West Cork church offers classes in traditional bell-ringing

A West Cork cleric is offering classes to people interested in becoming traditional church bell-ringers.

Reverend Cliff Jeffers, who is running tutorials on bell-ringing every Wednesday evening at Dunmanway’s historic St Mary’s bell-tower, has now urged anyone — age 10 and upwards — interested in learning the traditional skill to contact him about the weekly bell-ringing tutorials.

And in a move which brings to mind the old nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons, which names different churches in which bells are ringing, Dunmanway too is returning to the tradition: “We’re looking for people to join in the classes and learn this ancient art.”

Reverend Jeffers along with local expert Martin Hough hold Wednesday evening classes on how to harmoniously ring the eight bells.

The move follows the installation of nearly €60,000 worth of church bells a year ago — the Sam Maguire Community Bells, named, like the sought-after GAA trophy, after the famous patriot from Dunmanway.

To date, the duo have trained a wide range of people from children as young as 10 and Transition year students from the local Maria Immaculata Community College — the teenagers earned a Gaisce award for their trouble — to adults from the parish and local community.

Everybody’s welcome to come and learn says Reverend Jeffers, who adds that to date the 20 or so community bell-ringers were becoming very proficient at their new skill.

“They can ring the bells on Sunday mornings, and for special occasions such as weddings or community events like the New Year or St Patrick’s Day — or even the local football team winning the county final.”

“Anyone can join the classes — we’ve had children as young as 10 learning to ring the bells,” he said, adding that the bell-tower will be now be open to the public every day from noon through to 4pm.

It all started in 2016, following the centenary celebrations of the 1916 rising, when St Mary’s Church of Ireland began to look at ways to commemorate Sam Maguire, buried in the churchyard.

“After exploration of the possibilities, we decided that the Sam Maguire Community Bells would be installed in the tower of St Mary’s Church,” explained Revd Jeffers, who added that the bells were a lovely way of telling the story of Sam Maguire and the history of the town.

The bells were specially installed in St Mary’s Church last year at a cost of €58,000 which was funded through a mix of local fundraising and donations from organisations like the GAA, Cork County Council and church charities.

“We wanted to remember his story and the idea of the bells was to introduce something that was interactive in the telling of the story,” said Revd Jeffers.

The whole point of the project, he explained, was to bring people together in the community and offer them the chance to learn a new skill — and to promote economic activity in the town through highlighting its strong links to Sam Maguire, who, while working in the postal service in London, became a crucial link in the intelligence-gathering operations of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

  • For more information on the Sam Maguire Community Bells visit their Facebook page, email Reverend Jeffers at bells@fanlobbus.ie or just call to the church on any Wednesday at about 7.30pm.


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