Long ago in Rostrevor there was an uncanny happening. Regularly, on stormy nights when local seafarers might be at risk on Carlingford Lough or the open Irish sea, a bell was heard ringing gently and sweetly. No source could be found, though the sound came from the old graveyard.
Then came the ‘night of the big storm’ in 1839 when hundreds of trees the length and breadth of Ireland were swept away. In Rostrevor, a tree fell and split apart. Within the wood of the branches was the bell.
The history was that the bell had belonged to Saint Bronagh who founded a Convent at Kilbroney, Rostrevor. The bell, hung between the branches of a tree – species not recorded, but probably a yew – summoned the sisters to prayer. As years went by, the convent vanished.
The tree remained, the bell kept secret within its branches until the growth had hidden it completely.
After the fall of the tree, the bell was taken to Newry and used as a mass bell there but after some years it went missing. It was tracked down by the persistence of one Sister of Mercy, reclaimed and restored to the parish of Kilbroney in 1885. It was at first used as a mass bell, but is now stored safely behind bars in a niche in the South Transept of the lovely Catholic church in Rostrevor. The tongue was removed long ago, and an external striker is supplied so that the sweet tone of this Celtic bell may still be heard.
It is over a thousand years since St. Bronagh’s bell was first struck, and for hundreds of years it was enfolded in the embrace of a living tree, protected until it once again saw the light of day and took its place in the Church again.