|Used with permission. See post|
A woman named Brigid, whom I "met" through her blog Under the Oak, is the owner of this picture. She says: "It is only in the last few years that the bell has been put into this display case, it used to sit on the altar and was used as the bell rung at Mass during the consecration. Indeed, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese whose family used to live in Rostrevor, tells a story about her son almost deafening everyone with an over-enthusiastic striking of it when he was an altar-boy. It really does have a fantastic sound."
From PW Joyce's A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland: The most ancient Irish bells were quadrangular in shape, with rounded corners, and made of iron: facts which we know both from the ecclesiastical literature, and from the specimens that are still preserved.
We also know that these did not have clappers. They were bronze or iron and were struck with a hammer. How these bells were used is a matter of legend. St. Patrick is said to have had many bells, and even employed a few blacksmiths to travel with him. One story is about the saint's defeat of Caoranach, a pre-Christian monster. The battle took place on a mountain and when Patrick threw his bell at the beast it was knocked all the way to Lough Derg.
The bells could have been used during the ancient masses to fend off evil spirits. They might have been used to sound warnings when dangers approached.
Bells certainly have been used since ancient times.
St. Patrick's Bell at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. The bell is dated between the 5th and 8th century. Read about it here.