Banagher Parish


Priests of the Parish

42 Glenedra Road
Co Derry
BT47 4TW
Tel: (028) 7778 1223

Retired Priests Residing in the Parish

100 Altinure Road
Co Derry
BT47 4DE
Tel: (028) 7778 1228
247 Altinure Road
Co Derry
BT47 4DG
Tel: (028) 7778 1776
285 Foreglen Road
Co Derry
BT47 4PJ
Tel: (028) 71338261


St Canice’s Primary School
Glenedra Road, Feeny
Tel: (028) 7778 1346

Principal: Ms Fiona McCann
St Mary’s Primary School
Monadore Road, Altinure
Tel: (028) 7778 1384

Principal: Mrs Mary Redmond
St Peter’s & St Paul’s Primary School
Foreglen Road, Ballymonie
Tel: (028) 7133 8536

Principal: Vacant

Parish Councils

Parish Pastoral Council
This council meets once a month to assist the Parish Priest in the pastoral endeavours of parish life. The council has three specific purposes: firstly, it focusses on initiatives that nourish the faith life of existing, active parishioners; secondly, it develops initiatives to reach out to those who don’t practice their faith or who have lapsed in their faith; and lastly, the council develops programmes and initiatives to encourage and develops the faith life in our young people.

The members of the Parish Pastoral Council are appointed for a 5 year term, beginning in December 2019. Current serving members are: Fr Micheál McGavigan (Chair), Catriona Doughty (Secretary), Karen Feeney, Mary Redmond, Micheál Anderson, Andrena O’Kane, Joanne Hassan, Margaret Carton, Liam Campbell, Caroline McCormick, Darragh McCloskey, Sheena McGrellis, and Aoife Moore.
Parish Finance Council
This council, required by Canon Law, meets when required to assist and advise the Parish Priest in the administration of parish finances. The Parish Accounts are presented to the finance council on an annual basis. Furthermore, the council is consulted on any extraordinary or significant parish expenditure. The council also assist in developing strategies to raise funds for routine and exceptional spending.

Current serving members of the Parish Finance Council are: Fr Micheál McGavigan (Chair), Geraldine Lynch (Secretary), Shaun McElhinney, Ciara McCullagh & Alfie Dallas.


Click below to read about the history of our parish.


Places and 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 area left 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 eighth 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.

People & The Parish

The greater part of the parish of Banagher lies in the barony of Keenaught, only the Altinure area is in the barony of Tirkeeran. The baronies, by and large, represent political divisions (Irish, Tuath or Triocha Ced) taken over and renamed by the English at the time of the Plantation when Ulster was shired (i.e. divided into counties) by the government of James I in the early seventeenth century. The origin of Keenaught goes back almost a millennium and a half. The Cianachta, it is surmised, were mercenary soldiers brought up from Leinster to fight in the civil wars of the Cruithne who ruled north Ulster up to about the time of St Patrick.

These Cianachta, so called because they were descended from Cian, established themselves as independent rulers of the Roe Valley under their lords, in later times O Connor and O Henry. They withstood the attempts of Cineal Eoghain (the descendants of Eoghan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, high king of Ireland) to subdue them for five hundred years until they were defeated at the battle of Belat near Drumahoe in 1076.

Tirkeeran takes its name from the Ui Mic Cairthinn (descendants of the son of Cairthenn) who were less successful in withstanding Cineal Eoghain pressure, and their leading names, O Colgan and O Conaill, declined into obscurity. After their defeats both Cianachta and Ui Mic Cairthinn had to yield to new overlords. These were of Clann Chonchobhair (Clan Conor, confusingly not related to the O Connors mentioned above), a branch of Cineal Eoghain. From this clan originate many of the surname common in the area still – O Lynch, O Kerlin, O Mullan, O Quinn, O Murray and O Kane) who became lord of the whole area between the Bann and the Foyle and was the chief subordinate lord in the O Neill kingship of Ulster.

The McCloskeys are a branch of the O Cathains who took their name from their ancestor Bloscaidh O Cathain, and whose lands, Ballymacloskey, were in the area. O Mullan was established as O Cathain’s leading underlord, probably in the Altinure area, named the Ballymullins as a result. The chief seats of the O Cathains were at Limavady, Dungiven and in later times at Enagh.

There does not seem to have been a parish of Dungiven in the Middle Ages (only the priory of Canons Regular of St Augustine), so that it is in fact possible that Banagher was the parish these O Cathains belonged to. This would explain the absence of earlier information about the Templemoyle church, since they were relative newcomers to the district interested in underplaying the past. It would account, by the O Mullan connection, for the fact that the parish does not follow the natural boundaries but crosses the watershed into the valley of Faughan, and for obvious richness of the the churchlands of Banagher.

Up to the Plantation of Ulster each parish with its clergy and buildings was maintained from lands set aside for this purpose. These lands were farmed by the erenagh whose office was hereditary as were most occupations at the time. In addition to the upkeep of the church and the income (in kind) of the clergy he paid a yearly rent to the bishop who had the responsibility of appointing a new erenagh if the incumbent family died out. The eranagh had some responsibility for the education of the clergy, and it was from the erenagh families that most of the clergy came. In the parish of Banagher, two quarters (of a baile biataigh) of land were set aside as the church lands around the church. The baile biataigh was a measure of land made up usually of sixteen bailte bo, each bailte bo contained about sixty acres, and was supposed to be able to carry about twenty cows.

The Civil Survey lists the churchlands of Banagher as Tiavan, Magheramore, Carnanbane, Templemore (obviously Templemoyle), Derry Tryer, Aughluske, Killmaght and Raleagh (described as glebe) The glebe was for the use and support of the vicar (now called the curate). There was also a ballyboe at Ballyarran. The parishioners also paid tithes in kind on their produce each year, and these were divided equally between rector (parish priest), vicar and erenagh who were responsible as stated above for the maintenance of the church and for hospitality to travellers. Out of their income the rector and vicar paid twelve pence apiece yearly to the bishop, and the erenagh paid 13/4, plus a ‘reflection’ paid only when the bishop did not visit the parish. It is all but impossible to compute what equivalent that represents in our money, but, it is more than most parishes paid at that time.

It is clear that Banagher was well off, because when Archbishop Colton visited there in 1397 the erenagh was able to provide accommodation for two nights for his retinue of whom fourteen are named, even if the Dungiven Priory made a contribution at the archbishop’s request. The three storey square tower beside the church may have been useful for this purpose. The erenagh and “inhabitants of the village” also gave him some five horses to carry his baggage. By the sixteenth century the eranagh of Banagher was named O Heaney, the family to which the patron saint belonged, and therefore, we infer, during the intervening period. This is the reason for their responsibility for the efficacy of Banagher sand. It only worked at racecourse or law court if it was drawn by the descendant of the erenagh family.

Medieval People & Events

Archbishop Colton went to the Priory in Dungiven to reconcile the cemetery which had been defiled by bloodshed. The first mention of Banagher records the same problem. In 1121 Giolla Easpaig Eoghain O hAindiaraidh, king of Keenacht, was killed by his kinsmen in the middle of the cemetery of Banagher. His long first name means “servant of Bishop Eoghan”, no doubt St. Eugene of Ardstraw. His surname would now be O Henry, although the spelling is unusual. It is well to remember that the cemetery was common land and the focus of village life throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, a place where people met, business was transacted, animals wandered. The cemetery would have been totally unlike the more ordered churchyards of our times. Gravestones as we know them were not used. It was sufficient to bury as close to the church or to the grave of the founder as possible with a view to protection in the next life. Death and the next world were not as distant as they seem in our sanitized world, when we remember how medical knowledge has advanced in the last couple of centuries.

On 15 October 1397, as already mentioned, Archbishop John Colton of Armagh came to Banagher. Colton was Norman English, half cleric and half soldier, who had served as justiciar or temporary governor of Ireland and who had been appointed to Armagh by Pope Urban VI at the wish of King Richard II as was the custom at the time. The see of Derry was vacant and he came to assert his right as primate to visit such a diocese and to receive the emoluments due to the bishop during such a vacancy. He travelled by way of Cappagh, Ardstraw and Leckpatrick to the monastery at Derry. From there he came to Banagher with his retinue and accompanied by the dean of Derry, Uiliam MacCathmhaoil, (now Campbel or McCaul), the archdeacon of Derry, Uiliam O Catháin, and ten canons of the diocesan chapter. With the primate solemnly seated in the church before the high altar, the chapter swore on the gospels to respect the archbishop’s rights. The archbishop promised not to give any churchlands to “powerful laymen”. The dean and archdeacon each gave him a horse in part payment of rents and emoluments due to him. The canons wanted him to appoint some of their number as his representatives and collectors of rents in the diocese. After deliberation and when they had renounced any rights to spiritual or temporal jurisdiction while the see of Derry was vacant, Colton appointed the dean of Armagh, the dean of Derry, the archdeacon of Derry, a canon of Armagh, Thomas O Loughran, and Mauritius (Muiríach ?) O Catháin, canon of Derry, to represent him. The discussion seems to have been lively.

The next business was the second stage of the marriage case brought by Catriona O Doherty, who claimed that her husband, Manus MacGilligan (no doubt the erenagh of Tamlaghtard) had divorced her and taken other women in her place, calling as witnesses two judges of the Derry marriage tribunal who had pronounced in her favour. Manus denied both the marriage and the judgement. Colton in Derry had questioned both judges and postponed further consideration of the case until he was in Banagher. Manus MacGilligan sent his representative (unnamed) to Bangher to state that, even if Caitríona O Doherty should prove that she was lawfully married or prove that the Derry judges had indeed decided in her favour, he (Manus) had already been lawfully married to another woman, Mór NicBhloscaidh (McCloskey). Not having enough time to deal with the case, on the advice of the dean and chapter, Colton appointed the same two judges, Archdeacon O Catháin of Dunboe and Canon Seán Mac Thaidhg (McKeague), no doubt from Drumachose-Balteagh, to question the witnesses orally and decide. How the case ended we do not know, but it is perhaps unlikely that these judges changed their minds about Manus.

Then the primate issued orders about discipline in the monastery in Derry to the abbot Aodh Mac Giolla Bhríde (now Hugh McBride). Next he gave the chapter letters of warning, excommunication and interdict against O Donnell, O Doherty,O Catháin, O Gormley, all lords of the lands ruled by the clans, and against Donal and Brian Mor, sons of the Henry O Neill (Enrí Aimhréidh O Néill, now miscalled Harry Avery at modern Newtownstewart) because they had usurped the rights of the church of Derry. This probably meant taking over church lands or demanding rents from the exempt tenants. At the request of the dean and chapter of Derry the archbishop then settled definitively a dispute between “two inhabitants” of the town of Banagher about the erenagh-ship of the parish. No names are given unfortunately, but at least one of them must have been O Heaney. But by this stage one gets the impression of the primate’s temper was wearing thin, and when he had appointed Dermot O Mulligan (or perhaps O Molachan), parish priest of Drumagarner, he set off through the “inaccessible places of the mountains” of Glenelly back to Armagh. Before leaving he established the rental of moneys due from the parishes of Derry. For Banagher this came to twenty shillings, plus thirteen shillings and fourpence from the erenagh, for Boveva ten shillings and ten shillings. Dungiven Priory, being a house of exempt religious, does not appear on the list.

After Colton’s visitation Banagher recedes into obscurity, broken only by the names of some of its clergy who appear in Roman records as having sought appointment or because the appointment had for some reason lapsed to Rome, e.g. because it had been left vacant too long. Three of these are called O Cartain (Cartin): Donal (1401), Patrick (1465) were vicars, and John (1419) was rector. One was O hEannacha: John (1465). One was probably O Cathain (Mauritius Obechayn: 1413). One was O Maoilmheana (Mulvenna: 1413). Two are uncertain: Comedinus Ohegyll (Cu Midhne?: 1419) and Cornelius O Muirí Riabhaigh (Conor O Murray Grey – “grey” being a nickname).

War, Confiscation, Oppression

About 1610, after the Flight of the Earls, the English government confiscated the lands of the local lords and set up and Inquisition to provide an accurate statement of the extent and organisation of churchlands. In the then county of Coleraine amonst the witnesses called were Feardorcha, Giolla Dubh Og and James O Mullan, and, second on the list, John O Henry, all from Banagher parish. A survey of his new diocese conducted by the first established Church of Ireland bishop Montgomery says of John O Henie that he was rector, vicar and erenagh of Banagher and “knows Latin, Scots and Irish and studied at Glasgow” (Scots in this context is the English of lowland Scotland as distinct from “English” English, which has a different history). He was therefore a man of some education.

The Reformation had come to west Ulster and by grant of the king the established church came into possession of the churchlands ending the centuries-old system of the erenagh. The Catholic clergy of Derry (to be without a bishop for over a century after the martyrdom of Raymond O Gallagher in 1601), adapted to the new situation. In 1631 we find that Niall O Devenny was ministering in Banagher, a tenant on the Fishmongers lands, perhaps in the Ballaghaneden-Terrydreen area. On these lands there was a Mass house, just as there were two on the Skinners lands. These priests were protected by the officials of the London Companies and especially by the sheriff of the county, Richard Kirby, who allowed law cases by priests to obtain their income for religious services provided (much to the chagrin of Sir Thomas Phillips and established church bishop John Bramhall). The income of the clergy in north Derry at the time was as follows:

For every married couple 2/ =

For every single person 6d

From every plough 20 sheaves

Every churn one churning of butter

Every marriage 1/ =

Sick call 1/ =

Funeral (from better off) one large animal

(from poor) cloak or similar possession

Offerings at Christmas & Easter 2d, 3d, 4d, 6d or 1/ =

This picture is presented by Sir Thomas Phillips, a hostile witness determined to present things in the worst possible light for the London companies to the king in London. It is probably the system of tithing that applied before the Plantation still in force and brought up to date in an economy where money was replacing barter.

The seventeenth century was very violent in Ireland, from the ending of the Nine Years War in 1603 through the 1641 Rising and Cromwell to Cogadh an Dá Rí (the War of the Two Kings, otherwise the Williamite Wars). The policy of toleration of Catholics by the London companies ended and was replaced by repression culminating in the Penal Laws of the eighteenth century. For forty-two years (1628-70) the diocese was governed by a vicar apostolic, Terence O Kelly, who appointed Niall O Devenny to Banagher before 1631 and who drew up statutes to govern the diocese in 1665 (which ruled, amongst other things, that priests were not to frequent taverns, were to live in a definite place where they would be available to their parishioners, were to pray for King Charles II at Mass, and were asked to say a Mass within twenty days to ensure O Kelly’s happy death). Terence O Kelly fell foul of St Oliver Plunkett who removed him from office in 1670 (which provoked the famous response “The Italian, the Roman primate has unhorsed me”) and he died a few months later in the summer of 1671.

St Oliver was martyred in July 1681, and one week after his death Charles Bingham wrote to Lord Massareene demanding that the same fate be visited on a list of clergy of Derry for being “members of Oliver Plunkett’s last plot against the King and Parliament”. There were fifteen names on his list, including “Donaghy Oge McCloskye of Beanchar and Jas. Cahan of Cumber”. No action was taken against Donchadh Og (young Denis in translation) for when the government ordered the parish clergy be registered in 1704 the priest registered in Banagher was Donaghy MacClosky, resident at Tamlaghtard (i.e. from Banagher to Magilligan) ordained in 1670 by St Oliver Plunkett in Co. Louth. Those who went surety for him were Edward Bacon of Aghanloo, gentleman, and John Buchanan of Banagher, yeoman. Also resident in Banagher were Edmond MacClosky, parish priest of Boveva and Glendermot, living at Magheramore, and John O Cahan of Cumber living at “ballydonaghan”. One of the sureties of Henry Crilly of the combined parishes of Tamlaghtocrilly, Kilrea and Desertoghill was Archibald Boyle of Banagher, gent.

The registration of priests in 1704 was enacted at the beginning of the Penal Laws. This system of laws was the most comprehensive possible to ensure that Catholicism would die out. The so-called “Glorious Revolution” resulting from the defeat of James II was insecure and saw enemies everywhere. William of Orange was personally quite tolerant but his Dublin parliament and government was determined to see to it that Irish Catholic sympathy for the Stuarts could not lead to rebellion. Catholic bishops had the name of James II and later of James III on their briefs of appointment from Rome. Accordingly all bishops were banished from the country in 1697 and any coming into the country were to be imprisoned for twelve months and then transported. If they were to return they would be guilty of treason. Without bishops it was hoped the Church would simply die out for lack of priests. The registration of priests was a further step.

Priests were to register under pain of banishment, to find two sureties of £50 that they would be of good behaviour and would not leave the county in which they registered. In this way they would be under the government’s eye and could not be replaced. For the system to succeed there should be a concerted campaign by the established church to convert the Catholics, but this did not happen. The reason was two-fold: a lack of religious zeal in those charged with the task, and the unwillingness of those who now had the wealth of the country at their disposal to share it with others as would have inevitably resulted if there had been large-scale conversions to the established church. As a result, while the Penal Laws seemed to be religiously inspired, their aim, in fact, was primarily economic. The Penal Laws failed in their stated aim because of this tension between religion and economics. Once it became clear that Catholics did not have the economic muscle to overthrow the Hanoverian succession and that their sympathy for the Stuarts was misplaced these laws were relaxed. In actual fact the period of the Penal Laws lasted about 75 years, and even at that they were only enforced spasmodically. Most local magistrates were unwilling to stir up trouble in their areas by doing so, and, where priests were concerned, neither Protestant nor Catholic, by and large, had much sympathy for priest hunting and often rescued priests who were captured.

Poverty was the besetting problem with scarcely enough money to provide vestments, missals or chalices. Churches were officially forbidden, although there were discreet Mass houses, sometimes doubling as threshing barns, and there were officially no schools. Education was also a problem for the clergy who were often ordained and then sent abroad so that they could support themselves while they studied theology. Many did not go abroad and were proficient in Latin but not much else. Priests were forbidden to perform mixed marriages under pain of law, again a case of economics masquerading as religion because the primary reason was succession rights to property. It is perhaps worth remembering that, due to the wars of the seventeenth century, most churches were in ruins anyhow, with the result that even the established church had, on occasion, to find alternative locations for their services, often public houses, and that dissenters also were not recognised at law.

The penal system was complete and closely integrated at the level of law, but on the ground matters took on a different aspect. By about 1750 there were two churches in the parish of Banagher, one at Altinure, on three roods of land, built in 1730, a small building (60 x 16) with a thatched roof and no seats, and supposed to hold about 400 persons. It was slated in 1800 and was repaired in 1822 by installing five pillars to support the centre because it was dangerous. It still leaked in 1834. There was also a church at Fincarn erected about 1755, a substantial building meant to be cruciform but wanting one arm (60 x 16 and 35 x 18). It had a small gallery and no seats. It also was originally thatched, and held about 800. Neither would have been possible without the tolerance of the landlord. There was no church on Ballymonie till 1826 when it cost £20 and measured 48 x 21, built of freestone. There were Sunday schools in the churches by 1830 with a scanty supply of books provided by subscription.

Amongst the religious practices of the time were the stations for the “cure of souls and bodies”. These pilgrimages began at Slanagh well (from slánú, meaning redemption, healing) in Magheramore, thence to two standing crosses, then to a white cairn in a field, then to Creig an iúir (rock of the yew) where “the saint stood when he addressed the serpent”, then to the mount raised in the valley where “the serpent always rested”, then to a great stone on the holm of the lig, then to Lig na Peiste and a rag on the bush where the patient dipped in the well several times (“for the péist to feed on the disorder”) and watched for a red trout to appear. If the trout floated on its back it was an omen of health, if on its belly despair of recovery. The long station went on to Tobar na Súl (eye well), to Tobar na Coise (foot well) and concluded at Boveva well. This custom was, of course, a partly Christianised pagan practice.

The eighteenth century saw the death of the last wolf in the area and the cutting down of Altcatton and of Glenedra woods (1770). There was no change in the unremitting poverty, especially in the slump after the Napoleonic Wars. There was also the terror produced by reprisal in the wake of 1798 and the alienation from a government reluctant to give in to full Catholic Emancipation. Out of this gloom there escaped a young couple, Patrick McCloskey of Killunaght and Elizabeth Hassan of Coolnamonan. It is said that they eloped together, a not uncommon occurrence at the time, married in Ireland and went to New York in 1808. Their son, John, born 10 March 1810, became the second archbishop of New York and in 1875 the first U.S. cardinal.

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 from 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 in 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 present 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.

Notes On Subsequent Building

The mosaic in St. Joseph’s was laid by Italian craftsmen in 1935 when Rev. Patrick J. Kelly was parish priest.

The grotto at St. Joseph’s was built by Fr. McNamee (literally) along with John (Brown) Hassan, Paddy and Willy (Neilus) Hassan. The statues were presented by Patrick Murphy of Ballymena.

Altinure Hall was built in 1956 for Fr. McNamee and Fr. Carlin by Harry Doherty, contractor, and the Lynch brothers, and extended by voluntary labour in the time of Fr. Patrick J. Mullan.

New schools were built : Fincairn (1957, extended 1971); Altinure (1968); Ballymonie (1972).

An internal porch was installed in St. Joseph’s by Rev. Bernard Kelly to alleviate draught problems.

The new parochial house at Ballymonie was built by Rev. Daniel McNicholl C.C. replacing the ill-adapted curate’s house in Feeny.

Renovations were carried out at the Parochial House, Altinure by Fr. McNally C.C, Fr Collins and Fr. Mullan, and at the old Parochial House, Fincairn, by Fr. B Kelly, Fr. McNally (who was appointed PP Banagher, but died suddenly while still resident in Altinure. It was he who started St.Mary’s GAC, Banagher, uniting the footballers of Feeny and Altinure), and by Fr. Gildea PP.

Rev. M. Collins CC was responsible for the complete restoration of St. Mary’s Church, Altinure, which was re-dedicated by Bishop Neil Farren in 1970. The architect was Joseph Tracey. While work proceeded Mass was said in the hall.

St Mary’s, Altinure, was re-slated by Rev. M.Gildea PP in 1980.

The Material Works of Fr. McCullagh.

Fincarn Hall was begun by Rev. M.Gildea and completed by Rev. John McCullagh PP in 1981 on the site of the school (built 1774).

With the blessing of Fr. McCullagh, Rev. John P. Forbes undertook the refurbishment and extension of the parochial house at Ballymonie with voluntary labour by parishioners in 1987, and the storm-glazing of the church in 1988.

Major refurbishing of buildings was undertaken by Fr. McCullagh. He began by lowering and restructuring the wall along the main road at St.Joseph’s Church.

The entrance to St. Mary’s PS. Altinure was refashioned and re-tarred.

He addressed himself to the problem of re-organising the sanctuary of St Joseph’s Church in accordance with the new liturgical requirements, a difficult task because of the stone altars set into the mosaic. In a compromise solution he removed part of the top step to make the climb less daunting and replaced the temporary altar installed by Rev Bernard Kelly with the wooden altar of the church at Carncorn, Ardstraw, which had closed, and laid carpet on the sanctuary and aisles.

He planned with architect Donald Forrest and built by direct labour in 1982 two new parochial houses at Fincarn and Altinure, acting as contractor and clerk of works himself at Fincarn and overseeing Rev. Kieran Devlin in a similar capacity at Altinure, both houses being built to the same plan. To help defray the heavy costs of such a programme he sold the parochial house and parochial farm at Fincarn (Tullygoan) which Fr. Walshe had bought for the parish from Fr. O’Donnell’s estate for £220 about 1894.

He initiated an ACE scheme to level and tidy up the graveyards at Altinure and Fincairn, planted ornamental trees at Fincarn and supported a plan to use the stone of the demolished parochial house at Altinure to build a retaining wall between church and graveyard at Altinure, and to construct stone walling around the house and graveyard at Fincairn. The walls were built by James O’Kane, Francis O’Hagan, Tom Ball, James McCloskey and Patrick J.McGrellis (and by Fr McCullagh). Under this scheme he also developed the football field to the rear of Fincarn PS.

He restored the grotto hall (formerly the stables) and re-roofed it with old slates from the church. He re-roofed St. Joseph’s with “Bangor Blue” slates, dealing directly with the slate quarries. He had interior painting done at all three churches. The exterior of St Joseph’s was sand blasted and repainted and stained glass windows and storm glazing were installed. The sacred vessels and tabernacle door were re-plated. In 1987 he installed a system of electronic bells, and was proud of the recording of some Christmas Carols he played over it. He saw it also as a means of encouraging the saying of the Angelus during the Marian Year.

To cure rising damp in St. Joseph’s he had the base of the internal walls picked and re-plastered, dug up the surrounding tar, on discovering that drainage around the church was non-existent, to make good the deficiency, and planned the resurfacing of the walks.

He decided to have the seats cleaned down and re-varnished, the mosaic washed down, the church interior repainted and new external doors installed, the electrical wiring and light fittings renewed, and carpet laid throughout the church.

With Tom Ball he was building a low curtain wall to tidy up the edge of the graveyard near the church. Tragically he was not to see his plans come to fruition. On 12 April 1988 he was killed in a car crash on the way to visit sick parishioners in hospital, and it was left to others, particularly Patrick J. mcGrellis who best knew his mind, to complete the renovation. Because the drainage problems had necessitated the lowering of levels around the church it was necessary to construct steps with a granolithic finish to the main doors.

He has indeed left a monument “more lasting than bronze”. To most people he will be the absent host of the centenary celebrations.

If you have any historical information relevant to the parish - photographs or little anecdotes, please let us know and we will let the world know. You can contact us here.

Contact Details

Parish of Banagher
42 Glenedra Road, Feeny, Co Derry
BT47 4TW
Tel: 028 - 7778 1223