BANNAGH AS A
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 defensive position.
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 cotton.
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 masshouse (probably) wooden.
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 roadbridge 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 Belleek.
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 locality.
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
...... McAlister ... age 70 ... 1779.
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 £18 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 school."
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 teachers.
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. McNulty 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 dead."
A Master McCusker 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 McCusker was interred and was succeeded by him on his release. Master McCusker then taught in Bannagh until 1926. Master McDermott 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 McManus formerly Miss McMahon 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 McNaboe, Hugh Colton who came/left in October 1945, Master Sheridan of Clonelly who retired from the school in October 1952, Joan McKervey (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 police.
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 Chapel.
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 McMahon and Miss McAleer. Frank Strong, a Protestant, sold the land for this Catholic hall and was roundly condemned by some of the local Protestants. The land cost £10 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 McMahon'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.
There are over 195 death records in Bannagh with 53 unique
surnames which are:
Baird, Beacom, Brogan, Cairns,
Corrigan, Cullen, Cunningham, Devlin, Doherty, Dolan, Doonan,
Doowe, Elliott, Eves, Flynn, Gallagher, Gillespie, Hackett,
Kearns, Keown, Keys, Maguire, McAnern, McCabe, McCaffrey,
McCarney, McElrone, McFarland, McGarrity, McGee, McGrory,
McHugh, McMahon, McManus, McMullan, Monaghan, Morris, Noble,
Nugent, O'Connor, O'Donnell, O'Reilly, Place, Scallon, Scollan,
Sheridan, Simpson, Sleavin, Slevin, Steele, Taggart, Thomas,
If one of the surnames above is
the one you're looking for you can now go to the Deaths
& Burials Search and type your chosen surname in the
Surname box and enter "Bannagh" in the Place box.
The results will show you all deaths or burials with that surname in
published here with permission of
John B. Cunningham