St Patrick’s chimes with ‘a peal’ for bell ringers

Ever fancied becoming a bell ringer?

St Patrick’s Church in Coleraine are looking for bell ringers to join their team.

Last Monday night I was invited to join the group, headed by Tower Captain Trevor McCandless to find out more.

There’s a great history to the bells of St Patrick’s, with reports suggesting that there was one bell in the church when it was rebuilt back in 1884.

Vestry notes record that the church was sold in 1893, at which point the present ring of bells was installed. A special fund was opened at the time, as the parishioners insisted that the church should have a peal of bells.

A sawmill had been bequeathed to the church, the mill was to be sold and the proceeds devoted to the cost of the bells. That sale raised £200, and this along with gifts from others enabled the parish to buy eight bells and their accompanying apparatus.

Today the same eight bells hang in a square tower at the west end of the church.

Climbing up the tight, steep staircase into the Bell Ringers room, I was met and welcomed by the Coleraine ringers, Trevor McCandless, Brian Hume, Karen Smyth, Claire Smyth and Peter Langton.

There’s a great family connection to the St Patrick’s team - Tower Captain Trevor McCandless, his sister Karen Smyth and her daughter Claire Smyth, who is currently learning, are carrying on a McCandless family tradition. Trevor and Karen’s father, the late Tommy McCandless was the previous Tower Captain.

“Hand eye co ordination is all that is required,” explained Trevor as he pointed out the sally - the upper part of the rope, and the tail end.

Trevor, who has been ringing the bells since he was a teenager said: “We only have six bell ringers here now, so we are unable to ring for a Sunday Service. It would be lovely to get a few more people involved and they we could ring every Sunday.”

On Monday night, the ringers from St Patrick’s Church in Ballymena, Lorraine and Colin Watt, Sam Letters, Alex McKay and Alistair Marrs, joined the four present at the St Patrick’s practice, so that all eight bells could be rung at the same time.

“We call on the services of our friends in Ballymena if we have to ring for a wedding or another special occasion,” said Trevor.

So what does it take to be a good bell ringer?

“You don’t need any musical background,” explained Trevor. “Strong arms and good hand eye co ordination, a sense of rhythm would also be handy,” he confided.

As the Ballymena ringers took up their stance behind a rope, I stood back and watched as they pulled one after the other making a wonderful sound.

The eight bells are all different in sound and are of differing weights. Bell number one weights the least, bell number eight is the tenor and weighs the most.

Eighteen year old Claire Smyth is learning the practice: “I went to Ballymena with my uncle and my mum as they were ringing at the church there, and I got interested.

“I have just joined the church choir, so I thought why not get involved with the bells too, and keep up the family tradition.

“It’s not something that I ever thought I would get into but it is very enjoyable. I wouldn’t say I am really that confident yet, especially when they are all ringing, and you have a conductor there calling the changes, but I’ll get there,” joked the Limavady College student.

If you would like to find out more about bell ringing, or would like to join the team at St Patrick’s, contact the Parish Office, Brook Street, Coleraine. Alternatively you will find more on the website.