The Untold History Of The Angelus


PIPPING Coronation Street to the title of ‘Longest Running TV Show In The World’ by a full six months, The Angelus celebrates its 60th birthday this June; but just how much do you know about Ireland’s favourite bell-based piece of micro-content?

“When RTÉ was launched, they knew they needed a flagship show that people were guaranteed to tune in for, and The Angelus was just that” said TV historian Dr. Erskine Morris, author of The Angelus: Reloaded, considered by many to be the definitive guide to the show.

“It had everything you needed; the sense that the Catholic Church would know if you listened to it or not, and the fear about what might happen if a day were to pass without answering the call to prayer. It made it must-watch TV, and it’s remained a stalwart of the TV schedules ever since. Nothing; not the Olympics, not 9/11, not the Pope himself has managed to bump the Angelus off that coveted 6:00-6:01 prime time slot”.

Given that the majority of the population of Ireland can no longer remember a time when the Angelus was not on TV, many may be unaware of the origins of the 18-gonged recital; something Dr. Morris is keen to discuss with anyone who’ll listen.

“A daily call to prayer is nothing new in the world; almost every faith has some sort of on-the-hour siren or klaxton to let the followers of a faith know it’s time to get busy prayin’ or get busy goin’ to hell” explained Dr. Morris.

“But in Ireland, it dates further back than anywhere else. Most people don’t know that Newgrange itself was constructed to be a massive bell that could be heard all across Ireland. Look at the shape of it; all they were missing was a massive hammer to hit the side of it and make it peal. When designs on a massive hammer failed, they just gave up and used it as a burial ground for themselves, as they’d failed God and just thought fuck it, may as well lie down and die”.

Following the Neolithic pre-Christianity failure of a megastructure bell/human disposal bin, Irish people worked for generations to perfect that crisp ‘gong’ sound we’ve all come to know, with rudimentary bells ranging from smooth flat stones to the skulls of conquered British soldiers.

“A Cromwellian helmet had a nice ring to it when struck with a leg bone” said Professor Maura Conneil, one of Waterford’s foremost historians.

“And of course, during the 1916 Rising, the rebels in the GPO made sure to not miss their daily prayers by banging a rifle on the side of an RIC armoured car. Even with certain death looming down upon them, Irish people have always made sure to quickly answer that first, air-splitting ‘gong’ with an instant, almost Pavlovian recital of the Angelus prayer. There are even instances of Irish rebels hiding out in ruined buildings, unarmed and fearful for their lives, who were flushed out by British soldiers who walked up and down the street outside ringing a bell, shooting the rebels before the could say ‘The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary'”.

As The Angelus moves into its 61st year, there have of course been several calls to modernise it, with some suggesting that 18 gongs is too many, and that a streamlined, 9-gong Angelus is the way of the future; something Dr. Morris is quick to dismiss.

“Don’t fuck with perfection” snapped Dr. Morris, compiling snippets for the upcoming ‘Best Of The Angelus’ DVD release.

We couldn’t agree more.