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History of the Parish of Banagher, Derry Diocese
...Places & Names.


The placenames give witness to the shaping of the landscape over the space of a thousand years and more, and often indicate that land had been cleared of trees at a very early stage. There is a band of townland names along the Banagher-Dungiven boundary which indicate afforestation: Derrychrier (from doire, an oak wood), Rallagh (from rail, large oak tree), Killunaght (from coil, a wood, probably sheltering a clearing where cows were brought to calve, Oville (from eo, a yew), Feeny (from fiodh, wood), Ballaghaneden (from bealach, a pass cut through a wooded area). Altinure would seem to refere to a single yew tree, often considered sacred in pre-Christian times especially when solitary. Some of the names state clearly that the places were cleared of trees.: Tamnagh and Tamnyagan (from tamhach, a clearing), Magheramore (from machaire, a stretch of open, level ground).

There are names which indicate the shrubbery which had light to grow when the trees were cut: Dreen (blackthorn), landscape: Knockan (from cnoc, a hill) often pronounced Cruckan, Altinure (from ailt, a ravine), Eden (the brow of a hill), Drumcovit and Drumslave (from droim, a back or ridge), Moneyhaughan (muin, a back, or muine, scrub: also in Munreary and Mondadore or Muin na ndeor, the ridge of tears).

Umricam is Iomaire Cam, the crooked ridge. It is noticeable, however, that the placenames show that the land was productive, that there were cattle or sheep (Killunaght and Glenedra, the glen of the milking), pigs (which foraged in oak and beech woods for mast) and horses (Aughlish, from each, a steed; Cushcapple, from capall, a draught-horse; Altayaran, from gearrán, a pack-horse, a nag, often gelding).

Some of the townlands include people’s names, even if we cannot always identify them. Thus Moneyhoghan and Tamnyagan seem to bear the same name, of some one called Eocháin. It is unlikely that Ballydonegan was owned by a Donegan. Some name like Donnchuan or Donchadh (translated nowadays as Denis) is probable, perhaps in fact the origin of Donaghy, a surname still common here. Mac Raghnaill (McReyonds now) is found in Kinculmagrannell, and O Harran in Straidarran (who even had a village after them – Straid from sraid, a street). In the Civil Survey of 1654 Straidarran is called Temple Balleharron and Tamnagh called Tomlagh Mcgillamurra.

These early inhabitants of the are lfet traces of their monuments in the placenames, as in Gallany, probably from gallán, a standing stone, and leacht, a grave mound, in Laughtilube. Cleggan (from clogieann, a skull) may refer to a bare, rocky hill, but is possibly a term to indicate the end and boundary of a measured area, or perhaps a prehistoric graveyard as recent discoveries might suggest. Cleggan was also known as Ballewooter (Irish uachtair or upper townland, perhaps at the other end from Tireighter, the lower district).

There are names like Fincairn, Carnanbane, Finglen, which can be translated but are still unclear. Fionn and bán refer to brightness in colour but we do not know if this was natural or man-made. Presumably the cairns in Fincairn and Carnanbane were erected over some important person or object. We can be clearer about the names which refer to more recent buildings. Muldonagh includes a name (domhnach, from Latin, dominicum) given to very early churches in Ireland, and indeed was formerly taken as an indication of a church founded by St Patrick.

St Patrick, it was said, founded seven churches in the valley of Faughan, of which Muldonagh may be one and Straidarran another. Whether he did so or not (and it must be considered unlikely) we have in this name proof that there was a church here by the eigth century. Muldonagh was in the medieval parish of Boveva associated with St Aidan (Aodhán in Irish) of Boveva. St Patrick of course, it is said, also visited Banagher where he had an altercation with a peist and confined the serpent to the bottom of a well at Lig na Peiste where, no doubt, it still rests. It is difficult to separate the legends of Patrick from those of Muiriach O Heaney.

The church at Straidarran is also ancient because it was dedicated to St Constans otherwise known as Cuana who died in 777. He was a native of this area, a hermit who spent at least some of his life near Lough Erne. Muldonagh and Templemoyle include the word maol, which means roofless nowadays when applied to buildings, but in earlier times may have meant that the church had no tower. The present roofless church at Banagher must have been built to replace the church at Templemoyle, presumably the origin of the legend of the deer which led the way from one to the other to show where it should be built. Its building would seem to have coincided with the twelfth century reform of the Irish church and with the formation of parishes as we know them, and by its size demonstrates the skill, devotion and wealth of those who built it.

There is no townland of Banagher. How it came by its name is mysterious. Banagher and Bangor are the same in Irish. Bangor, Co.Down, and Bangor in Wales were famous for their monasteries, so that it is possible that it was named after them as a holy place (since the name would seem to be drived from the Irish beannaigh meaning to bless). Derivation from beann, a peak or gable, seems to be beside the point. There are further mysteries. Why is it that the neighbouring parishes provided saints whose names are found in martyrologies, St Eolach of Drumachose etc, whereas Banagher is associated with St. Muiriach O Heaney who is much later than the others (because he has a surname), and who is only to be found in folk memory (although this in itself demonstrates what a potent figure he was)? It is certainly not the result of the other parishes being holier or more pious, but, rather due to the original name of the church of Templemoyle being lost. There is, for example, a reference to Teampall Ui Bhuidhe (O Buidhe’s church) in O’Kane’s Country, which has not been identified with any certainty.


More Historical Inforation


If you have any historical information relevant to the parish - photographs or little anecdotes,

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