The bell of Mortlach Church though not very ancient is worthy of notice. The bell was described as a somewhat clumsy hand bell and was usually to be found in the bole at the back of the eastern door. It was at one time a far more important piece of church furniture than it was later in the 1800’s for there seems to have been a custom of employing the parish bellman to precede all funeral processions with this bell in hand tolling the coronach of the departed one from the moment the coffin was lifted till the first shovel of earth had fallen upon its lid. The different bellmen seem to have prided themselves greatly upon the tone of their bell and the fine detail with which they rung them.

Figure: The Ronnach Bell of Mortlach Kirk, known as a dead bell or deid bell (Scots), also a ‘death‘, ‘mort’, ‘lych’, ‘passing bell’ or ‘skellet bell’

One of the Mortlach bellmen, who thought of himself as being one of the most expert at his profession, had heavy odds to contend with in maintaining his reputation with his Skir Drustan or Aberlour brother of the bell in consequence of the superior tone of his rival’s instrument. When he had done everything, he could to improve his own bell and technique but without being able to come up to his competitor the thought struck him that if he could succeed in getting the Skir Drustan bell he would astonish the world and stun his rival at the first extensive funeral to which he might be called. With this ambitious thought prying upon his mind and no prospect appearing of getting his plan carried out by fair means he resolved upon desperate measures. One night, when the clouds of evening had begun to gather around the brow of Benrinnes, he set for Charlestown. And when the village had gone to rest he got access to the church. Possessing himself of the coveted bell he left as he had come through the Betchach and did not rest till he came to the well-known Ronnach stone, which had used to lie at the south-west corner of the middle Conval in what is termed Gleack-en-ronnach. That is … until McKinon cut it up for lintels to the tower of Dufftown.

Here he rested and laid down the stolen bell upon the stone. But on first light, when he wanted to lift the bell, he noticed it was stuck and immoveable. Even spells and charms were tried but seemed in vain. The line-toned bell refused to be moved and the disappointed bellman was compelled to return. The bell however did not remain stuck for long. When some people belonging to Aberlour passed that way the following day the bell knew its own folk and cheerfully went along with them!