Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"A bell can be very dangerous"

A few weeks back, I emailed three churches near Van Morrison's childhood home on Hyndford Street: St. Donard's, Bloomfield Methodist, and Bloomfield Presbyterian. My goal was to accurately determine the location of the "Sunday six-bells" mentioned in "Beside You."

The minister at Bloomfield Presbyterian informed me that neither his church nor Bloomfield Methodist has bells. That left St. Donard's. The rector there, Rev. Ken Higgins, believed that the bells Morrison referenced were likely the ones at his church. Rev. Higgins forwarded my missive to Jean Jeffrey, the tower captain of the bellringers at St. Donard's. Here is what Jean had to say in her first email:
We have six bells which are rung by six individual people (not chimed) and the bells in Van's song are St. Donard's. In one of his songs he mentions "St. Donard's Six Bells." His mum and dad were married in St. Donard's in 1945 - unfortunately there were no bells in the Church then - just one single bell - so there was no ringing for their wedding. The six bells (or the other five rather) were installed in 1949.
And then Jean followed up with this:
You asked me about bells. If you go on to the Ringing World website you will be directed around and you should get a picture of people ringing.

In my Church, St. Donard's, Bloomfield, we have six bells so it takes six individual people to ring them. I was ringing in St. Thomas' last night on the Lisburn Road in Belfast. They have 8 bells so it takes 8 people to ring them. I am very very fond of the 10 bells in Mount St. Alphonsus Church in Limerick (in the Republic of Ireland) and, of course, it takes 10 people to ring them.

When taking up ringing you have to be taught, first of all, how to handle a bell. A bell can be very dangerous and can lift 9 times its own weight without any effort. When you start learning, the bells are up in the tower, about two or maybe three floors above the room where the ringers are standing. There is a wheel, a slider, and a stay attached to each bell and a bell rope going round the wheel, down through the ceiling to the ringer in the ringing room. The bell has to be rung mouth up (the dangerous position).

It takes a couple of months before a new recruit can handle a bell properly and be allowed to ring in the team with the rest of the ringers.
More information on St. Donard's bells and its bellringers can be found here.

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