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History of the Parish of Banagher, Derry Diocese
...Out of the Dark.


When emancipation was conceded Catholics came out into the light and began building up the system of churches and schools we know today. At the beginning of the nineteenth century a much smaller proportion of the population went to Mass every Sunday. There was only one Mass each Sunday so that a couple with children could only attend on alternate Sundays. The poverty meant that some people had not enough decent clothing to attend and the lack of schooling must have meant a lower level of knowledge of their faith. Nonetheless this was the generation which built most of the cathedrals of Ireland and many of the churches which lasted to our own day in spite of recurrent famines. There were bad seasons in 1800, 1801, 1812, 1816, famine in 1817, good seasons in 1802, 1813 and 1820. Provision for bad seasons is difficult in a subsistence economy. There are various estimates of population:

Banagher: church returns 4086; civil returns 6186 (1831)

Banagher: 30 townlands 932 houses 4922 inhabitants (c.1834)

Foreglen: 4 townlands 136 houses 743 inhabitants

Banagher: 1086 houses 5810 inhabitants (1841)

John McCloskey in 1821 records a decrease in his time due to famine and subsequent emigration to America: 942 houses with a population of 5131, 2213 (1081 male, 1132 female) in the barony of Keenaught (Fincarn) area, 2918 in the barony of Tirkeeran (altinure) area. The proportion looks odd. By 1834 there were schools at Altinure, Derrychrier, Fincarn (2), Templemoyle, Terrydreen, Munreery, ballymonie.

In 1839 Moneyhaughan old school was built on land owned by the Conways, who, in the same year, built Oldfield, later called Fairmount House and now generally known as Moneyhaughan Castle. The family had substantial land holdings but has died out. Still widely remembered is Fr Frederic Conway, and Sagart Bán or White Priest, who died aged 60 on 24 November 1873 of, according to the death certificate, “Melancholia ½ year: Abstinence form food 11 days”. He knew five or six languages. Ordained in 1843 he served in seven parishes in the diocese, and when he retired for health reasons from Dungiven in 1870 he devoted himself to preparing students who resided at Moneyhaughan for the priesthood, one of whom, Francis McCullagh, from Cranagh, was to be subsequently a curate in Altinure. For this reason a local tradition recalls him as having organised a seminary in competition with All Hallows. It is said that he was tall and very strong, and could boast of being able to throw a brick right over the castle. In his retirement he said Sunday Mass at Moneyhaughan and had quite a congregation. He is buried at Altinure and the local conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society subsequently erected a Latin cross of Co. Down granite at a cost of £35 over his grave. There is a suggestion that, for at least some of his time in Dungiven, he lived at Moneyhaughan, probably looked after by his sister Catherine, and travelled to and from Dungiven by horse.

In 1871 Fr Edward Loughrey built the present church at Altinure and the former adjoining parochial house in wooded land given by J B Beresford of Learmount but only yards from the old church. The architects were O’Neill and Byrne. McClay of Strabane was the builder and Hunter of Derry and Farren of Oville cut the free-stone. The foundation stone was laid n 22 March 1871 and the sermon preached by Fr Bannon S.J. raised £371 10s. The stone used came from Micky (Shéimi) Mullan’s quarry in Upper Dreen, from Billy’s Glen and from Altmover. Local tradition relates that of the money (it cost nearly £4000) to help build it, some came from America, some was collected by Fr Loughrey at factories in Belfast, and at local fairs from Catholic and Protestant. It is related that when one farmer jokingly said “ I’d liefer give you money to pull a chapel down”, Fr Loughrey riposted “But I am going to pull one down. The old one”. Captain Lyle gave a “liberal subscription”. Fr Loughrey was of landlord stock in Clonmany, and it is said that his mother contributed to the stained glass east window, (3 lancets surmounted by 3 quatre foils) by William McGinnis, with its suitably Marian theme. There is a plate-tracery wheel window in the gable, and a gothic bellcote. The church was dedicated on 22 October 1871 to St Mary Refuge of Sinners. £500 was raised at a charity sermon.

The granite Celtic cross in front of the church, in memory of the first Passionist Mission was blessed by Fr Sebastian at 12 noon Mass on Sunday 29 June 1873. Fr Loughrey built the house, a large barrack-like erection with huge rooms, and penetratingly cold in winter. It is told that he intended the house for the parish priest of a new parish made up of Altinure and Craigbane, logical enough, but that Bishop Kelly disagreed forcibly. One account states that the first priest to furnish and live in the house was Rev. Daniel O’Doherty, and tradition relates that Fr Loughrey worked what was then the parochial farm across the road, and continued to live there (and that he gave the benefit of his advice to litigious parishioners while he walked about the room "eating stirabout". His successor, Fr. Maguire was a native of Laughtilube and no doubt lived at home.

The Christmas cribs at Altinure and Fincarn were drawn by horse and cart from Derry by Michael O'Kane of Tamnagh Road, Dreen, and Pat Hassan in the time of Rev. John H. McKenna CC about 1910. Coincidentally, Mick was buried on Christmas Day 1981, aged 93. The Monstrance was presented in 1911 by the executor of Michael Donaghy (Dan) of Cleggan, to Fr. McKenna, whose name is inscribed in Irish on the base.

On 8th July 1888, Fr. William O'Donnell, parish priest, laid the foundation stone of the new church of St. Joseph at Fincarn, Feeny. High Mass was sung by Rev. William McGlinchey, PP Culdaff. The sermon was preached at some length by Rev. John Keyes O'Doherty, "one of the most gifted and eloquent priests of the diocese.", PP Newtownstewart and subsequently Bishop of Derry. Also prsent were Rev. Thomas Maguire CC Altinure, Rev. James Kearney CC Foreglen, Rev Edward McKenna PP Limavady, Rev. James O'Hagan PP Claudy, Rev Michael Walsh CC Dungiven, Rev. Professor Devine, St. Columb's College, Rev. P. McLaughlin CC Claudy. The estimated cost was £1100, of which £839 6d was collected on foundation Sunday. A choice of sites for the church was offered by James Hasson of Fincarn (died 1932), who drew stone for the church from his own quarry, and it is said that some parishioners did not agree with the location chosen by Fr. O'Donnell. It was expected that the church would open during that year. The building was well advanced by November when it was levelled by a a fearful storm. Work resumed in March 1889 and the church was dedicated by Mgr. John Kearney, Vicar Capitular of the diocese (Bishop Kelly had died on 1st September) and PP Buncrana, and a former curate in Banagher, on 13 October 1889, and Rev. J McLaughlin, CSsR, preached.

There were three stone altars with an Agnus Dei altar piece, a gothic doorway and a rose window with quatre foils. A stone statue of the Blessed Virgin was given by Patrick Mullan, Halifax, the sanctuary lamp by Michael O'Kane, Foyle Street, Derry, the monstrance by P. McCloskey, Ballydonegan, the Stations of the Cross by Thomas Hasson, Strangemore House, Belfast, made by Meyer of Munich and canonically erected by Fr. Loughrey, PP Dungiven, who preached during 11.00 Mass on 24 June 1894 celebrated by Rev. Daniel O'Doherty CC Altinure. The Benediction set was paid for by the pennies of the Living Rosary, started by Fr Walsh PP who succeeded Fr. O'Donnell and so there was Benediction from January 1894. In August 1893 the stone cross on the west gable of the church was shattered by lightning.

The first marriage in the new church, as noted in the register, was that of Francis Hassan, Tamniagan, and Mary Hassan, Coolnamonan, celebrated on 21st October 1889, with witnesses Peter Browne (Hassan?), Mary Hassan and Fr O'Donnell.

The foundation stone of the new church at Ballymonie was laid by Bishop Charles McHugh on 13 July 1924 and Rev. Philip O'Doherty, PP, VF, Omagh preached the sermon. The church was dedicated to St. Peter and St Paul by Very Rev. Bernard O'Kane, DD, PP, VG, Maghera, later bishop of Derry, on 9th September 1925. The sermon was preached by Rev. J. Grennon SJ.


More Historical Inforation


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PARISH OF BANAGHER, 42 Glenedra Road, Feeny, Dungiven, Co Derry BT47 4TW | Tel: 028 - 7778 1223