An Encounter with Banagher’s Faithful Departed by James Scully

Brendan Dolan in his role as Thomas Donahoe, stonecutter.
Brendan Dolan as Thomas Donahoe, the nineteenth century stonecutter from Banagher.

The fifth That Beats Banagher Festival held this summer was a great success. As in previous years the festival included an imaginative heritage event. This year participants were brought on a walkabout in the old graveyard on the ancient monastic site of Saint Rynagh. The event was entitled An Encounter with Banagher’s Faithful Departed which hinted at the scenes which were to unfold.

About sixty souls gathered at the gated entrance and were then invited within the precincts of the churchyard. The initial encounter was with a stonecutter called Thomas Donahue, played by Brendan Dolan, as he was just putting the finishing touches to an ornate memorial for Margret (sic) Clinton who had died in April 1837. Thomas had succeeded his father Francis in the trade when he had died young man in 1797. In his voluminous musings he reflected on the trials and travails of the stonies with the ever-increasing demands from wealthy clients for cursive and italic fonts, ligatured and serifed letters and all sorts of decorative motifs. In spite of all he was a contented craftsman but concluded glumly that the recent arrival in the graveyard of a concrete memorial was ominous for the stonecutter’s trade. In conclusion he solemnly declared that if such a monument were erected over him that it would be over his dead body!!

Bryn Coldrick as Corp P. McLaughlin
Bryn Coldrick of Ancestral Voices Ltd., in his role as Corporal Patrick McLaughlin who died in 1915.

Corporal Patrick McLaughlin awaited nearby at the only World War One memorial in the enclosure. Having outlined his reasons for joining the army and his role in the war, Patrick, played by Bryn Coldrick of Ancestral Voices Ltd., explained in detail the intricacies of the splendidly historic uniform which he sourced for the occasion.Patrick died in Cloghan in 1915. Bryn also recalled William McKeon of Banagher who was killed in France in April 1918 at the early age of twenty-two. William was buried in Etaples Military Cemetery near Calais but he is remembered on his family memorial just north of the old church.

Banagher Faithful The Fox Sisters
The Fox Sisters played by Jennifer and Emma Andrews at their impressive box tombs.

The next stop was the very impressive pair of identical box tombs in memory of the Anne Fox and Mary Fox who died in 1845 and 1847. Here the sisters, played by the lively sisters Jennifer and Emma Andrews, told of their family’s history and how they came to endow the establishment of the La Sainte Union Des Sacre Couers convent and school in Banagher in 1862-63. While the sisters rejoiced in their highly ornate box tombs with exquisitely carved sunbursts and fluted supports, it was the sounds of children at play and reciting lessons in the nearby schools that pleased them most.

We next visited the only iron memorial in the graveyard which was erected for Nicholas Andrews of Drogheda who died at Shannon Harbour in April 1878. This cast iron cross is inscribed on both faces with raised lettering and has ornate fleur-de-lis terminals. According to the archives of the Grand Canal Company in the National Archives in Dublin, Andrews lived in a company house in Shannon Harbour in 1876 and carried out major repairs on some of the company’s steamers. The circumstances of his death at Shannon Harbour still elude local researchers. Nicholas Andrews was portrayed coincidentally by another Nicholas Andrews who also hails from near Drogheda but has lived in Banagher for many years.

Nearby was the tombstone of Captain William Bamford who joined the 40th Regiment of Foot in the 1720s. Towards the end of his military career he served in the American War of Independence, (1775-1783). It seems that soon after his retirement Bamford came to live in Banagher. His name is listed among the attendees at a meeting of the Protestant inhabitants of Banagher on the 28th January 1792. The meeting resolved that the growth of a campaign among Catholics for reforming the Constitution was to be disapproved of ‘as having a tendency extremely dangerous’. Perhaps the most notable fact about Bamford was the publication of part of his diary in the Maryland Historical Magazine (U.S.A.) in the early 1930s. Captain Bamford’s parting shot was to inform the audience that a more extensive edition of his diaries would be published in September of this year by Helion & Company. A note in the back of the original diary by Bamford’s grandnephew states that the diary was given to his father by a friend in Banagher after the captain’s death and subsequently came into his possession. The character of Captain William Bamford was ably captured by Eddie Alford, an established playwright, living in Shannon Harbour.

Banagher Faithful Grisell Armstrong
Doreen McGouran as Grisell Armstrong recalling her family’s history in Banagher in the Seventeenth Century

The group then moved to the Armstrong crypt where Grisell Armstrong who died in 1680 aroused from her slumber and recalled her husband John, one time sovereign of the Corporation of Banagher and her daughter Margaret who was the first female to cross the rebuilt bridge at Banagher in the late 1680s. Grisell, delightfully portrayed by Doreen McGouran, concluded her appearance with a brief summary of the Armstrong family’s history and a description of their coat-of-arms as depicted on a wall plaque nearby.

Kieran Keenaghan as Sir John MacC.
An imposing Kieran Keenaghan as he played the part of Sir John MacCoghlan who departed
c. 1590.

In the adjacent chancel a fiery Sir John MacCoghlan stood sentinel over his imposing memorial which still bears an intriguing Latin inscription translated as follows: ‘I will rise again. Here lies buried Sir John MacCoghlan, Knight, formerly chief of his sept, who caused this tomb to be made in the 19th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth and in the year of the suppression of the tax of O’Melaghlin.’ The historic references here mean we can date the memorial to 1576, fourteen years before Sir John actually died. The character of Sir John was created by a splendidly attired Kieran Keenaghan who also read extracts from the great chief’s will and recalled the tempestuous history of West Offaly in the late sixteenth century.

Michael and Angela Flannery
Michael and Angela Flannery who portrayed the amiable couple Arthur Molly and his wife Mary Clements

The final scene found us eavesdropping on a private interlude between Arthur Molloy and his wife Mary alias Clements who departed in 1804 and 1808 respectively. Arthur was very disgruntled at the location of his final resting place regretting that he was not placed at the top of the graveyard with the Macs, (MacCoghlans and McIntyres), and the Armstrongs and faced the prospect of looking up to them for all eternity as he did all during his life. Mary was not so easily perturbed and recalled her lifetime spent in church choirs. Indeed any passing reference to the title or words of a hymn prompted a spontaneous unrestrained snatch from some well known chorus. Arthur’s passing reference to the well-known composer and a possible kinsman, James Lynam Molloy prompted a verse or two of his best known composition Loves Old Sweet Song, thus providing a fitting finale to proceedings.The amiable couple were played by Michael and Angela Flannery who are equally amiable in real life.

Banagher Faithful 7. James Scully conducting the tour.
James Scully conducting during An Encounter with Banagher’s Faithful Departed.

The escort for the event was James Scully who complimented the talented cast on their creative scripts, historically correct costumes and enthusiastic performances. He also commended the audience for abandoning reality at the graveyard gates and entrusting their imaginations to the different episodes performed. In conclusion he announced that a publication on the memorials in the graveyard was forthcoming.