As The Bell Tolled – The Story of The St. Columbanus Commemorative Bell In Co. Carlow

This year, 2015, marks the 1,400th anniversary of St Columbanus, an Irish missionary of huge importance across many European countries. His journey began here in County Carlow, Ireland in the place of his birth in c543AD in ‘the shadow of Mount Leinster’. As part of a year long commemoration both in Ireland and abroad a new bell was commissioned and it travelled to many places associated with him. In this blog Brigid Fox Secretary of the Myshall Columbanus Commemoration Committee outlines the journey the bell undertook in County Carlow.

- Brigid Fox and James Whelan receiving the bell




On Wednesday evening March 18th 2015 Myshall Columbanus Commemoration Committee members Brigid Fox and James Whelan received the bell from Garda Comerford at New Ross Garda Station, Co. Wexford.

From New Ross the pair travelled to Duiske Abbey Graiguenamanagh, which translates as Place of the Monks, where the bell was received by Fr. Byrne P.P. Graiguenamanagh who was accompanied by Fr. Declan Foley, P.P. Bagenalstown, Fr. Pierce Murphy, Retired P.P. Bagenalstown, Fr. Edward Aughney, P.P. St. Mullins and Fr. Tomás O’Byrne P.P. Myshall & Clonegal parishes.  A Penitential Service took place in Duiske Abbey for sixty six Confirmation Candidates and their parents.  The pupils were encouraged to ring the bell when they had received the sacrament.

On Thursday March 19th the Bell was received at St. Brendan’s Church Drummond, in the parish of St. Mullins, for Mass at 9.20 a.m. which was celebrated by Fr. Edward Aughney and attended by twelve people from the parish.  The bell was rung at the consecration during the Mass.  Afterwards the bell was brought by Brigid Fox, a native of St. Mullins, to the ancient monastic site of St. Moling in St. Mullins where it was placed on the Penal Altar that is situated in the cemetery. Here in this hallowed, tranquil and picturesque spot with its riverside surroundings the intercession of St. Moling was sought for the bell and all who will encounter it on its journey by Fr. Aughney.  The 1400th anniversary of the birth of St. Moling took place last year 2014. St. Moling is attributed with performing many miracles, and curing many diseases. The Book of Moling is held in Trinity College.  St. Moling freed the area of Ossory from paying a tax in cows, known as the Boroma tribute, to the High Kings of Ireland. The Holy Well at St Mullins has been a place of pilgrimage since medieval times, and St Moling’s Well is still venerated for its powers of healing. Moling became Bishop of Ferns, and died in 697AD and is buried at St. Mullins.

- the ancient monastic site of St. Moling in St. Mullins

In the afternoon of March 19th the bell was brought by James Whelan to St. Patrick’s College, Carlow where it was received by the president Fr. Caomhín O’Neill.  This college is one of Ireland’s oldest educational institutions and was a former seminary.  Between 1793 and 1993  it is estimated that 3132 priests were ordained in Carlow. The bell remained on display in the college until 7.30p.m.

On Friday morning March 20th the Bell was brought by Fr. O’Byrne, P.P.  to the Primary Schools in Myshall and Drumphea where it was rung by the pupils and staff. At 1p.m. it was received by Fr. Martin Smith at Carlow Institute of Technology for Mass and was on display in the college afterwards until it was transferred to Carlow Museum where it was put on public display for a number of hours.

Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council and Dan McInerney, Acting Chief Executive who were photographed with the bell by photographers from the Carlow Nationalist and Carlow People along with the staff of the Museum and Carlow Office. Included in the photographs was Agnese Lillini, from Italy who was on work experience with Carlow Tourism. Other members of Carlow Museum Staff & volunteers were Curator Dermot Mulligan, John McDarby, Joanne Tuohy, Oran Fitzpatrick and Greg O’Neill. Brigid Fox represented the community of Myshall.

At 4.30p.m. it was brought next door to the Cathedral of the Assumption being received by Fr. Rory Nolan. A ‘Holy Hour’ took place in the Cathedral from 7 – 8p.m. when Mass in Polish commenced with again the bell being rung during the consecration. It returned to Myshall overnight. Also on Friday Brigid Fox was interviewed by local radio KCLR about St. Columbanus, the bell and the role of ‘Green Butterflies’ and ‘The Knights of Columbanus’ in its journey from Italy to Ireland.

On Saturday March 21st the Bell was brought to the beautiful Adelaide Memorial Church of Christ the Redeemer in Myshall Village where it was received from Patsy McLean, Chairperson of Myshall Columbanus Commemoration Committee by the Minister Rev. Lester Scott, John Kelly and Bill Stacey –  members of the Church of Ireland Community.  Patsy McLean, Chairman of the Myshall Columbanus Commemoration Committee and Tommie Murphy were also present.

- Kiloughternane (Church of Fortchern)



After this it travelled to Kiloughternane (Church of Fortchern) in the parish of Bagenalstown where it was received by Fr. Declan Foley P.P. Bagenalstown and Fr. Declan Thompson C.C. Bagenalstown who blessed the bell with water from the Holy Well of Kiloughternane. 

St. Fortchern was a contemporary of St. Patrick and travelled to this area from what is now Trim in Co. Meath.  He is important to the Columbanus Story as he is mentioned in his genealogy and also because he taught St. Finian, a native of Myshall who later went to Clonard in Co. Meath. A ruined oratory marks the spot where St. Columbanus may well have spent time as a youth.   The well is four feet wide and is enclosed by large blocks of chiselled granite and is in an enclosure. It was lost but re-discovered in 1880 and many cures were associated with it.  

In a dry summer a mysterious mud encrusted object was found in the well which when cleaned turned out to be a chalice and paten. The chalice is made with silver deeply overlain with gold and has the following inscription:  ‘Joanes Lucas me fieri fecit cum licenta superiourm 1595  ‘Pray for him’  This Fr. Lucas was a Franciscan priest from Waterford .  It is highly probable that a priest, pursued by priest hunters in penal times, wanting to rid himself of incriminating evidence had wrapped the chalice and Paten in a surplice and deposited the bundle in the well.  It is kept in the Ecclesiastic Museum in Waterford. Two parishioners Jimmy and Noeleen Byrne cycled from Bagenalstown to Kiloughternane to view the bell.  It was rung several times at the oratory and the well.  On Sunday March 22nd by special request the bell returned to Kiloughternane and present on that occasion were Frank O’Connell (owner of site), Mary Quirke Mahon, Anna Spruhan, Olivia O’Shea, Paddy Foley, Jim, Mick and Donal Quirke and Ian Stanley.

- Holy well at Cranavane, Kildavin.




After this the Bell was taken to the parish of Clonegal and to the holy well at Cranavane, Kildavin.   This well is part of where tradition states a monastery was founded by St. Finian, the water of which is said to cure soreness of the eyes, pains and debility of the limbs and all body ailments.  At the well was built a shape of a coffin and funerals going to the old graveyard in nearby Barragh placed the coffins in the water of the coffin shape before burial.

Back to Myshall and Fr. O’Byrne brought the bell to St. Brigid’s Holy Well in the village of Myshall, and to the ancient church of St. Finian. St. Finian was born in the parish of Myshall  not later than A.D. 470.  When he grew up he was taken to Bishop Fortchern and was educated by him. He later went to Clonard, Co. Meath and he is remembered as a great teacher – in all 3,000 saints are reputed to have attended the school of Clonard. Saint Finnian died of a plague on the 12th December 548 A.D.

One of St. Finian’s early Churches was in Drumphea and ancient ruins of a church here was the next brief stop before continuing to Rathnageeragh Castle which is reputed to be a likely area in which Columbanus was born. 


As the current owners of the land were not at home the Bell returned here on Sunday again where it was held and rung by James, Margaret, Breda and Anna Hogan who also displayed a copy of a possible genealogy of Columbanus – whose grandfather Guaire was a possible origin for ‘geeragh’ in Rathnageeragh.  Their neighbour and friend Tommy Spruhan joined the group to ring the bell.

At 8 p.m. it was placed inside the Church of St. Laserian in Drumphea for the Vigil Mass where it was placed in a prominent position in front of the altar surrounded by wild heather taken from the mountain that dominates the skyline and the congregation joined wholeheartedly into the celebration, many of whom took the opportunity to ring the bell at the end of the service. On the altar were the lantern that has been lit in the parish since December, a smaller lantern that is to accompany the bell on its journey from his birthplace here in the parish of Myshall to Bangor and hopefully to Bobbio, a piece of wild mountain heather and some soil from Mt. Leinster and a letter from the people of Myshall to the various groups who will come in contact with the Bell written in English, Irish, French and Italian.  Fr. O’Byrne read the English version to his congregation.  Con-celebrating this Mass with Fr. O’Byrne P.P. was former Parish Priest Fr. O’Shea who during his period of ministry in the parish always took the opportunity to mention St. Columbanus and emphasise his importance in Europe.

St. Columbanus was certainly looking down on the area on Sunday morning March 22nd  as it was a beautiful sunny morning as the local community gathered for their Sunday morning Mass at 10a.m. celebrated by the P.P. Fr. O’Byrne.  Several references were made to the Saint during the mass and again the Bell was rung during the consecration and the letter to accompany the bell was read out once again.

- Beautiful weather at the Church of the Holy Cross
- Fr. O’Byrne planting an oak tree

After Mass the crowd assembled outside this Church of the Holy Cross to be photographed and some processed through Tobar Bhríde to a spot located between the Church of Ireland Adelaide Memorial Church and the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross where an oak tree was planted by Fr. O’Byrne who dedicated his blessing to Saints Columbanus, Fortchern, Finian, Brigid and all the saints and families who passed on the faith down through the ages and to the all those present who continue to do the same.

So from Wednesday March 18th to Sunday March 22nd the Bell travelled to seven parishes in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, was received by at least ten Catholic Priests, & a Church of Ireland Minister, it visited Churches, oratories, monasteries, Holy Wells and even a ruined castle.  It was rung by individuals, small groups, whole congregations, and pupils and students of schools and colleges, it was taken from Myshall ‘Míseal’ ‘low plain’ to almost the peak of Mt. Leinster and graced all our lives on its sojourn in our area.  May the grace of God and Columbanus go with it as it continues on its journey and may the same grace also remain with us here in ‘The Shadow of Mt. Leinster’

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