The largest bell ever made in Ireland was fabricated over the last four month in a sculpture workshop in West Cork. The 3.7m high public sculpture by Schull-based sculptor Holger Lonze was installed in Bangor, Co. Down in early June after its long road trip from West Cork.
The public sculpture, modelled on the 9th Century ‘Bangor Bell’ kept at the North Down Museum, was commissioned by Ards and North Down Borough Council to commemorate the epic journey of Columbanus from Bangor via France and Switzerland to Bobbio in Italy. Its front face is shaped like the surface of the sea with breaking waves and an ocean-blue patina to mark the Saints’ epic voyage across the Irish Sea. It rises to a total height of 4.8m on its granite base and is internally and externally lit at night.
“The sculpture combines the form of the iconic Irish handbell and the ever-present sea,” says sculptor Holger Lonze. “Bangor Abbey was a leading centre of Christianity in early medieval times and from here charismatic saints such as Columbanus and St. Gall brought Celtic Christianity to continental Europe. Their journey meant crossing a substantial stretch of open sea, a challenging and risky undertaking in small open boats in the 6th Century. Taking the striking form of the Bangor Bell and combining it with the surface of the ocean with its breaking waves, troughs and crests, creates a visual metaphor for the spread of spiritual ideas across the sea.””
Flat sheets of bronze were formed into the shape of the bell using the ancient repoussé process – the continuous alteration of annealing (heating to glowing red), cooling and beating. It took no less than 400,000 hammer blows for the sculptor and Crough Bay based artist Donagh Carey to form its surface that was then welded onto a solid stainless steel frame. After sixteen hours of continuous patination to give it the blue colour, highlights were finished with gold leaf. Six smaller bells for additional satellite features were individually modelled in wax by the sculptor together with Schull-based artist Karen Hendy and were cast in bronze using authentic medieval processes to reflect the making of the original 35cm high bell.
Medieval hand bells, both in iron and bronze, were unique to Ireland and over hundred and twenty bells have been recorded to date. Earlier in the year, Holger Lonze and Karen Hendy gave a demonstration at the North Down Museum of casting four small handbells with authentic methods of the time as a follow-on of producing a full-size replica of the Bangor bell for the museum’s ‘The Bells Tolls for Three’ exhibition in 2015 that later travelled to the Hunt Museum in Limerick.
More information on the project can be found on www.bangorbell.info.