St Conall Cael's bell

Irish, 7th-9th century AD (bell), late 10th-11th century AD (brass mount)
From Inishkeel, County Donegal, Ireland

This iron hand bell is said to have originally belonged to St Conall Cael in the sixth century. Long after his death it was enshrined as a relic in an elaborate covering, and was worshipped by pilgrims visiting St Conall's well on the island of Inishkeel.

The bell is an early type made from a sheet of iron, its handle and loop for the clapper are missing. A plate of brass decorated with native Irish and Viking interlace ornament was added around the year 1000.

In the fifteenth century an ornate silver 'bell shrine' was made to protect and embellish the bell. This bell and its shrine, like most Irish reliquaries, were preserved by keepers who were the descendants of the stewards of monastic lands. Many like St Conall's bell were sold to collectors in the nineteenth century.

Relics associated with the early Irish saints were believed to hold miraculous powers and were much revered in the medieval church in Ireland. Oaths were sworn upon them and curses were cast using them. Water drank from ancient bells was believed to cure a wide variety of illnesses.

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St Conall Cael's bell

  • Detail of the bell

    Detail of the bell


More information


R. Ó Floinn, Irish shrines and reliquaries (National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, 1994)

C. Bourke, 'Early Irish hand bells', Journal of the Royal Society-1, 110 (1980)


Height: 17.000 cm
Width: 12.800 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1889,9-2,22;M&ME 1889,9-2,23


Gift of Sir A.W. Franks


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