I was fortunate to be invited to visit Banagher during Heritage Week in August 2018. Unfortunately I missed the presentation by Messrs Keenaghan and Scully but am told that all went swimmingly or, as we say up here in BAC, it was a hoot. Anyway I have many relations in the Banagher district and some of my ancestors were distillers and engineers about that town and in Kilcormac. I always like to visit Houghs when in Banagher. It was beloved by my old friend Hugh Leonard. I have had a pint or two with ‘admiralty men’ in Pawky Flynn’s and in the Railway Bar.
Not so many years ago we had fine restaurants in Brosna Lodge, the Shannon Hotel (a disgrace now) and we had Valerie Landon’s pottery. I remember the great Waller firm and Ray O’Donovan up in the Midland Maltings. It’s a fine old town and deserves a right good clean up and boost to its business. If Mrs Quirke was alive now what would she say not to mention the late R.H. Moore who my father and grandfather told me was one of nature’s gentlemen. I wonder how is the Vocational School going now. The late Elsie Naugton even had the boys playing hockey. I read somewhere that La Sainte Union had the first flush toilet in Offaly for the new French order of nuns there. It was a great place for the young ladies of the midlands. The old Royal School was long closed in my time but a bit of it survived up to when I left the area. There was always a bit of quality about Banagher and it would be a shame to lose it. Anyway my piece this week is culled from the Birr bastion of unionism, the Chronicle. I know Trollope and Charlotte Bronte would have liked its sentiments but it would not sit so easy with the Sinn Féin men of more recent times.
From the Kings County Chronicle, 18 July 1918
Banagher, well known for its celebrated annual fair, held on the 15th, 16th and 17th of September, is in the Rynagh Parish, Garry Castle Barony, six miles north-west of Parsons town (Birr), 82, miles from Dublin, on the east bank of the Shannon, near the confluence of the Little Brosna, and just in the angle of three of the four provinces, being within Leinster, and divided by the Shannon from Connaught, while lower down the river, a little distance, is the juncture of the Brosna, on the other shore of which is Munster. It returned two MPs to the Irish Parliament from Charles 1 to 1800. It is mainly one long street stretching for nearly a mile from the top of the hill at the church to the bridge, near which is the old barrack and the railway terminus.
The Distillery What was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in Ireland was worked by a private company of a few gentlemen, the former and originating company having abandoned it as a failure. It was formerly a mill, but a limited liability company, about the year 1870, reconverted it. Owing to the capital being reduced by the building charges of about £70,000, the enterprise was closed after a few years, and so remained until, owing to the energetic efforts of the former manager, a new company was formed; and the enterprise was at once placed on a firm financial basis. In its first season, such was the fine quality, the distillery was obliged to continue working up to August. Unfortunately, however, this prosperous condition of things did not continue, and the place has since been almost idle, except for malting carried on by Messrs D. E. Williams, Ltd which firm, within the past few years, also started a cabinet factory in the premises. The distillery itself is a splendid pile, heavy sums, years ago, having been expended on buildings and plant.
Public Buildings The Roman Catholic Church is a fine structure, and a clock placed in the tower through the enterprise of a few. Mr. Patrick Hynes, an energetic inhabitant, taking the lead. Here is also an ancient endowed Royal School, but the Government having decided on discontinuing it, a Commission sat to consider, among other matters, the cause of its decline in the number of pupils. The school endowment is very ancient, dating back to the time of Elizabeth, and is on the foundation of the Royal Schools of Ireland. In its time the school sent forth into the world many eminent men, the late Sir William Wilde being one of its pupils.
The first agent of the Bank of Ireland was Mr. W. Scott, and through the energy of the Roman Catholics a fine convent was erected. Three miles off is the ancient historic town of Cloghan Castle. The town is inconveniently, though pleasantly, situated on a rather steep hill sloping to the Shannon. The ancient name was Beandcar, from the pointed eminence on which it is built. It was known as Fortfalk-land and Bannagh. St. Reynach, sister of St. Finian, who died in 563 founded a religious house here called Kill- Rignaighe, and gave her name to the parish. The site of the house is now a burial ground. Amongst its ruins there was a shaft of a stone cross erected in memory of Bishop O’Duffy, of Clonfert, who was killed by a fall from his horse in 1297. This cross was removed to Clonmacnoise, and it represents the Bishop on horseback bearing a crozier. Here the great Felin MacCoghlan was slain in 1539 by the sons of O’Madden after Mass on Sunday. The castle was rebuilt by Teige O’Carroll in spite of the opposition of the O’Maddens. But in 1584 they demolished it, lest it should come into possession of the English.
The Markets Sir John Mac Coghlan, in 1612, obtained a grant to hold a market here on Thursday, but it was afterwards changed to a Monday and is now held on Friday. It was constituted a corporate town by charter of Charles 1 is 1628, the corporation being styled. “The Sovereign, Burgeases and Free Commons of the Borough and Town of Bannacher alias, Banagher.” “The Sovereign” was appointed a justice of the peace, coroner, and a clerk of the market, and had an extended jurisdiction. These offices, as well as to send two members to parliament, lapsed at the Union
Banagher Besieged Banagher gave considerable trouble to the Birr garrison, and often sent out marauding parties who foraged for themselves pretty freely in the surrounding district. However, when Birr Castle surrendered to General Preston, the natives evacuated Banagher. Dr Warren describes what happened then in his words: “There being no opposition made to Preston, he sat down before Fort Falkland (Banagher), a place of strength enough to have held out against him longer then he could have stayed in that season of the year, and for want of provisions. But though those within were numerous, yet many of them were not serviceable, and they were much encouraged by a long and vain expectation of succour from the monastery which had entirely neglected them. It would have been impossible, indeed, that they should have done, had it not been for the relief, which was sent, then, from time to time, by Lord Clanricarde but as he was himself, then surrounded with too many difficulties to afford them a prospect of succour, and as Preston had granted an honourable capitulation to the garrison in Birr, the besieged were inclined to surrender to him, for fear of falling into worse hands. Therefore, the next day after he came up to Fort falkland, before any battery was raised. Lord Castleward, the Governor, capitulated and was to be conveyed safe, with all his people to the fort of Galway.” It seems this garrison was finally delivered at the castle of Athlone.
Sarsfield at Banagher “All the island called Enisbreary, alias Island MacCoghlan, in the barony of Garrycastle, and also the two ruinous castles of Banagher and Belanaley,” with “liberty of fishing in the Shannon, in the aforesaid barony” were about 1671 granted to John Blysse. A right to establish a ferry was also given, the annual rent for the lands being 10s and for the ferry 5s. As appears by Sarsfield’s operations that he repeatedly crossed a bridge here, the old bridge at Banagher must have been built before then, and the ferry discontinued. From Harris we learn that when Sarsfield attacked Birr in 1690, the English generals – Douglas, Kirk and Lanier – advanced, reliving Birr, and driving Sarsfield across the Shannon to Banagher. The attempt by the English to destroy the bridges was too dangerous, as the Irish were strongly posted on the Connaught side, besides defending the bridge with a castle and other works. The present bridge is on the site of the ancient one.”
The Armstrong Family At Mount Cartaret is the seat of a very old and universally respected family, the Armstrongs, of Scottish extraction. They have resided about Banagher for over two centuries. A mural tablet, dated 1680, records “Here lies the body of Gerald Armstrong.” On another is “Armstrong, four brothers, 1700.” Their first ancestor in Ireland was Thomas Armstrong, who came over in 1657. The present representative is Major T.P. St. G. Armstrong, J.P., and a constant resident with his family.
A Masonic Lodge, No. 306, was by warrant, dated 1758, from the Earl of Drogheda, G.M. of Ireland, founded in Banagher.
[I read somewhere that Trollope was a member of this lodge and had great high jinks when the new bridge was opened. A big bill for the bottles but at least they paid for themselves.]
Next time I get the OK to contribute to Offaly History I may do something on Raleen near Mount Bolus where I believe the last of the chiefs of my clan was located. But then I might recall Kieran Molloy of Clonmacnoise. Do any of you remember them when they looked the monastic site. Some of them were teachers there. I think Clonmacnoise has 150,000 visitors a year now at near €10 each and that cannot be bad. Good to see my old friends in Lukers getting a few visitors from it, not to mention Birr Castle.