EMILI: Early Medieval Irish Latinate Inscriptions

ARM-001. Terryhoogan Hand-bell

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Description: Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record Number: ARM014:009. Bronze hand-bell (w: 27.9 x h: 29.8x d: 20.3, converted from SMR file, 16), of sub-oval section, markedly different from angular section of many bells. Heavy cast bronze with widely flaring mouth. Cracked with rivet holes showing early repair. Handle and clapper of iron. Known by various names: the Bell of Armagh, Bell of Ballynaback/Ballinabeck (through confusion with another nearby graveyard) and Clog Ban/Beannighte 'blessed bell'.
Text: The inscription is arranged horizontally in three lines on the lower half of one side of the bell, just below a (rivet?) hole. A small initial crosslet (Latin cross with seriphs top and ends of arms) is positioned just before the text (SMR file, 16).
Letters: The lettering is in half-uncial, with majuscule Rs, an open E, minuscule Hs and two different A types: two rounded As in the second line and As with extended shafts curving down to the left in the first (partially damaged by crack) and third lines.

Date: c. 909 A.D.

Findspot: Believed to have been found in the 18th century in Relicarn graveyard (Monasticon Hibernicum Database). The Heaney family were custodians of the bell until about the year 1840 the bell passed to the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin and on his death went to the Royal Irish Academy and from there to the National Museum of Ireland where it remains today (Chapman 2003, 31-5; SMR files).
Original location: Relicarn (Reilig Chairn), in the townland of Terryhoogan, Co. Armagh, 54.335437, -6.378984.

Last recorded location: National Museum of Ireland (Inv. no. 1921:Wk203 )

Interpretive

((†))OROIT AR CHU(M)-
MASCACH M(AC)
AILELLO

Diplomatic

OROITARCHU
MASCACHM
AILELLO

Translation:

A prayer on behalf of Cummascach son of Ailill

Commentary:

Initial crosslets are common before texts on carved stone monuments and on metalwork, as well as in manuscripts, on the Continent and in Britain (Lionard 1961, 101–2). In Ireland, they are attested from the later 7th/8th centuries (e.g., Toureen Peakaun) to the 12th century (e.g., the Cross of Cong). However, they are not as common as in Anglo-Saxon England (Okasha and Forsyth 2001, 16).

A relatively rare example here of oróit 'prayer' written out in full (usually abbreviated to OR). The personal name Cummascach (meaning 'mixture-causing, disturbing') is quite common in early Medieval Ireland, though not as common as the father's name Ailill.

The death of an individual of this name is recorded in the Annals of Ulster under the year 908 (recte 909), and the entry describes him as equonimus or steward of Armagh: Cumuscach m. Ailello; equonimus Airdd Macha; quieuit (CELT - Corpus of Electronic Texts; Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, 1983). Petrie (184) identified this individual with the person named in the inscription and the identification has never been questioned (note archaising ending -o of AILELLO, which, however, is quite common). The obits of the father, grandfather and great-grandfather of the Cummascach who died in 909 are entered in the Annals of Ulster under the years 848, 816 and 783 respectively. The names of the four appear in the genealogy of the Clann Cernaig, a branch of the Ui Nialláin located in modern county Armagh (O'Brien 1962, 183). Terryhoogan, where the bell was found, is some 15km east of Armagh city and within Ui Niallain territory (Bourke 1980, 57-8).

Bibliography: Bourke 1980, 57-8 (no. 44) ; Bourke 2020, ; Chapman 2003, 31-7 ; Macalister 1949, 113-4, no.945 ; Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill 1983, ; O'Brien 1962, 183 ; Petrie 1878, 107-8, Plate XLVI ; Stokes and Strachan 1903, 286
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