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23/01/08  In November 1772, 22 years before King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette met their death by guillotine in the French Revolution and while King George III was on the throne of England, a ship sailed from England to Ireland with a cargo of bells for two churches in County Down.

Eight bells were en route to St Malachy's Church in Hillsborough and one to St John's Church; 26 miles away at Hilltown, in Clonduff parish; both churches having been newly built by Wills Hill, the Earl of Hillsborough and 1st Marquis of Downshire. The bells in Hillsborough were eventually to experience a busy and notable existence -- and be joined in 1970 by two more -- but the Hilltown bell was to fall into disuse. In 1983 a diminished congregation led to a closed church and a silent bell; a redundant bell.

235 years later, following the death in 2006 of our former rector, ringer and parish historian, the Rev. Canon John Barry, the parish bellringers felt that the installation of the redundant bell along with its erstwhile travelling companions would be a fitting memorial tribute to his life and ministry.  With Select Vestry consent and due authority from the appropriate bodies, plans progressed steadily for the Hilltown bell to be brought to Hillsborough. Now, in the lifetime of the 9th Marquis of Downshire, the bells of the 1st Marquis have been brought together for use in one tower.  The bell will be on 'permanent loan', courtesy of Rathfriland parish Select Vestry

Similar in size to the existing number 8 bell, the new arrival was mounted on the frame above the other bells as a chime swinging bell and fitted with a device to allow it to be rung on its own for services when the occasion or situation is appropriate or at times when there might be insufficient bell ringers present to use the 'full circle' bells.

It will now be possible for a bell to be rung before every service; an increase in the role of evangelism played by the church bells at this long established site of Christian worship. This venture will serve the dual role of safeguarding a redundant instrument while providing a unique and, literally, striking memorial to one who did so much for the parish and people of Hillsborough as well as the wider church in Ireland. 

John Barry loved the part Hillsborough bells played in his ministry; often referring to them in his sermons and writings. He rejoiced in their facility to reach out and call people of all conditions and persuasions to worship and prayer. The reunion of these bells after almost a quarter of a millennium may be seen as a reminder to modern times of that eternal call and the joy of reunion in spirit.  Time and fashions may pass but bells can and will still call out.  Long dormant potential can yet be realised.  Who knows to whom a call may come -- or when ?

As John Barry put it in the closing lines of one of his songs 51 years ago -- " And though history turns its pages, Nothing shall e'er our voices still ".       

The bell was taken back to England to be prepared for its new period of service in Ireland by Hayward Mills Associates of Nottingham. Returned on 10th December, it was    installed above its companions of 235 years ago and ringing by teatime next day.(see pics page)  On 16th Dec., the bell and a memorial plaque at the entrance to the tower were dedicated by the Primate, Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev. Alan Harper OBE.   


A framed copy of a newspaper article hanging in our tower displays the words of a hymn entitled 'The Belfry'. The author's name and the newspaper title are not known.   From the text it would seem the article was written in the mid 1940's... a few years before John Barry became rector of Hillsborough. 

             'The Belfry'

The bells of Hillsborough ring out 

The chimes of a Child that was born    

To rescue His people from sorrow and sin  

In a world that is shattered and torn.

The bells of Hillsborough ring out    

To tell of the Christ crucified;  

To show by His sorrow the depth of His love 

For those for whose freedom He died.

The bells of Hillsborough ring out       

To tell of the Christ who was raised,       

That sorrow on earth might be turned into joy    

And His Name universally praised.

                                                    RM's PuRe Surprise

Following a visit to the Public Record Office our Ringing Master has discovered the Hillsborough Bellringers account book for 1837-1848. In beautiful copperplate writing it has recorded every ring for 11 yrs; listing the name of each ringer, the bell they rang, and the amount each one was paid. The cost of candles was recorded as was the fact the bells were greased with oil and lard!

In 1837 the team rang on 28 occasions, of which only 2 were religious events (Easter Day & Christmas Day). The other occasions included the election as an MP of the Earl of Hillsborough and the Gunpowder Plot. Even the names of the ringers for the (locally) famous 'Feast at the Fort' are known.

Each year Lord Downshire's agent signed off the accounts for payment. Obviously he was critically 'miffed' at the end of 1838 when he wrote that ' the ringing has been so bad for the last year that I shall not hold myself responsible for the current year'!  He might have a few thoughts to air about  present day ringing; especially on what could be described as 'bad rope days'.

The book is informative, instructional and amusing. Sadly it highlights the modern tendency to undervalue the worth of contemperaneous written records.  They provide a vault of educational material; a future meeting place for improving educational growth. The RM plans to reveal more information one day. Keep watching ... and recording!   19/08/15


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