On the Eight of December, in a packed Oranmore Church, Most Rev. Dr. Eamon Martin, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, consecrated a new 500kg bell which then rang loud across the parish for the first time on Christmas Eve.
The provision of a bell for the empty bell-tower came about at the instigation of a parishioner from the local Polish Community – Mr. Jerzy Wasil – who went on to be the principal liaison for the project with ROYAL BELLS, a long-established and reputable bell foundry in Przemyśl, Poland. A local engineer, Mr. Eoin McConn, coordinated a small expert team of volunteers who placed and commissioned the bell high in the bell-tower. A further member of the Polish community, who has asked for anonymity, donated a very advanced lighting system which now highlights the bell wonderfully throughout the night and makes the bell-tower a unique landmark in the village.
At the dedication ceremony Archbishop Martin admitted that it was his first time ever to consecrate a bell and told the congregation, which included more than six hundred schoolchildren representing the five schools of the parish, that when he was a very young server he managed to break the bell in his home church while ringing the Angelus. He expressed a hope that when this new bell peels the Angelus daily that the people of Oranmore would stop for a moments reflection and ask for the intersession of Mary, our Mother.
During a song-filled ceremony rich in symbolism, the most moving moment came when a First Year Calasanctius student, Ms. Jane Luft, was called forward from the congregation and invited to be the very first person to strike the newly blessed bell. It was explained that Jane made an unsolicited donation towards the cost of the bell earlier this summer when she wrote the Parish Priest, Fr. Diarmuid Hogan asking that her enclosed €10 from her Confirmation money would be used in this way. It had been especially arranged with Jane's parents and her school that she would be present at the Mass and her surprise and joy was evident when she was called forward to take up a mallet and fill the church with a resonating peel.
At the end of the ceremony, a delighted Archbishop Martin was presented by the children of the parish with a huge hamper of locally sourced food, including Malone Apple Tart and Christmas Cake and a full selection of sauces from the Karen's Cuisine range and he assured all present that it would be very much appreciated and enjoyed back in Armagh.
A further presentation was made to Dr. Martin at Scoil Iósaif Naofa, the local Boys School, which hosted a large parish reception after the Mass. Speaking at the school, the Archbishop offered his blessing to the pupils and staff and commended the tremendous building work recently completed there. Having enjoyed a rousing welcome from the school band – the Archbishop himself is a renowned trombone player – Dr. Martin was given a hurley and sliothar by two young Keady boys who also gave him some instruction on how to use them. Mrs. Hyland, the Principal, thanked the Archbishop for his visit, invited the him to cut a wonderful bell-shaped cake - made by local woman Cathy Keane - and presented him with a Galway Crystal Cross.
Speaking afterwards, Fr. Daniel Gallagher CC thanked all who made this remarkable project possible and said that he was particularly proud that so many of the 2,500 schoolchildren in the parish had an opportunity to ring the bell before it was placed in the tower. “It will be something to tell their children’s children when they point to the bell in decades to come and say “when I was young, I rang that bell’” he said.
Fr. Diarmuid went on to commend Royal Bells, the bell-foundry in Poland, for their expertise, professionalism and for the quality of the bell they produced, which he said was ‘ truly a work of art’. He went on to say ‘I cannot recommend Royal Bells more highly and I am more than happy to meet with any priest or Pastoral Council who may be considering undertaking a similar project and I most certainly will be recommending Royal Bells’.
To round off a memorable and joyous day in Oranmore, a final announcement was made by Fr. Diarmuid. Traditionally all great church bells have names. After a vote among all the Primary School children of the parish, it was also revealed that the unanimous choice of name for the new Oranmore bell is NICHOLAS which is apt since St. Nicholas is patron of the Diocese of Galway, he is patron of sailors and, of course, he is patron of children. This Christmas Eve, for the very first time, the children of Oranmore really did hear Santa Clause !!