Hillsborough lies 11 miles from Belfast on the A1 road to Dublin. The first settlement in the area was called Cromlyn which, in Irish, means "the crooked glen". St.Malachy built a church here in the 12th century. Malachy was Archbishop of Armagh & Bishop of Down and all the churches here have been dedicated to him. In the 17th century all the land in this part of Co.Down was acquired by the HILL family from Devon and the place became known as Hillsborough. In 1663 Colonel Arthur Hill built the first church on the present site and provided it with a bell which was hung from the branch of a tree. His descendant, Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough and 1st Marquis of Downshire, built the present church on the old foundations between 1760 and 1773. He also had time to invent the screw top for lemonade bottles!
The church was built with the intention that it should become the new cathedral for the Diocese of Down. Although this did not happen the church still contains a bishop's throne. The Queen's official residence in Northern Ireland -- Hillsborough Castle -- lies in the village so the bells are sometimes rung to mark royal events as well as for Divine worship, weddings, funerals, etc.
The 1st Marquis of Downshire presented the new church with a ring of eight bells which were cast by Thomas Rudhall of Gloucester in 1772. They were shipped from Bristol to Ireland for a carriage charge of £16. Two bells were recast by John Warner in 1886 and two new trebles were added by Taylor of Loughborough in 1970. These were named 'John' and 'Jonathan' after the rector of the time, the late Canon John Barry, and his eldest son, both of whom were ringers. (see next page for information on 'bell eleven')
More information on the church and bells is available in the following:-
(1) "The Bells and Ringers of Hillsborough Parish Church" by Ringing Master,
(2) "Hillsborough; a parish in the Ulster Plantation" by past rector, the late
Rev.Canon John Barry:
(3) "Historic Ulster Churches" (ISBN 085389 7670) by Ringing Master,
(4) "Beloved Of My Heart - Little Hillsborough Town" co-written & edited by
Ringing Master, Simon Walker.
From 13th June 2007 the time period during which the carillon and chimes operate has been curtailed. A complaint from a few people who had chosen in recent times to live close to the church obliged Lisburn City Council, under 'Noise Pollution' legislation, to notify the church of statutory procedures relevant to the testing and abatement of alleged 'noise nuisances' and the possible consequences of a situation where a complaint was not deemed to be satisfactorily resolved. Without resort to testing the statutory validity of the complaint a decision was made that the carillon and chimes would no longer operate between 10pm and 7am each day: Not an abatement by technical means to reduce the offending 'noise' sufficiently to comply with legal limits should they have been tested and found to 'offend' but total silence. Despite widespread public disquiet on the matter and even incredulity in some quarters the decision and action taken has meant that all those residents of Hillsborough village who heard and took solace from the traditional clock chimes and hymns during the night can do so no longer.That element of the ministry of the bells has now ended in Hillsborough. The tradition of over 200 years has been broken on an untested complaint. We may pray that those who valued the assurance and comfort of church bells at night may find other consolation. Their loss may be offset by gain to someone else. The tenor of the subsequent Select Vestry explanation reflected that sentiment. The expressed view was that pastoral care for all our neighbours meant that the fact that one of them was kept awake at night was a matter for concern and requisite of action. That the SV reported spending many months deliberating on the complaint is testimony that the matter merited serious consideration so differing views on the action taken and the inherent risk of the precedent set cannot be lightly dismissed. It is not easy to agree with a summary view that bells don't need to ring at night as their purpose is to call people to worship and we worship during the day. Some will differ with the interpretation put on the legal requirements as expressed by the City Council and many on the consequent choice of action taken but none will argue with the view that we have a duty to our neighbours. Our prayer now may be that all our neighbours, old and new, will be just as accommodating of the presence and practices of Christian worship in the village and feel able to share and rejoice in the facilities of church buildings, music and bells to enhance their life in the area.