the close of the eleventh century, but has an approximation to the round form, which became general after the latter period. The age of this bell can be determined with perfect accuracy from the following inscription, in the ancient Irish character, which is carved upon it:

"Pray for Cumuscach, the son of Ailill".

The death of this Cumuscach, who was Economist of the Cathedral of Armagh, is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters, at the year 904. His mother, who was named Girmlaith, was a daughter of Murdoch, King of Ulster. From this reading of the inscription. Dr. Petrie has termed the Clog Ban, "The Bell of Armagh". (See also Petrie's Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, vol. 8, p. 252). A fairly accurate engraving of the bell is given in Wilson's Prehistoric Annals, page 656. This has been copied in Ellacombe's Church Bells of Devon (1872), which contains, also, a notice of the bell, and quotations from Wilson's book. The inscription upon the bell is in three lines, deeply incised, and is preceded by a cross. It has been read differently. Dr. Petrie's interpretation has been given. Wilson (Pre- historic Annals, p. 657) writes, "The inscription upon it has been thus read:

Ovoil or chum ma scahan chun ecumn aileon.
"A prayer for him who shaped my frame to sound 'Allelujah' ".

In the Newry Magazine (1816), vol. II, p. 86, another reading is given. "We are favoured by Mr. John Dunn, of Hill Street, Newry, with the following translation of the Irish inscription on the Clog Ban, of which a print is given in No. 4 of this Magazine (vol. 1, p. 293).

"The Irish words, as stated by Mr. Dunn, are:

Croistha a Roith ar Chum
Ma Scahan Chun ecumn Alluia.

'Christ a King Who shaped my frame to sing Alleluiah'.

The cross at the commencement of the inscription, Mr. Dunn says, is frequently used to signify, 'Croistha' - 'Christ'.

The height of the bell is 129 inches, including the handle; and the width at the mouth is II inches by 8 inches. It is of an oblong form, quadrangular, the four corners being rounded off. The body is composed of light coloured bronze, and the handle and tongue are of iron. A small hole on each of the two flat sides has been drilled through the metal. There is a slight crack near the mouth, and a small piece clipped out. The handle and tongue are much decayed by rust. The Bell itself (save the small crack) is in good preservation.

another Clog Ban

A writer in the Newry Magazine (1815) - Vol. I p. 109 - gives an account of another Clog Ban, "found a considerable time ago in the ivy which covers the gable" of the old church of Kilbroney, at Rostrevor. He says: "It is of excellent workmanship, and is used at present (1815) as an altar-bell in the Catholic Chapel of Newry. This bell is the same as all the other ancient bells which have been found in Ireland, and which were rung on funeral occasions, though it is smaller than those commonly known. It is nearly an oblong form in the mouth, and measures 7 5/8 inches by 6 7/8 inches. It is 10 and 3/4 inches in height. It seems a mixture of brass and some very white, metal. It has been exceedingly well cast, for though broken it is still remarkably sonorous.

'This bell had remained unobserved in the; ruins for perhaps two centuries, and was at length discovered in rather a singular manner. During a violent storm, the wind shook the bell, and produced a sound which attracted the attention of some persons passing near the place'.

I am indebted to the courtesy of the Rev Bernard O'Hagan (Roman Catholic clergyman, formerly at Newry and now at Laurencetown, Co. Down) for the following interesting particulars concerning this Bell. He writes, in March 1, 1883:

"The popular history of the bell is as follows - it belonged to St. Bruno's Church, Kilbroney (Rostrevor), and was hung in the fork or hollow of a tree, which in time grew around it, and long after the destruction of the church could only be heard during such storms as shook the woods around. All could hear the bell on such occasions, but none could ascertain the precise tree in which it was concealed, until about fifty ago, when the tree fell, and the bell was discovered. It was taken by the late Rt. Rev. Dr. Blarke to Newry, and for years was used as a hand-bell at the old chapel, for the purpose of calling the people; to attend devotions. It became useless after a time for that purpose, as it decayed in a particular spot, and of course the sound was destroyed. I took it from the old chapel, about fifteen years ago, to the Parochial House, Newry. I believe it is at present in the Convent of Mercy, Catharine Street, Newry".

The discovery of this bell was evidently of an earlier date than Mr. O'Hagan has assigned to it. It was probably towards the close of the last century. From recollection, Mr. O'Hagan gives the following dimensions - Height, 12 inches; width at shoulder, 4½ inches; do. at side, 3½inches; do. at mouth, 6 inches. (The measurements, however, quoted from the "Newry Magazine" are said to be "given with great accuracy", and are probably correct.)

The tongue is a piece of straight iron about 10 inches long. The damaged part is on the front side, near the shoulder. "From the broken part", Mr. O'Hagan writes, "you can see that it is composed of three layers - inside and outside, copper, middle, iron. What its age is no person can tell, but it is supposed to be one of the oldest Christian bells in Ireland".