St. Conall’s (6th Century) Bell Returns to Donegal

July 03, 2015  (Source:

Exciting news from Donegal, where the County Museum have just announced that St. Conall Cael’s Bell is returning to the county for the first time in over 100 years. This ornate relic, which now resides at the British Museum, is thought to have once belonged to St. Conall Cael, a 6th century saint whose monastery was located on Inishkeel Island, Co. Donegal. The original 6th century bell is a simple object, fashioned out of sheet of iron, that was probably used to call worshippers to pray. However, its association with St. Conall Cael saw it become an item of religious devotion that required further ornamentation. In around the year 1000 AD it was covered in decorative bronze plates, while additional embellishments occurred in the 15th century, when an elaborate silver ‘bell shrine’ was made to protect the relic.

In subsequent centuries the bell shrine became integral to the celebration of St. Conall’s feast day, when pilgrims gathered at his well on the island of Inishkeel.  John O’Donovan, writing for the ordnance survey in 1835, describes this local ritual, ‘This chain O’Breslin [the traditional keeper of the bell] threw around his neck, and from it the bell hung down his breast, exhibiting to the enthusiastic pilgrims the glittering gems and the symbol of the bloody sacrifice‘.

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