Irish language

Ballyclog rings a bell to help us learn how to talk about the past

RING ANY BELLS?: Dr Greer Ramsey, Curator of Archaeology at National Museums NI and Stella Byrne, Casework Manager from the Heritage Lottery Fund, who helped the Museum acquire the rare and important artefact.
Robert McMillen

GO mBEANNAÍ  Dia daoibh and a big hello to all the campanologists amongst the fantastic fanbase of the Bluffer’s Guide to Irish.

The Bluffer got to thinking about an aimsir chaite - the past when he read that an early Christian hand bell, believed to have associations to Saint Patrick, had gone on display in the Ulster Museum.

Here, free of charge, are some phrases you could use when talking about the ancient past.

I bhfad ó shin means a long time ago as in i bhfad ó shin, bhí mé maith ag an pheil - a long time ago, I was good at football.

Anallód is another word for long ago but this is subjective so when your children ask you: “Cad é mar a bhí an saol anallód? what was life like in the olden days, the might mean  1988!

However, when we talk about the distant past, we could talk about an chianaimsir - the distant past.

Bhíodh mic tire in Éirinn sa chianaimsir - there used to be wolves in Ireland in the distant past.

When people are telling stories, they might begin with fadó, fadó - in days of yore.

Which brings us back to the bell.

Firstly, am I wrong in believing that every archaeological find in Ireland that is older than a dismantled Vauxhall Viva, is said to have “associations to St Patrick?”

Clog is the Irish for a bell and the bronze bell, which dates back to the 9th or 10th century, was found near Stewartstown in County Tyrone in 2016 in the parish known as Baile an Chloig - Ballyclog, which coincidentally translates as the townland of the bell!

The Ballyclog bell is made of cré-umha - bronze and cast in a clay mould and it has a handle for carrying. 

Taobh istigh - inside the bell are the remains of an iron clapper or boschrann in Irish which struck the side to make the bell sound but as it has corroded the bell is now silent. 

Dr Greer Ramsey, wh is Curator of Archaeology at National Museums NI, explained the bell’s significance.

“Bells were rung from church sites at certain times of the day to remind people that it was time for worship,” he says.

(Nowadays we have iphones: Siri, what time is vespers?)

“Bells also played a role in monastic life when a monk’s daily routine revolved around paidreacha - prayer and deabhóid - devotion. 

“These set times were indicated by the ringing of a bell.”

Many hand bells were reputed to have connections to early saints so it was common for people to believe bells like this had cumhachtaí míorúilteacha - miraculous powers, offering protection when taken into battle; they could ward off evil, cure the sick and of course tolled for the dead at funerals.”   

They may also have been rung as a warning in times of danger such as during raids by those pesky Lochlannaigh - Vikings.

Dr Ramsey said that the bell was found with a number of other unique objects, including fragments of a scrín - a shrine used to house the taisí - relics of a saint.

The Ballyclog bell is currently on display in the Saints and Scholars gallery in the Ulster Museum and you can find out more at


an aimsir chaite (un iymsher khythca) - the past

i bhfad ó shin (i waad o hin) - a long time ago

i bhfad ó shin, bhí mé maith ag an pheil (i wad o hin, vee may myh eg un fel) - a long time ago, I was good at football

Anallód (anallawd) - long ago 

“Cad é mar a bhí an saol anallód? (cadge ay mar a vee un seel anallawd) what was life was like in the olden days

an chianaimsir (un kane-iymsher) - the distant past

Bhíodh mic tire in Éirinn sa chianaimsir (veeoo mic cheera in yerin sa kaneiymsher) - there used to be wolves in Ireland in the distant past

fadó, fadó (fado, fado) - in days of yore

clog (clug) - a bell

Baile an Chloig (clug) - Ballyclog/townland of the bell

cré-umha (cray-ooa) - bronze 

taobh istigh (teoo istee) - inside

boschrann (bawskhran) - a bell-clapper 

paidreacha (padgeraha) - prayers 

deabhóid (javoydge) - devotion

cumhachtaí míorúilteacha (cooakhtee meerooiltchakha) - miraculous powers

Lochlannaigh (lokhlaanee) - Vikings 

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