The four octave Carillon of St. Colman's Cathedral was origionally
installed in 1916. The idea for a carillon is said to have come from a
much-travelled nephew of the then Bishop Dr. Robert Browne. This man had
heard the great singing towers of Belgium and the Netherlands and was thus
inspired to suggest that Cobh's new Pugin cathedral should be similarly
endowed. The bells were cast by the renowned English firm of John Taylor
of Loughborough. They were transported from Liverpool to Cobh courtesy
of the British Navy, no civilian vessels being available for such a purpose
during war time. The first person to play the carillon was Anton Nauwelaerts
of Bruges, followed by Anton Brees, of Antwerp, while the first permanent
carillonneur was Staf Gebruers,
also from Antwerp.
St. Colman's Cathedral stands on an elevated platform overlooking the
magnificent Cork Harbour. Behind, the land rises in a semi-circle, thus
creating a natural amphitheatre. The setting for the cathedral is an acoustical
A Welcoming Voice
Cobh, possessing one of the world's finest natural harbours,has long
been a major international port. And so, since its inception, the town's
carillon has been a voice of welcome to ships from all over the world as
they make their progress upriver past the cathedral. In less happy times,
these bells also bade a last farewell to the many thousands of Irish emigrants
leaving their native shores in search of a better life across the seas.
Cobh Carillon is the only such instrument in this country, and, since
its restoration and modernisation was completed in May 1998, is now one
of the finest in the world. The 49 cast bronze bells have a total weight
of over 25 tons and cover a range of four chromatic octaves.
The bourdon (heaviest bell) weighs 3.6 tons. This unique musical instrument
is played by the carillonneur from a console located in the belfry and
consisting of a keyboard and a pedal board not unlike that of an organ.
The mechanism is entirely mechanical there being no electrical or other
assist. The bells are stationary, so that when a key or pedal is depressed
at the console it brings the clapper to strike the inner lip of the corresponding
bell. There is also a computer-operated automatic system using fourteen
of the heaviest bells which plays the chimes every quarter of an hour,
the Angelus at noon and 6pm, a tune after the Angelus and also after the
striking of 9am and 4pm and the Mass bell and funeral bell when required.
The great carillon tradition of the European mainland has transplanted
well in Irish soil. The regular recitals by the resident and guest carillonneurs
are much appreciated, especially in the Summer months. However, it is during
the great community celebrations that this carillon really comes into its
own as the voice of the people. Such an occasion occurred in 1991 when
the Tall Ships Race visited Cork Harbour. For three hours, the great sailing
ships, glided past the gothic splendour of St. Colman's Cathedral while
thousands of spectators lined the shores and the booming bronze voices
of Cobh's Carillon rang out the music of many lands.