St. Senan's Bell Shrine

It will be remembered that the Life of St. Senan (13th or 14th century) tells how a bell descended from Heaven, ringing loudly, and reached St. Senan at a place marked by the mound, or altar, on the ridge beside Kiltinnaun. The tongue then flew away. It was called Clog na neal (the bell of the clouds) and Clog an oir, probably from former gold ornaments of its shrine. It was, of course, most reverentially preserved by the comharbs of St. Senan. The last recognized lay comharb was Calvagh, son of Siacus O'Cahan, or O'Keane, who died in 1581; he had the courage to oppose the assumption of the 'converbship' by Donald O'Brien, who was supported by the Elizabethan Government; the latter, however, did not care to cause discontent in the district. Nicholas O'Cahane was 'Coroner' of Co. Clare at the time of the destruction of the Spanish Armada, in 1588. Charles Cahane held Lisdeen near Kilkee and Teige Cahane held Ballyowen, in 1641. Even after all the confiscations of the Commonwealth, Brian Cahane, in 1690, was 'one of the chief gentry and ablest persons' near Kilrush. The bell shrine was in the keeping of the direct line of the family till 1730, when it passed by marriage to Robert Cahane of Ballyvoe, said to derive from the Ulster O'Cahans. In this line it descended to its present owner, Mr. Marcus Keane of Beechpark and Dundahlin.
It was first exhibited to scholars in 1826 at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries in London. It and another bell, a bronzed iron bell, found (it is said at Scattery) by Mr. J. Cooke, were exhibited by the latter and Mr. Francis Keane in Dublin, 1853; the latter bell was sold to the British Museum; I cannot learn whether it fitted the shrine or not. Mr. Keane lent the shrine to the Royal Irish Academy in 1864, and it remained for some years in their museum.

Canon Dwyer gives an elaborate description, but, strange to say, from the lithographs rather than from the bell, which he must have had every opportunity of studying through his friendship with the late Mr. Marcus Keane, author of 'Towers and Temples.

Bell Shrine of St Senan (back)

Bell Shrine of St Senan

He makes some quaint mistakes; supposes the crowned monster to be dying; the dragons to be waltzing, and the rampant leopard to be springing at the neck of a man, who (or rather whose head) really forms no part of the 'leopard' panel., being part of the older work. He attaches a symbolic meaning, 'Sin militant, but Grace triumphant,' based on these imaginary devices.

The older shrine, popularly supposed to be the bell, is a strong case of bronze, more like a book shrine; the faces are beaten out from the inside to form a cross and four panels. A thin silver band is fused into the main lines of the pattern. The jewel once set in the centre is gone. The D-shaped sockets at the ends of the arms were set with green glass; one bit remains. There is no trace of gold work. The panels are filled with curious and quaint interlacing of serpents of unusual irregularity, and I think not older than the 11th century; there are no traces of the trumpet pattern, and the serpents are like those on the late 11th century doorway of Killaloe Cathedral and other buildings and crosses. The whole pattern, indeed, is rather crude and uncouth. The whole is enshrined in a case of thin silver plates, the pattern lined out with black enamel on the end panels. Enamel also occurs in the early work on the crown of the shrine; one of the side plates is lost; the other has two-winged dragons; the left has the 'collapsed' (really crawling) crowned monster, and the right end-panel the leopard.

T J Westropp,
Journal of the North Munster Archaeological Society - Vol. 3, No. 4, 1915.