Bannagh As a Settlement
Settlements grow up for many reasons. The discovery of gold immediately brings a
settlement into being but it will only last so long as the gold lasts. Usually it is for
more mundane reasons that places come into being; such as a river crossing or a strong
In the Bannagh River Valley the settlement of Bannaghmore usually referred to as Bannagh
grew up at the upper end of a deep gorge where the river could be crossed. Below this
there was an extensive area of bog and swamp which has been largely drained and replaced
by verdant grassland.
The name Bannagh is difficult to define exactly but with the principal part of the word
deriving from the word "bawn" meaning "white" in Gaelic the area
probably got its name from the white appearance of the area when covered in blossoming bog
Today Bannagh has a flourishing Community Centre replacing the old hall which was in
association with the nearby Roman Catholic chapel. The hall is the sole surviving member
of the traditional triumvirate of hall, school and chapel common in rural area. These are
more usually associated with Roman Catholic tradition but Ardess Church of Ireland near
Kesh had a similar type of organisation.
The origins of Bannagh chapel seem to date to the era of Roman Catholic Emancipation c
1838. However there have been dated headstones discovered in houses nearby, used as
lintels etc and found in modern renovations which suggest that there was a graveyard on
the site from a much earlier period and probably some form of mass house (probably)
Bannagh had an importance in the past which it manages to totally hide in the present day.
It was on the ancient road between Kesh and Pettigo which stayed on the high ground and
avoided the swampy bogland through which the modern road runs. The ancient road bridge
near Bannagh Community Centre still stands as a memorial to the importance of this ancient
route. Today this old bridge is in urgent need of repair.
Just upstream from the bridge is an even more ancient bridge of large boulders by which
the peoples as far back as the Stone Age would have crossed the Bannagh River. The spaces
between the boulders allowed the river to pass and the gaps were easily bridged by pieces
of timber or for that matter could be easily jumped.
However, the area had another even more important attraction other than just a crossing
place. It had a sulphur spa well which today can still be seen staining the river near the
old boulder bridge. The minerals from the well were a form of medicine for man and beast
in the past and where they occur in nature even today are a centre of attraction. There is
no doubt but that a settlement developed here on account of the conjunction of medicinal
well and important ancient routeway.
There was probably an Iron Age fort at Bannagh c 2,000 years ago since there is a
tradition that a rath occupied the site of the present chapel and graveyard which was
flattened out when the chapel was being built. This rath was probably the old burying
ground as in many places they traditionally were at for example Slavin Old Graveyard near
At the time of the Plantation of Ulster there was obviously a settlement of importance at
Bannagh or at least an indication of its ancient importance when the entire land grant
given to Sir Edward Blennerhassett of Norfolk in 1610 was titled as
"Bannaghmore." This huge estate ran about twelve miles all the way to present
day Belleek but yet took its name from Bannagh suggesting the ancient importance of this
When Bannagh School was being built in 1869-70 a great number of headstones were buried
under a corner of the building. These came to light again when the school was demolished
to add to the area of the graveyard in recent times. At the opening of the school the
estimation of the age of the chapel was that it was in existence about 30 to 34 years.
Leaving aside a period of about 3 years to build the chapel suggests its erection to be
between 1838 and 1842. In the renovation of John Brimstone's house in
recent times a stone was discovered to ...... Mc Alister ... age 70 ...
Bannagh School closed in 1971 with Mrs Jim Cassidy of Ederney as the last
Principal teacher. The first teacher was a Master James Donnelly who was
aged 18 and who had come here from teaching in Stralongford School in County Tyrone not
far from Irvinestown. The school Inspector, Mr Alex Hamilton, reported
that the school was 30 feet by 14 feet by 10 feet and that the joists in the floor were of
bog deal i.e. timber found deep in the bog while cutting turf. The school had been built
by private funds i.e. by the subscriptions of the local Roman Catholics. There is a good
well near the school.
The Inspector reports that the school opened on April 25th 1870 and that the
schoolmaster's salary was � p.a. There were 43 male and 43 female children on the roll
and the Reverend Manager was Fr. Michael Carney P.P. School was held on
six days of the week and religion taught between 2.30 and 3.00 each day and from 11 until
12 on Saturday which was a half day.
Master James Donnelly was a Class 3 grade 2 teacher meaning that he was on the second
lowest of the nine classifications of teacher. Scholars' fees ranged between a shilling
and two shillings and six pence depending on class. The Inspector's report ends with the
observation that, "In this locality there are many children who have never attended
The longest reigning Principal of the school was Master Nugent who taught
in Bannagh for 40 years and died in 1919 as a result of a fall from a cart on his way home
from Kesh. He seemed to spend quite an amount of time in the bad books of the clergy but
perhaps he was only standing up for himself in an age when this wasn't expected of
Rev Patrick Kelly wrote to the Commissioners of National Education in Dublin on January
26th 1893 charging Mr A. J. Nugent with uttering calumnies against him
just before Christmas. He wants a public apology. He would like him dismissed but the
Parish Priest would not give him three months notice. Master Nugent's
reply was to the effect that on the contrary, "He had tried to stop the choir saying
that the curate was astray in the head and that his brother had died in the asylum."
A much more serious row erupted six years later when there was correspondence between the
Rev. T. Mc Nulty and the Commissioners regarding a charge of indecent
assault made against Mr Arthur Nugent by a pupil Lizzie Elliott.
After an investigation the Inspector reported that the evidence was vague and unreliable.
A first assault was alleged on August 2nd when he was alleged to have put his hands on
her, "Private parts" after putting her clothes up to her face behind a door and
a second assault was said to have taken place in the boys' toilets.
The Inspector said that the Master frequently had to chastise this pupil and that this was
the possible reason for the charges. He goes on to say that the Master had been in a row
with the curate who had been transferred and the Elliotts had been in
opposition to the Master and in support of the curate. He finishes with, "Mr Nugent
has been in the school 22 years. He is the father of 11 children and his wife was still
alive. Elizabeth Elliott's father is in an asylum and her mother is
A Master Mc Cusker of Brookeborough succeeded Master Nugent
but was later interred on the Argenta prison ship for his political activities. Master Slevin
taught for a time while Master Mc Cusker was interred and was succeeded
by him on his release. Master Mc Cusker then taught in Bannagh until
1926. Master Mc Dermott then taught in the school until 1930.
There then followed a long succession of teachers in the school many staying only a few
months and one dismissed due to alleged impropriety between the teachers. These teachers
were Master Gallagher, Miss Nellie Devlin, Master Rogers
for a few months, Master Laferty, Miss Maggie Tague of
Glenarn, Master Rogers for a second spell, Mrs Mc Manus
formerly Miss Mc Mahon who stayed from March 1931 until 1943, Miss Mc
Aleer who stayed a year, Miss Colton the sister of Master Hugh Colton
of Dromore, Kevin Mc Naboe, Hugh Colton who came/left in
October 1945, Master Sheridan of Clonelly who retired from the school in
October 1952, Joan Mc Kervey (Mrs O'Connell) who was
principal for five years and finally Mrs Jim Cassidy nee Clarke
of Lisnaskea with whom the school closed in 1971.
Possibly the most eccentric teacher in the history of the school was Miss Brigid Jane Gallagher.
On bad winter mornings she would walk from her home in Clonee approximately seven miles to
school and home again. She dressed in the same style of long coat, high button boots and
hat and gloves all her life and it was reported that she had been in and out of the height
of fashion at least three times during this period.
She was the owner of a car which in time became as antique as her appearance was. She was
totally finicky in everything she did. If she called in for a chat her visit was followed
inside minutes with a note of clarification concerning something she had said. Once she
reported herself in Kesh Barrack, where the Lough Erne Hotel is now, for not sounding her
horn at Kesh Level Crossing. She had however rectified the situation by reversing back
across the line and sounding the horn and then returning and reporting the incident to the
She tended to teach small clumps of children gathered about her near the fire and spoke in
a confidential manner like she was passing on a secret. She was a kindly old soul and is
still remembered for her eccentricities when many who thought they were more important
have long been forgotten.
Like most of the early Catholic chapels Bannagh and Montiagh had clay floors and the
modern floors in both were installed by Joe Nugent and Joe Devlin
about 19--.? In those days the wealthier Catholic families had their own seats e.g. Torry Monaghan
of Montiagh whose father had been a Justice of the Peace had a reserved seat in Montiagh
The building of Bannagh Hall was a great feat on behalf of the local community. The
initial financing was supplied through concerts organised in the school by the teachers,
Mrs Nan Mc Mahon and Miss Mc Aleer. Frank Strong,
a Protestant, sold the land for this Catholic hall and was roundly condemned by some of
the local Protestants. The land cost � and the deal may have went through on account of
Frank and Father Murray, the curate, being drinking pals. James Maguire
of Seemuldoon was the architect and he designed Ederney hall also.
Willie Snow did the building of the hall while Jim Snow
and Paddy Scallon mixed the cement by shovel. Most of the rest of the
work was done by voluntary labour. Mrs Mc Mahon's husband was a builder
and he brought along a stonebreaker. The hall was opened around November 1938. Concerts
and dances were the usual fare as well as plays performed by groups such as the Pettigo
Players or Clones Players.
Fr Murray later joined the unfortunate ranks of "the silenced
priest" perhaps because of being too fond of the drink. Once in his Standard 8 car he
overshot the end of the roadway coming down from Bannagh to the main road and went
straight across and through the hedge and into the field. No one has ever studied the
whole area of "silenced priests" many of whom were noted for their piety and
ability to cure illness despite whatever frailty had caused them to be silenced but they
were a fairly common part of church life in the past.
Sadly Bannagh Chapel was closed down even though in good repair and against the wishes of
the congregation. Bishop Joseph Duffy refused to discuss the matter at
all and thus a perfectly viable chapel and congregation have had to go elsewhere. Of the
modern settlement, the school, the hall and now the chapel had gone but however the
resentment of the arrogance of closure had given rise to a determination to resist. A
Cross Community group arose to develop the hall and provide opportunities for recreation
and educational activities and this organisation flourishes still today.
None of the inscriptions in Bannagh are very ancient but in memory of all those unnamed as
well as those named this is the current record of those interred here and publicly marked.