The shrine of St Patrick’s bell is one of the finest pieces of craftsmanship surviving from early
medieval Ireland (see image). It was commissioned to enshrine a hand-bell associated with the
national saint by Domnall Ua Lochlainn, king of Cenél nEógain and sometime claimant to the high
kingship of Ireland, and by Domnall Mac Amhalgaidh, the coarb of Patrick (1091 – 1105) at Armagh,
Ireland’s most senior cleric.
Importantly, it is the earliest securely dated major artefact from Ireland to display influence from the
Scandinavian Urnes style, something which was first acknowledged by Haakon Shetelig in his
pioneering study of the style in 1909. Surprisingly, although discussed in relation to late Viking art in
numerous publications since then (e.g. Shetelig 1948; Kendrick 1949; Moe 1955; de Paor & de Paor
1964; Wilson & Klindt-Jensen 1966; Ó Floinn 1983; Graham-Campbell 2013), the ornament on the
shrine has received very little detailed attention. What may be even more surprising, is the fact that
the political background to its creation has not been fully explored, given that we know the names of
its patrons, as well as the name of its craftsman, through its inscription.
The aim of this paper is to analyse the zoomorphic ornament on this shrine to reveal its background
influence in terms of late Viking art. Preliminary analysis not only suggests direct stylistic links to
Scandinavia, but also across the Irish Sea to England. This is significant, as stylistic connections with
the Urnes style in England are generally not discernible in Hiberno-Urnes art (Owen 2001). This may
help to point the way towards understanding the origins of the style in Ireland. An investigation of
the political background to the commissioning of the shrine is key in this respect also, and
preliminary study suggests the influence of a hidden female benefactor.