Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Bells of Shandon

The Bells of Shandon

St. Anne's Church can be seen from all over Cork City with the salmon perched atop the clock tower. The oldest church in continuous use in the city centre, St. Anne's still has its original 18th century bells and visitors cannot only just see them, but they can ring them too. It's a fun tradition that dates way back in Cork that my husband has mentioned to me every time we've been for the last decade, but I only got around to trying it recently. I'm so glad I finally got around to doing it!


From the outside, St. Anne's Church looks like any number of the normal places of worship dotted around most if not all European cities. The inside is nice, but fairly basic. It's the climb that matters. For a small fee, visitors can climb the bell tower to ring the bells and then further up to see a 360° view of Cork City. 

St. Anne's Church Cork City Ireland

There are eight bells in total and the tower's height was raised in 1750 to accommodate them. All together, the bells weigh over 6 tonnes (approximately the size of two elephants) and they are quite loud, so much so that visitors need to wear headphones to protect their ears from the noise as they climb the tower.

Ringing the bells of Shandon

The bells run on an Ellacombe system, meaning the bell remains still, but when the rope is pulled the clapper moves to strike the bell. A number of songs are available in a notebook for guests to ring out and believe me, it's harder than it looks. The ropes are a little bit heavy, so getting them moving at any speed is challenging. Traditional favourites like Ode to Joy are available, but anyone who's a Game of Thrones fan can ring out the theme song. I'm not quite sure how the neighbours stand it, listening to amateurs trying so hard to ring out their song of choice, in most cases butchering it beyond recognition and yet this tradition remains and it's a lovely one. How many people can say they rang out a Coldplay song on the bells of a well-known, historical landmark church in a major European city?

Four Faced Liar in Cork

Known as The Four Faced Liar by locals, the clock is possibly the most notable feature of St. Anne's Church. The nickname was given when locals realised that the four clocks were not always telling the same time. The weather vane on top of the clock tower displays a golden salmon known by locals as de goldie fish and it symbolises the salmon fishing industry, which was very important to the city of Cork.


Climbing to the top of the bell tower at St. Anne's isn't for the faint of heart. If you're afraid of heights like I am or claustrophobic, you might want to prepare yourself a little. It starts with a fairly standard wooden staircase up to the first level, but eventually you step into a very narrow, very old, concrete staircase. There's also a part of the climb where you having to employ your childhood tree-climbing skills to hoist yourself up over some beams in a strategic way to get through to the top, all the while being right next to ringing, moving bells. It's a little bit scary, but the reward is totally worth it and for what it's worth, it's a fairly short climb, so just take a deep breath and power through.

View of Cork

From the top of the clock tower of St. Anne's Church you can see what I'm guessing is the best view of Cork City. It's the most comprehensive view I've ever seen on my many trips there anyway. The balcony is narrow, but it wraps almost all the way around the tower, so you can pretty much see the whole city and if the skies are clear, the view is lovely.

Entrance to the church itself is free, but to climb the tower and ring the bells, there's an admission fee which helps to preserve the building. It's worth noting that St. Anne's is a working church and as such, there may be restrictions during services and special events. Tickets are €5 for adults, €4 for seniors & students, €2.50 for children aged 5yrs to 15yrs and €12 for families of 2 adults and up to 4 children. Admission is cash only, so don't forget to pick up some euros before you go and there are no public bathrooms available. Visitors under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult. St. Anne's has varying opening times depending on the time of year which can be viewed on their website. For more information, to view the opening hours or to plan your trip, visit shandonbells.ie.
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