BANAGHER, a parish

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

BANAGHER, a parish, partly in the barony of TIRKEERAN, but chiefly in that of KENAUGHT, county of LONDONDERRY, and province of ULSTER, 2 miles (W. by S.) from Dungiven; containing 4086 inhabitants. This parish, which for extent is the second in the county, is situated on the road from Toome to Londonderry, and is nine miles in length from east to west and seven miles in breadth from north to south. It contains 27 townlands, of which 16 are in the barony of Tirkeeran and 11 in that of Kenaught, and comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 32,475 statute acres, of which 17,748 ¼are in the latter barony. The apparent decrease in its population, since 1821, is attributable to the separation of nine townlands, which, together with nine from the parishes of Upper and Lower Cumber, were taken, in 1831, to form the district curacy of Learmount. The early history of this place is involved in great obscurity; by some writers it is said that St. Patrick, when he crossed the Foyle, visited it and founded the church, the ruins of which are still remaining, and on a stone is inscribed, in modern capitals, "This church was built in the year of God 474." The style of the building is evidently of a much later period, and corresponds with a local tradition that the church was built by St. O'Heney, and with the style of the tomb erected to his memory in the adjoining cemetery. It is also said that a monastery, of which St. O'Heney was abbot, formerly existed here; but though there are, near the church, the remains of a small square building of more recent erection and evidently used for domestic purposes, which is called the abbey, no mention occurs in historic records of any religious establishment, nor are there any monastic lands in the parish, except such as belonged to the abbey of Dungiven.

The parish is divided among several proprietors; seven townlands belong to the see of Derry, six to the Skinners' and three to the Fishmongers' Companies; ten are freeholds, of which nine pay a chief rent to the Skinners' and one to the Fishmongers' Companies; and one, on which are the church, glebe-house, and parochial schools, belongs to the rector. The land in many places is well drained and in a good state of cultivation, but not less than 13,432 acres are mountain land, though affording good pasturage; and there are 546 acres of flow bog, which is being rapidly reclaimed and brought into cultivation. In the mountains, particularly in Finglen, are found very large and beautiful specimens of rock crystals, or Irish diamonds, generally truncated pentagonal prisms, with facets often of the clearest lustre, and sometimes of the colour and brilliancy of the beryl. These crystals vary, however, in colour and lustre, and are found of all sizes. The largest ever discovered was found in Finglen water, in 1796; it weighs 84 ½ lb., and is in the possession of Michael Ross, Esq., of Banagher Cottage; it is called the Dungiven Crystal, and has been noticed by several writers as an object of admiration. Freestone is found in great quantities, and is of a bright fawn colour and very durable, as appears from the old churches of Banagher and Dungiven; limestone is also abundant.

There are several handsome seats in the parish, and most of them are embosomed in rich and flourishing plantations; the principal are Ashpark, the residence of J. Stevenson, Esq.; Knockan, of I. Stevenson, Esq.; Drumcovatt, now occupied as a farm-house; Banagher Cottage, the residence of Michael Ross, Esq.; Kilcreen, of I. Beresford, Esq.; and Straid Lodge, of the Rev. J. Hunter. There is a large bleach-green at Knockan, where 8000 pieces of linen are annually bleached and finished for the English markets; some linen cloth is also woven by the farmers in their own houses, but the greater number of the inhabitants are employed in agriculture.

The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, episcopally united to the vicarage of Dungiven, which two parishes form the union of Banagher, in the patronage of Robert Ogilby, Esq., as lessee under the Skinners' Company: the tithes amount to £650, and the gross value of the benefice, including tithe and glebe, is £1201. There is a church in each of the parishes: the church of Banagher, a large and handsome edifice, with a tower surmounted by a beautiful octagonal spire, is situated on elevated ground about a mile west of the old church, and was built in 1782; the spire was added at the expense of the Earl of Bristol, then Bishop of Derry. The glebe-house, nearly adjoining the church, is a large and handsome residence, built in 1819 by the Rev. Alexander Ross, the present incumbent, at an expense of £2350, upon the glebe townland of Rallagh, which comprises 422a. 0r. 39p. of arable land. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, in their report for 1831, have recommended the dissolution of the union, and that each parish shall become a separate benefice on the next avoidance. In the R. C. divisions this parish is the head of a union or district, which comprises also the parishes of Bovevagh and Learmount, and contains three chapels, one at Feeny, one at Altinure in the mountain district, and one at Foreglen. There is a place of worship at Ballyhenedein for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the second class; it is a handsome building, in the Grecian style of architecture, erected in 1825 at the expense of the Fishmongers' Company. There are male and female parochial schools at Ballagh, aided by an annual donation from the rector; the school-house is a large and handsome building, erected by subscription. At Tyrglassen is a male and female school, supported by the Fishmongers' Company; and at Fincarn is a male and female school supported by R. Ogilby, Esq. In these schools are about 120 boys and 100 girls; and there are also three private schools, in which are about 200 children, and three Sunday schools, one of which at Tyrglassen is supported by the Fishmongers' Company.

The ruins of the old church are situated on the summit of a sandy ridge on the south side of the river Owenreagh, in a retired and beautiful valley, and are very interesting; they consist of the church and a small square building, sometimes called the abbey. The church consisted of a nave and chancel, but the partition wall, the arch, and the eastern gable have disappeared; the side walls and the west front are remaining and tolerably entire; the nave and chancel, appear each to have been lighted by a very narrow lancet window on the south side, ornamented externally with curious circular mouldings; the only entrance appears to have been from the west, through a square-headed doorway with a bold architrave, and on one of the stones on the north side is the inscription in modern capitals before noticed. There are also the ruins of an ancient church at Straid, said by the country people to have been the second founded by St. Patrick in this part of the kingdom; but the style of the building is of much less remote antiquity. There are also the foundations of a third church in the townland of Templemoile, but no part of the building is remaining, nor is there any history or tradition of it extant. On the glebe is a curious vitrified fort, on which the Midsummer fires are made; and near the church is an extensive artificial cave. In the cemetery of the old church is a curious monument to the memory of St. O'Heney, the supposed founder of the church and of the small building near it which is called the abbey; it is of a square form, with sharp pointed gables and a roof of stone; and on the western side is an effigy of the saint in tolerable preservation. Here is a very curious ancient cross, with the fragments of a second, which, with three others, marked out the consecrated ground around this venerable pile.

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