Dublin’s freedom bell to be restored

Catholic emancipation bell part of new tourism project

Dublin's Freedom Bell on the roof of the Smock Alley Theatre - the first Catholic Church bell to ring out in Dublin in breach of the penal laws 200 years ago - is to be restored as part of €620m tourism investment. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Dublin’s “freedom bell”, the first Catholic Church bell to ring in Dublin in breach of the Penal Laws 200 years ago, is to be restored as part of a €620,000* tourism investment.

The bell at the Smock Alley Theatre, said to have been cracked by a mighty blow from The Liberator Daniel O’Connell, is one of five heritage projects which will share the Department of Tourism fund.

The projects are all along the “Dubline” a new cultural and heritage walking trail running across the south west inner city from College Green to Kilmainham. The bell is in Dublin’s oldest theatre, Smock Alley, which reopened in 2012.

It had been built in 1662, but closed in the late 1700s and was converted into a Church. Fr Michael Blake defied penal laws by tolling the bell in 1811, 18 years before Catholic emancipation. He faced charges, but was successfully defended by O’Connell, then a young lawyer.

Legend has it that O’Connell rang the bell to celebrate emancipation in 1829, creating the crack which remains visible today. “This is Dublin’s, and Ireland’s, great freedom bell,” Smock Alley director Patrick Sutton said. “In America the Liberty Bell is cased behind eight inches of plate glass, our bell is cased beneath eight inches of pigeon poop.”

The bell restoration, which also includes provision of exhibition space for the artefacts found during the theatre restoration, will cost €17,814, the cheapest of the five projects.

The largest grant of €200,000 is going to St Werburgh’s Church to make it more accessible to visitors and create a new exhibition on its 900 years of history.

The Dublinia centre on St Michael’s Hill beside Christ Church is getting €184,000 to redesign the existing Viking legacy exhibition and create a new display on the end of the Viking era including the Battle of Clontarf. Christ Church Cathedral itself will get €188,500 for new landscaping.

*This story was edited at 11am on Tuesday, March 11th, 2014