Historic Irish Towns & Villages Category:
Impressions of Banagher, Co. Offaly, As An Irish
Banagher, Co. Offaly nestles on the western border with Co. Galway and in fact only the river Shannon divides Banagher’s property lines with Co. Galway. The famous river is just a few hundred yards from Banagher’s main street thoroughfare and its location contributes greatly to the seafaring activities so renowned with Banagher over several decades.
Modern day Banagher is far removed from the prosperity associated with the town when important personalities frequently visited the area to bask in leisurely activities during the mid years of the 19th century. Banagher is certainly well qualified to feature as a historic Irish midlands town in our historic collection of Irish towns and villages in our Irish Heritage website. Its proud history stands out in 21st century Ireland and similar to many more Irish towns fighting for a new beginning, the town of Banagher now features numerous buildings lying unoccupied.
The turmoil of the collapse of the Irish Celtic Tiger wreaked havoc all over Ireland and the Co. Offaly borderline town was one of the numerous victims who fell under the dismal reign of the Irish Tiger. I have visited this special Co. Offaly town on numerous occasions and I am always amazed at the wonderful hospitality of its people and I never tire of my frequent visits. Banagher is a great sporting town, especially in G.A.A. circles, and in the towns pubs you will encounter many experts on hurling and gaelic football.
G.A.A. history is a subject I have been immersed in for several decades and despite its miniature size as an Irish county, Offaly have punched miles above that of other similar size counties when it comes to producing legends of gaelic games.Today we examine the Banagher of a bygone age and we also construct a practical impression of Banagher’s potential well being in the 21st century. Both journies are revealing and interesting and whilst the current and future prosperity of Banagher rests with their own people, Banagher is an interesting Irish Heritage town for Irish people, Irish emigrants and people of Irish ancestry around the globe.
After 800 years of English domination, Banagher inherited its own special history and prior to the 1845 Great Famine, the town enjoyed a commendable population of around 3,000 citizens. Malting of the components that constitute the makeup of beers was a prominent feature of many Irish towns and this was essential in the eras when transportation of goods was an awesome task from one town to another.
Most towns had thriving breweries and Banagher was in the forefront of distilling its own beers to serve their own and nearby communities. In 1884 the arrival of the railway link proved a major asset and again Banagher took on a pivotal role by holding large cattle and horse fairs that attracted huge custom from many parts of Leinster and Connacht.
As an inland town, aside from the river Shannon flowing on its doorstep, Banagher also had the rivers Brosna and Little Brosna, flowing gently by and the western midlands town was regarded as a paradise for boating, fishing and riverside pursuits.Fearing invasion by the French in the early 19th century the British Empire built over fifty defence Martello Towers in many parts of Ireland and Banagher and nearby Lusmagh, were two prominent locations planted with Martello Towers.
Castles were also a common sight around Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries and Banagher had its own Cromwell Castle at Shannonside Park, still in existence and currently complimented by a Pitch and Putt course, a Swimming Pool and a throw back to another past era, is the former Canal Lock.
The bridge linking Banagher and Co. Galway is an imposing structure with its seven arches creating a great photo opportunity for camera enthusiasts. The bridge aside from its role as a county boundary between Co. Offaly and Co. Galway, is also the designated boundary line between entry to the provinces of Connacht and Leinster.
The 21st century Banagher Marina represents a huge tourist asset and it occupies the former site of the Banagher Railway Station, which traded from 1884 right up to the 1960’s. A visit to the Marina is a ‘Must See’ for all visitors. In contemporary Banagher, a stroll through its main shopping and central area will reveal a widespan Library Square and a number of monuments are a pleasant sight unto the eye.
Near the Marina stands a wooden sculpture honouring a famous son of Banagher, ballad and folk singer, Johnny McEvoy. The Banagher musician and songwriter is an international artist who has contributed greatly in popularising his native soil. A derelict building standing idly by is ‘The Shannon Hotel’ a venue many times frequented by famous novelists, while across the road stands Crank House, an imposing Georgian town house now used as a tourist office.
A road in Banagher called ‘Cuba Road’ fascinated me when I first arrived in the town. The legacy is ‘Cuba Court’ (now demolished) a residence built in the 1700’s for a former Governor of Cuba who came to live in Banagher. Many more historic buildings and residences adorned Banagher in times past and several place names commemorate such buildings.
As a central location visitors can motor to Galway city in one hour whi,lst many more major towns are within the same timeframe. Irish turf bogs also abound in close proximity to Banagher and the splendid local G.A.A. sportsfield is a prime example of great community comradie. It is a stadium worthy of the great club it represents, St. Rynaghs. The club is renowned for its production line of famous hurlers, great athletes whose names are known all over Ireland.
Whilst the past is important to Banagher and is worthy of preservation and promotion in Irish Heritage, it is essential to focus on modern day Banagher and the opportunities it presents in the future. At first glance Banagher is not a commercial hub for entrepreneurs searching for the golden boot award, but at a leisurely pace, the town offers peace and tranquility unsurpassed in many more regions.
The riverside location offers great scope for adventure walking and trawling through its scenic attractions and with many fine restaurants, cafés, public houses and retail shops, a few hours on the banks of the Shannon at Banagher will provide great relaxation and many golden memories.
Derry JF Doody
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