St Philip & St James’ Bell

Notes on our Church Bell

“…… ask not then for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee”

(John Donne, poet and preacher 1573-1631, sometime Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.)

A humble single bell is ours, like so many in Irish churches. Not a majestic peal as in some. Nevertheless, the story of its origin is, perhaps, worth recounting. It was originally thought to have been the bell installed circa 1824, at the time of the consecration of St Philip and St James. Further research has yielded new information.

In 1896 Booterstown Select Vestry met and decided unanimously to commemorate a special event scheduled for 1897. This was to be the diamond jubilee of the accession to the British throne of Queen Victoria. A bell fund was set up in the church and heavily subscribed, both parochially and elsewhere.

Casting the Bell

It was decided to cast a heavier bell than the older one of 1824. Instead of placing the order with the great bell foundries of Loughborough (in Leicestershire) or London’s Whitechapel, as was often the case, an Irish firm was chosen. It was Michael Byrne of the Fountain Foundry, James Street, Dublin – near the Guinness Brewery. The bell was to be of 21 hundredweight compared to the 4 hundredweight of its 1824 predecessor.

The Consecration

The new arrival was dedicated and consecrated at a special service, both inside and outside the church, on 26th November 1897 – attended by a huge congregation, it was recorded. Officiating was the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Reverend Joseph Ferguson Peacocke. It was then hoisted to its ringing position in the belfry.

Inscribed on the bell are these words:

“To the Glory of God. Erected by the parishioners of Booterstown 1897.
Blessed is the people that knows the joyful sound.”

Normally hand rung for decades, it was converted to strike electrically in due course.

And so, “through all the changing scenes of life” our bell has called people to worship over the past 107 years – its predecessor 73 years before that.

Edward Caswall, the great hymn writer (1814 – 1878) in one of his most charming works “When morning gilds the skies” (Irish Church Hymnal number 344) puts the role of a church bell in perspective:

“When ‘eer the sweet church bell
Peals over hill and dell
May Jesus Christ be praised:
O, hark to what it sings
As joyously it rings
May Jesus Christ be praised.”

Our bell in St Philip and St James sounds, not over hill and dale, but over busy suburban Cross Avenue. The sentiment enunciated by Edward Caswall remains the same.

Robert Knaggs.